Are You Chasing Luck, Or Is Luck Chasing You?
Don’t Listen To Me, But Please, Hear Me Out: # 25
Shaheeda Abdul Kader, Dec 1 2020
Have you wondered if you are chasing luck or if luck is chasing you? Is “Luck” just a polite way of saying privilege? Is it really better to be lucky than good?
I am rather chuffed to write my 25th Blog in this series right after Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. Grateful as I am, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, especially about where I am and how did I get here? Hence the quasi-philosophical musings about “luck”.
On December 5th (from 12:00 to 1:00 PM India Time, you can still register, it is free) I will be on a panel to discuss Funding for Startups. My fellow panelists are highly accomplished professionals and VC’s. I was wondering how I slipped through the cracks and got to be amongst them.
Slipping through the cracks – I’ve felt like that a lot during my career. I’ve been extremely lucky.
I come from a conservative Muslim community where women’s education was not a priority. My older sisters were married as teenagers. Alhamdulillah, they are well and happy, however, my life path has been very different from theirs.
The first time I got lucky was when my mom got involved with my education. She herself only went to school till the 5th grade. Mom asked dad to allow me to continue my education, allow me to learn typing. She wanted her child to have some sort of skill that will help her become financially independent.
I get very emotional whenever I think about this. Can you imagine what her horizon was as a woman? I think about the much-used cliché, “expand your horizon.” My mom wanted the very best for me. What she had seen was that for women to afford some financial independence, they could be secretaries and needed to know how to type. Her love for me must be so vast.
My father was himself a rebel and a pioneer. He went against the advice of our community and made sure my dreams were not stunted. Dad taught me about goal setting and incentives. He promised me that I could go to school as long as I was in the top 5 in my class. I did not let him down.
The second time I got lucky was when a neighbor, Deepali Muthanna, returned from Smith College in the US. I was a 15-year-old kid and Deepali took an interest in me. She encouraged me to apply to universities in the US. She opened a world I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams.
I thought that you had to be extremely intelligent like a NASA scientist to be able to attend a university in the US. I had no idea how to apply or even how to find the addresses of universities. There was no internet or google back then.
My father again came to my rescue. I remember walking the halls at University of Hartford with my dad. The walls were decked with awards showing names of past students who had excelled in many fields. I told my dad that before I graduated, my name would be on these walls. I am such a nerd that I got my name up on the wall four times.
The third time I got lucky was during my internship at Standard Chartered Bank (SCB). I had already crossed so many barriers, that I honestly thought I knew everything. After all, by now, I became the first woman in my family to graduate from high school, leave home and go to a foreign land all alone, graduate with a bachelor’s degree and now get a professional job with a premier bank. Gosh, I cringe when I think of how intolerably arrogant, I must’ve been.
Boy, was I wrong? I realized at the bank that I had no clue about the world. What is the purchasing power of one million dollars or one billion dollars? How does a country’s GDP affect lending rates for corporations? I couldn’t read a Wall Street Journal or a Financial Times front to back and understand everything they wrote.
I’m thankful to Brij Sharma, who was a Senior Banker at SCB. He took me under his wings and talked to me about the stock market, options, futures and commodities trading.
“What? You can buy apples even before they are planted?” I’d ask him incredulously.
Brij was an IIM grad and encouraged me to apply for an MBA in the US. As I continued with my professional career, I got super lucky again and got admission into a few elite MBA programs. I chose Duke University. Brij even offered to pay for my MBA. He was an amazing mentor. Of course my dad would have none of it.
The fourth time I got lucky was when I helped a fellow classmate and friend, Michelle Soussou. Michelle was the President of the Students for Responsible Business Club (SRB). Every year, the top 10 MBA programs in the country would have a case competition. That year it was Duke’s turn to host. At the last minute, literally 18 hours before the event, the original Duke team had to pull out due to an issue. Michelle begged me to help her out and do the case instead. I have been extremely fortunate with my friendships, because I convinced Anusha Anant, who is still one of my most cherished friends, to join me as we needed at least 2-5 members per team.
Long story short, to our utter shock and delight, we rocked the competition and won the first prize. So now, both Anusha and I have our names on the SRB cup at Duke.
The fifth time I got lucky was also due to this competition. KPMG Consultants were the judges at the event. I was so dazed during the award ceremony that I did not even get the judges’ cards for my contact list; a big networking error.
Disney had offered me a job in their Strategic Marketing Division. However, about a week before graduation, Disney rescinded the offer as they went through a major restructuring. I really thought I was done for. But, my friend Michelle, gave me the contact of Amanda Mesler, at KPMG who was one of the judges. Amanda recognized me immediately. She made me a job offer over lunch and strawberry shortcake.
I was so ecstatic, that I promptly forgot my wallet at the restaurant. My lucky strike had not ended, because the restaurant had saved it for me.
Amanda was instrumental as a mentor and in shaping my leadership skills.
I remember one afternoon, I was walking very fast to a meeting. I was a consultant at KPMG and I had a meeting at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Atlanta. The hotel has a glass skybridge. Suddenly I stopped walking. It felt surreal. I looked around. I was on this bridge on a very high floor. For a minute I forgot where I was. My life’s images flashed me by. I had goosebumps on my skin. I felt happy, humbled and could not believe where I had arrived.
There are plenty of stories. I would rather be lucky than good. However, I’ve noticed that the more good I do, the luckier I get.
My parents gave me love and privilege. A child born in the US is far more privileged by the mere chance of his birth than a child born in Burundi where the average citizen subsists on less than $1.25 per day.
We may not be able to control our luck, and believe me, I have felt unlucky so many times. Nonetheless, I firmly believe we can create opportunities of luck for others. We can do this my volunteering our time, our knowledge, as well as sharing our wealth and privilege.
How to create luck for yourself? Perhaps there is no formula, but these definitely help.
- Be curious and don’t stop learning
- Be kind
- Don’t shy away from challenges
- Help someone
May all of us be lucky and good.
Oh, and I am super lucky to have a talented nephew like Abdul Hadi, who designed the cover image for this blog.
PS: I still type with two fingers.
I usually write about finance and investing. If you would like help on how to budget, save or invest more, please feel free to reach me, on Twitter @saq3 or LinkedIn @Shaheeda Abdul Kader, or leave a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to offer you my services. Please do check my other blogs here.
I am NOT a certified broker or financial advisor. Please DO NOT make investment decisions based solely on my blogs. My intention is to show you how to research stocks or funds for yourself so you can feel empowered and knowledgeable to do your own investigations and invest with confidence. It is best to consult with your broker or advisor if you have questions. You can also reach me and I’ll do my best to help you with your queries.