EP 20: James Clear Quote “Most lucky events in life are opportunities, not outcomes”

In this episode of the Merkol Podcast, we analyzed the James Clear Quote. It goes:

“Most lucky events in life are opportunities, not outcomes”

James Clear Quote

Who is James Clear?

James Clear is a motivational speaker and author who focuses on habits, decision-making, and lifelong learning.
James was in a terrible situation after a strange baseball accident left him with brain damage.

He had to find a new way of life after suffering devastating brain damage. James’ recovery taught him about habits and the potential of stacking small, uncomplicated routines on top of one other to create momentum and transformation.

His book, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Big Results, shares his discoveries with the rest of the world. It has sold over 5 million copies and has been translated into a variety of languages.

He speaks often at Fortune 500 firms, and his work is used by NFL, NBA, and MLB clubs. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time, and CBS This Morning, among other publications.

His popular “3-2-1” email newsletter is sent out each week to more than 1 million subscribers. Here is the link to subscribe to it: James Clear 3-2-1 Newsletter

What does this James Clear quote mean?

Everyone knows what an opportunity is and everyone keeps saying ‘they are on the lookout for a good opportunity’ or something similar. But do you know that it takes a lot to pursue one?

Introducing the hill-climbing problem.

The Hill Climbing problem:

This concept was beautifully articulated by Chris Dixon Here is the link to his article: Climbing the Wrong hill. I will try my best to give you my take/version of this problem.

Consider a game, where the objective is to get to the highest hill. The catch here is that you are surrounded by multiple hills all around you and there is no indication of where that highest hill is. There are many algorithms to figure this game out which Chris Dixon explains in his earlier article, but let’s consider a simpler solution.

The solution to the game is straightforward,

Climb a hill -> If from that height you see another hill that is taller -> Climb down the hill -> move towards the other hill -> Climb that hill -> cycle repeats

Climb a hill -> If from that height you check to see another hill that is taller -> If no taller peaks exist, then game won

Sounds pretty simple right, I know, I know we all feel like geniuses because we just wrote a sort of pseudocode for a game. Pretty rad.

Now let’s implement this in our life. Take yourself for example you could be a teenager, boomer, millennial, whatever your age, this illustration works for you.

Replace the character with you and replace the hill with an opportunity at hand.

You climb/pursue the hill/the opportunity at hand. Once you reach the mountain top you realize that there is another taller/better hill/opportunity in the near distance that you feel you can climb.

But now comes the harder path, even though you know that the other opportunity is better and you could learn a lot, you will find the climb down the hardest thing you have ever done in life. Self-doubts start creeping into your head and you start questioning your own natural inclination towards that opportunity. Gradually, you starve yourself of that opportunity.

Many people climb the first hill that is visible, but due to commitments and other self-constructed limits to their own capabilities, don’t pursue other opportunities. They just stagnate on that first hill when there is so much around them. The worst part is most people see what is there on the other side but take years even decades to make that leap, by which time that opportunity is not feasible anymore.

People really need to realize that they climbed the wrong hill sooner or the repercussions could be heavy later on.

Most people don’t pursue other opportunities because they feel that they cannot get what they have currently back if the other one fails and that fear paralyzes them.

The link between Luck and Opportunity:

Everyone needs luck to do great things. If working hard alone is the key to greatness then being great would be ubiquitous because everyone toils hard. But the reality is there is a secret ingredient called luck that enables you to meet the right people, explore the right opportunity which will be the vehicle to propel you to greatness.

Luck is definitely disguised in the form of an opportunity. Everyone looks at the outcome and decides that the concerned person just got lucky.

Everyone recommended Mark Zuckerberg to sell Facebook to Yahoo and accept their offer of $1 Billion. His entire staff left. Any sane person, a hard-working person would see the money on the table and think it is worth the work that he put in and would have cashed out.

Mark Zuckerberg on cover of Fast Company
Mark Zuckerberg on the cover of Fast Company

But what happened? Zuckerberg rejected their offer, hired more people and took on a mission to guide his company to greatness.

The odds were stacked against him and there was also the easy exit way in front of him.

When everyone saw a billion-dollar payday, Zuckerberg saw that as an opportunity for himself, his vision, and his company.

In the end, Zuckerberg pursuing this opportunity could be deemed as luck by a majority of people, but imagine his plight when he had to turn down a billion dollars to work on his vision. That is not luck my friends, that is him sensing and taking up an opportunity.

His luck began when he turned down the money and saw the opportunity, not when he became one of the richest guys out there.

So just as James Clear said, it is not the outcome that determines if he got lucky or not, it is an opportunity he pursues that determines whether he will put himself in a position where luck could propel him to great distances.


Not every opportunity is something you need to pursue, not every opportunity will get you lucky. But the more chances you get, the better your odds are. So what you need are more and more opportunities.

Since you need opportunities to get luckier, you need to place yourself in a position where you receive maximum opportunities and you then decide which one to go rather than having only one option and then choosing it out of necessity.

Here is a framework from Ankur Warikoo on creating an opportunity engine. Here is the link to the article he wrote: This scares us the most.

Creating an opportunity engine

Taken from Ankur Warikoo

How do you build this opportunity engine?

In my view, 3 things help:

  • Sending cold emails (I have spoken about this actively).
  • Engaging meaningfully with the content of those who inspire you, or you look up to.
  • Creating or joining online communities.

Just 3 things will ensure that you will never be short of opportunities in my life. Consider them – and you might relieve yourself of the fear of feeling stuck!

Podcast:

I have recorded a podcast on this James Clear Quote. But it is in Tamil. If you know the language, then please do listen to this. Do let me know if you like it. Here is the link:

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