Luck is when opportunity meets an unsuspecting fool who seizes it with both hands.” Unknown

I am a Geophysicist and Photojournalist by education. An exploration geologist, environmental scientist, project manager, recruiter, business founder, entrepreneur, director, and CEO by trade.

But above all, I am a Lucky Idiot. 

There are two significant points on my career timeline that led me to embrace the title of Lucky Idiot. Both, on paper, were not smart decisions. The first, at age 25, was an impulsive decision to quit my job of 5 years as an Exploration Geophysicist in the Outback of Australia and travel across the world. The second was reluctantly starting a company at 36 years of age in an industry in which I had comparatively little experience.  Both these decisions, it would seem, have worked out for me, I met the girl of my dreams by making the first impulsive decision and I found financial freedom by making the second. However, they were not the decisions of a wise, educated professional, they were the decisions of an idiot. Although these two impetuous decisions have somewhat demarcated my life and career, it’s what happened between these two idiotic decisions that really defined my life’s course.

I once heard that your 20s should be like a learning workshop. Learn a lot, screw up a lot, and figure out who you are and who you want to be.  And although I didn’t know it at the time that’s exactly what I did. I finished college, got my first real job, made some idiotic decisions with money by spending every dollar I earned, then quit my first real job, and traveled around the world. The result of all this was that by the end of my 20’s, I had no money, no savings, no assets, and no “real” job. My situation wasn’t all that bad, financially yes it was terrible (although being the idiot that I am I didn’t realize it) but the other aspects of my life were pretty good. I was married to the woman of my dreams with our first baby on the way, (Lord knows what she saw in me).  

Without fear or panic (another trait of an idiot) I rounded the corner of my 20s and embarked on my 30s, I got an entry-level job in an industry outside of my education and experience but near enough to get creative on my resume. After 6 months I was able to network my way into a near entry-level job with a large consulting firm that would be my home for the next 6 years.

Given my complete lack of experience in my new industry, I simply put my head down for 5 years, I learned as much as I could as fast as I could from anyone I could. I quickly realized that I could learn as much, if not more, by paying attention to the screwups in the company. For me learning what not to do was far easier than trying to figure out what I should be doing. 

I moved up the ladder and ended up in an office with a floor-to-ceiling window offering an uninterrupted view of the skyline. I thought I had the greatest job in the world. After 6 months in my new office, I looked out that window at a bloke on a ride-on lawn mower with a large sombrero and headphones mowing the park in front of my office and thought that it was that guy on the mower who had the greatest job in the world. No stress, no steep learning curve, no group emails, no meetings, no managers looking over his shoulder, and no company politics.

When the recession hit towards the end of 2007 I began looking around for a new job. I contacted a recruiter to see what was out there and ended up getting an offer to be a recruiter myself. For a little over a year, I took a deep dive into Human Resources and studied thousands of resumes, and interviewed hundreds of candidates. What I learned during this period turned out to be invaluable a few years later when I accidentally started my own company.  Despite my new found HR acumen I still made some horrible hires, particularly in senior roles and my first-ever hire turned out to be the worst possible, but at least I had acquired the knowledge as a recruiter to know why they were bad hires.

It was now the first half of 2009, I had a third child on the way, I still had no money, was living paycheck to paycheck, still buried in mortgage, car, and credit card debt as well as a new newly acquired home equity line of credit, and the recession was in full swing. My employer asked me to use my vacation time. I knew enough to know this was a sure sign they didn’t have the money to pay out accrued vacation time and layoffs were imminent. 

It was during this time that an old colleague reached out randomly. I told him of my predicament, and he offered me work as a consultant overseeing a project for 2 weeks. The only catch was I would have to start my own limited liability company.  I took my forced 2 weeks vacation, read everything I could on how to register and start a business, and reluctantly registered my first company. At no point in my career had I ever imagined starting a company and going out on my own, but I had no other options, every other company in the industry was also downsizing. Starting a company in the middle of the worst recession in a generation, while carrying heavy personal debt, with no savings, and a third child on the way seems like an idiotic thing to do. And it was. But I also didn’t have a lot to lose, the risk was relative, it’s not like I was going to lose my life’s savings on this venture, I didn’t have any life savings to lose. I consulted for 2 weeks and made more money than I did in a month at my old job. To me this meant one of two things, I could earn twice as much as I did previously, or I could earn the same working half as much. I chose the latter option and used the extra time to learn about business and the business of doing business. 

After a little over a year, I hired my first employee (who turned out to be a horrible hire), and within 10 years the company I reluctantly started as a result of a lay-off grew to employ more than 200 people in 5 states with close to $50MM in annual revenue. And I’ll be the first to admit that there are many reasons for that growth that had little or nothing to do with me, I made some idiotic decisions throughout those first 10 years, but I led the company with lessons learned in my 20s and I never forgot the lucky idiot’s mantra…

“Embrace serendipity, seize every chance,

For lucky idiots, life’s a joyful dance.

With open hearts and minds so bright,

We stumble into fortune’s light.”

That company gave me the financial freedom and ability to start 5 more companies in the ensuing years and retire at 48. It also put me on a crash course in entrepreneurialism, business administration, human resources, sales and marketing, project management, insurance, payroll, employee benefits, conflict resolution, and risk analysis. The funny thing about starting a business is you never know if you’re any good at it until you do it. The only real yardstick for determining your likelihood of successfully running and growing a company is your capacity to learn from lived experiences and the experiences of those around you, recognize opportunities when they appear, and grab onto those opportunities with both hands. And it’s what you do in between those opportunities that enables you to make the most out of them when they arrive.