There's more to getting lucky than being in the right place at the right time.
He didn't just tell the students that keeping their heads down and working hard was the only way they'd ever catch a break. He told them the key to success is to get lucky.
You (and lots of other people) might think that advice is total BS. But here's the thing: Getting lucky is scientifically proven to work.
Here's what Wilson said that most overlook about catching a lucky break,
You have to be able to recognize it as such. You have to prepare your mind to recognize the lucky break when it comes your way. The internet emerging as a massive financial opportunity in the mid '90s was my biggest lucky break. But I had put myself in a position to take advantage of that lucky break by deciding to work in venture capital 10 years before that, by working hard to get better at my craft, and by paying close attention to the emerging areas of technology. I saw the internet for what it was long before most people did.
Notice that Wilson encourages people to combine hard work with a keen eye and positive attitude, creating an open door for luck and opportunity. Being able to recognize a lucky break is just as important as anything else.
From the outside looking in on the lives of successful people, it's common to think their achievements are pure luck. Knowing the right people. Living in the right place. Going to the right school. But no, it's not just that.
As Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains, the human mind wants to create clean, linear connections between past events and milestones of others' success, even though we only see the tip of the iceberg.
For example, we all think that Kim Kardashian got famous because of her sex tape -- that explanation makes it easy to connect the dots. In reality, there was much more at play behind the scenes that we didn't see. I know it's a weird example, but somebody smart in Kim's life (probably Kris) saw an opportunity and jumped on it in addition to getting lucky. That type of luck and forethought has earned their family millions and millions of dollars.
Wilson is one of those people with the forethought and positive attitude. What we can learn from his success is that every decision, no matter how small, can lead up to a big, lucky break.
In his speech, he tells people to pay attention:
Everyone gets lucky breaks in their life. I can't tell you when your lucky breaks will come. But I can tell you that they will come. You must be able to see them for what they are, you must be in a position to act on them, and you must not miss them. Pay attention, look carefully, and be prepared for your lucky breaks.
So, there you have it. Success obviously takes hard work and ambition but always keep an eye out for your lucky break and grab it.
Citations: New York's Top Venture Capitalist Nailed a Research-Backed Secret of Success (NY Mag), Where Would the Kardashians Be Without Kris Jenner? (New York Times), Feeling lucky? The scientific proof that you DO make your own luck (Daily Mail)