Career Column

What’s Luck Got to do With It?
Creating Your Own Career Opportunities


he other day, a friend asked how things had been going. I told him I was really happy with my current work situation and felt extremely lucky with how things have worked out. He said, “I don’t think you’re lucky, I think you’ve earned it.”

The conversation stuck with me and got me thinking, am I lucky or did I earn this? When I think about how things in my life have unfolded, there was some hard work, grit, and timely help from others, but there was also some “right place at the right time” sprinkled in. I believe you need to be a little lucky and share these tips that helped me discover my own luck in life.

Define Your Own Version of “Success”

I equate luck to experiencing success that is out of the norm, and not entirely a result of my own actions. But before looking at luck, it is important to define success. What does being “lucky” or “successful” look like to you? Success means different things to different people; having a foundational idea of what personal success means to you is the first step.

While planning for a career path to pursue after pharmacy school, I prioritized a few things: One, to enjoy my work. If athletes and musicians can make a living doing something they love, why couldn’t I? Two, it was important for me to find a job that continued to challenge me intellectually long-term. I’d already committed a large portion of my life towards education and I wanted to continue to learn and grow in new ways. Finally, I wanted to engage in work that impacted patients on a global level. Because everyone has different job wants and needs, identifying these priorities is crucial.

Know How to Ask for Help, Then Pay It Forward

Whether they are friends, family, teachers, coaches, or mentors, you will find people willing to help you along your way. Developing and utilizing these relationships for advice, support, and guidance is essential. But before asking for help, identify what you want help with. Providing this information to people we approach for help allows them to give more personalized and effective assistance.

Early on in pharmacy school, I told my advisor that I wanted to get some research experience and learn more about the economic and finance side of healthcare. She introduced me to a faculty member with whom I later published my first manuscript. The experience of learning from that faculty member and his team laid the groundwork for my success today.

As much as we depend on help from others, it’s equally important to help people when we can. Volunteering our time and resources to help those less fortunate can remind us of how far we’ve come. These types of perspectives help you appreciate your growth and realize that you naturally encounter “luck” along the way.

Unleash the Nerd! Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Don’t be afraid to stand out, to be yourself, and to welcome new experiences. Whatever your interests or passions may be, the more you can learn and develop in those areas, the luckier you will be. Building skills and being curious enough to engage in new experiences open opportunities that may not be apparent or available to everyone. Wanting to understand how and why, and questioning the status quo, can help propel us to new heights.

Healthcare policy and pharmacy talks rev up and keep my intellectual engines roaring. I listen to podcasts, read blogs, and browse through social media to stay up-to-date with current news and trends. Taking on a leadership role in a pharmacy school organization helped pave the way for my current career. Developing and fostering my interests in my own time have opened many professional doors and allowed me to grow.

Stay Humble & Embrace the Process

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” Seneca (Roman philosopher)

Being humble may not be everyone’s style but in my experience it plays a big role in luck. Strive to be both successful and humble. Remember where you came from. Consider your relevance in the context of something bigger than your own world.

It can be difficult to keep yourself grounded and motivated through life’s highs and lows. Crazy, unexpected hurdles and obstacles will be thrown your way and won’t always be linear or immediately observed. There were times in my own journey when I wasn’t sure if I could make it, and other times that I just wanted to quit. But all we can control each day are our own behaviors and actions; take on the tasks of the day and prepare for what may come tomorrow. Today’s struggles and challenges are relative.

Some may have it better, but many more are less fortunate. Embrace and trust in the process and things will work out the way they are meant to. Then, one day, you’ll look back and smile about all the luck you encountered on your journey.

About the Author

Brian Ung is a second-year health economics and outcomes research post-doctoral fellow with Celgene Corporation and Rutgers University. At Rutgers, Brian is working towards his Master of Science degree in Health Outcomes, Policy, and Economics (HOPE). Brian earned his undergraduate pharmacology degree from the University of California-Santa Barbara and his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Maryland (UMB) School of Pharmacy.