If You Want To Be Successful, Be In The Right Place At The Right Time

by Chris Riotta

Ryan Graves was just 26 years old when he tweeted "hire me :)" to Travis Kalanick, who was searching on Twitter for a fellow entrepreneur to get in on the very beginning of a startup.

Looking 4 entrepreneurial product mgr/biz-dev killer 4 a location based service.. pre-launch, BIG equity, big peeps involved--ANY TIPS?? — travis kalanick (@travisk) January 6, 2010

The company Kalanick was launching that year is now known as Uber, and it's on track to become one of the most successful tech startups in history.

According to Forbes, Graves was Uber's first hire and has officially joined the Forbes Billionaire list along with Uber cofounder Garrett Camp.

Oh yeah, and that "BIG equity" Travis mentioned? Forbes estimates that's worth about $1.4 billion.

What's even more interesting is that Graves didn't stop there. He is now the head of global operations at Uber and is responsible for the company's expansion into 55 countries.

You might think Graves' story is a one-in-a-million scenario about a young guy who just happened to be on Twitter at the right time, but I disagree.

Perhaps Graves was very lucky when he happened to spot the tweet that would change his life. But it's what he did with that tweet, how he seized a seemingly small opportunity, that has made Graves one of the world's youngest billionaires.

The Science Behind Success And Serendipity

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's Corp., once said,

The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.

It's lovely to daydream about winning the lottery, having millions of dollars magically appear in your life or accidentally-on-purpose slipping in a Walmart and cashing in after a successful lawsuit. But the chances of any of that actually happening are slim to none.

You're more likely to be struck by lightning than win the lottery, you'll never just find a million dollars and Walmart has an entire team of lawyers.

Still, it may be possible to refocus your efforts and wind up more successful than you ever imagined.

Psychology Today reports that recognizing an opportunity is, in fact, not just an innate ability few of us are born with.

Instead, the article suggests there are two types of mentalities people use in life: promotion focused and prevention focused.

When we employ promotion focus, we are thinking about all that is possible by acting on a specific opportunity. Our goals, ventures or future plans are in the forefront of our minds, and we are looking into the future, rather than the past.

During prevention focus, we approach daily situations trying to avoid losing everything we have worked so hard for.

Instead of fantasizing about all there could be to gain by responding to a tweet, for example, we are focused on avoiding danger and keeping things running smoothly.

Research from the Higgins Lab at Columbia University shows the importance of using a promotion-focused attitude rather than a prevention-focused one.

The report shows that practicing techniques to develop your promotion-focused mentality will intensify your responses to opportunities in real-life situations, including those for personal goals and job growth.

Essentially, the more you focus on your future goals, the more likely you are to find success because of your increased willingness to seize an opportunity, take a risk and see what happens.

There Are Plenty Of Success Stories To Prove It

It may seem unlikely that making some slight tweaks to the way you think on a day-to-day basis is going to turn you into a successful, mega-rich "Wolf of Wall Street" or CEO.

But plenty of regular people have become profoundly successful just by noticing an opportunity in front of them and seizing it.

There's the Oscar-winning Halle Berry, who admitted to staying in a homeless shelter in her early 20s after running out of money.

The actress seized the first opportunity to break onto the silver screen by refusing to shower for seven days before shooting Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever," where she played a crack addict.

The role catapulted her into the national spotlight and changed the star's life forever.

Good work, girl.

Take Chris Gardner as another example.

Gardner, who inspired the movie "The Pursuit of Happiness," was a homeless, single father, who was living on the streets with his young son when he fought for a spot on the Dean Witter Reynolds training program.

Gardner had nothing to lose and was determined to make a future for himself and his son.

Now he has two New York Times bestsellers, does motivational speaking and is the CEO of Gardner Rich LLC with offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Not to mention, he has a movie based on his life starring Will Smith.

What is also important in examples like these is that the men and women who seized these opportunities worked their asses off.

They were brave enough to fight for a life beyond their imagination. Instead of focusing on what they could lose by risking to reach beyond their limits, they took their chances.

Maybe it isn't likely every single opportunity you pursue in life will bring you a lifetime of riches, but the lesson that people like Ryan, Halle and Chris can teach us is this: By seizing the opportunities that are right in front of you and challenging yourself, there is always the chance for great reward and success.

So go ahead, reach for the moon. Chances are, your future self will thank you for it.

Citations: Uber Cofounder Garrett Camp, First Hire Ryan Graves Join FORBES Billionaires List (Forbes ), How to Get Better at Spotting Opportunities (Psychology Today), Regulatory Focus (Columbia University), Halle Berry (IMDb), The Biography of Christopher Gardner (Chris Garner Media)