Dealing with chance – the unseen X factor

We all know that a moment in time can change our lives forever. A decision we make, a path we take, a road we choose – they can transform our lives for better, or worse. It’s usually impossible to know exactly what the outcome of our actions will be. But by being prepared to deal with chance, we can make the most of a bad hand.

When I was younger, I was extremely impulsive, often acting on a fleeting thought and dealing with the consequences later. As I grew up, I came to value planning and analysis far more – I would take advice and information on as much as I could, and would then act with a reasonable degree of certainty of the outcome.

As I have developed further, I began to see that no matter how much information I possess (which in many situations is an insignificant quantity), there is always a certain randomness to outcomes; people can be unpredictable, and this is representative of a certain ‘x’ factor; chance.

The importance of dealing with chance

When I was working for PRIME Research in Oxford, I was confident in my income and my skills. I was a valued member of my team; reliable and able to produce good quality analysis. I started a process which I continue to this day; my annual budget forecast. Not dissimilar to a business, I attempt to approximate my income and savings for the coming twelve months, with a view to analysing my ‘financial performance’ over a year.

The plan seemed sound, and although I was unlikely to be a millionaire, I was confident that I should be able to save a reasonable proportion of my money for the future. Thanks to willingness to work hard, I was given increasing responsibility and stature within the team. My goal was to continue employment there when I graduated, hopefuly moving out of the automotive team and becoming a project manager for them on the business desk.

One day, we were told that a new director had started. He would would be reviewing our workloads, which we all understood to mean ‘making redundancies’. I was confident that my position was secure. After all, I produced good work, and no longer considered myself a ‘recent hire’. Gradually, work began to dry up, as the analysis system was overhauled. Before long, I began to notice that several members of the team were not receiving their usual workloads. As we were paid by the hour, this began to play at my mind, but still, I wasn’t worried; after all, I was a good analyst.

Discontent began to grow within the team, and several of the junior members began to voice concerns about the situation. We were called into a meeting and assured that something would be done to maintain our workloads. Two weeks later, the company laid off a third of us; myself included.

It was a shock, to be certain – but I was determined to make the best of the situation and focus on my final year at University. It was during this time that I interviewed with, a domains registrar based in East Oxford. Sadly, I lost the job to a colleague from PRIME, but as he had also been made redundant, I didn’t feel too badly. He was older than me and held a Masters degree, so I didn’t feel too badly about it. I remember thanking the manager for her time and putting it out of my mind.

Making the most of good luck

More than a year later, that same manager emailed me about another role she was recruiting for. Apparently I’d performed well enough in the initial interview that she was willing to offer me the role without another round of interviews. It also surprised me to learn that she had received a recommendation from my old colleague at PRIME. It was a job in which I would remain happily employed for nearly two years before moving to London.

I had no way of knowing that my colleague from PRIME would apply for that role, or that he would get it and later recommend me. Truth be told, I only knew him in passing, although we would later become good friends. I had no way of knowing that the manager I was interviewing with truly meant what she said when she told me that she would ‘keep my CV on file’. These actions were outcomes of the unknown ‘x’ factor.

Business, friendships, romance, health; they are all an uncertain and winding path – imperfect and unpredictable. Although I am still a big believer in planning, I have come to value preparedness even more highly. To me, the ability to react quickly to new opportunities is essential – always be prepared to take advantage of the ‘x’ factor.