Last week, one of our athletes at Tread asked me how I got my previous job in pro baseball. I chuckled. “Luck,” I told him.
It’s true, but probably more of a half-truth.
A more complete telling of the story goes something like this:
Over two-and-a-half years, I got to know a lot of really great people while I trained myself from a bad NAIA pitcher throwing 81 MPH to a guy capable of throwing 95 MPH that was getting draft looks. After those 2.5 years, I was burnt out on the sport and took a year off, thinking that I was done with it forever. (I even told people I hated baseball.)
About a year later, I was at a Milwaukee Bucks game when Derek Florko called me. He had been hired by the Los Angeles Angels a few months earlier, but that wasn’t on my mind when I picked up. After exchanging pleasantries, he told me the Angels were still looking to hire one more pitching coach for the year and asked if I was interested in interviewing for the role.
Conveniently, I had just started exploring baseball opportunities within the last couple of weeks.
“Yeah, I’d love to interview,” I told him. Two weeks later, I had a signed contract. Three weeks after that, my wife and I packed up our Mercury Mariner and were on our way to Arizona.
It’s been a crazy journey, to say the least.
And last week wasn’t the first time I’ve been asked some version of “How’d you get that job?”. Whether it was about my multiple stops at Driveline Baseball, my stint with the LA Angels, or my current role with Tread Athletics, people are curious how they can find their way to roles like those. But whenever I’m asked, I get a little anxious. Because the truth isn’t simple, nor is it comfortable.
It feels crazy that I would ever get asked for career advice. After all, I’m 26 years old. There’s a lot of wisdom I don’t have, things I haven’t seen. But on the flip side, there’s something to be said for the speed at which coaches and friends like Rob Hill and Eric Jagers have ascended to the upper levels of professional baseball all before their 26th birthday. As someone who’s done something similar, I feel like I might have something unique to say to young coaches who want to do something similar.
The truth is: sometimes, it is about luck. I wasn’t pursuing a job in professional baseball when Derek called me.
But it’s also not like buying a lottery ticket. Rather than just being about random chance, you can influence luck and bend it in your favor.
Here’s my attempt to tell you how I’ve done it.
All you need is…Luck?
Let’s imagine that your goal was to start working at Tread Athletics within the next 12 months. You have two ways that you could approach this.
First, you could go the normal route. You could submit an application and then proceed through our standard interview process. If you’re good and we feel like you’re a good fit for the company, we might offer you a position. That’d be cool, right?
Of course. But the likelihood of this happening isn’t great. A great secret of hiring is that most jobs are filled by people the hiring managers already knew. My grandma taught me many years ago that “It’s not always what you know; it’s who you know.” While having the requisite knowledge for the position is critical, rarely is knowledge the deciding factor in you landing the job.
So when it comes to achieving your goal of working at Tread, there are a few other things you could do to expand your Luck Surface Area for landing the job.
- You could start a personal website and write online.
- You could start tweeting solid content and attract our attention.
- You could reach out to us with some of your work.
Each of these things have a common thread: you’re doing something cool and sharing it with others. We’ll get to that in a second.
But first, a personal story.
How I (unknowingly) increased my luck
I was a fairly early adopter of some of the “new age” training methods popular today in baseball (weighted balls, long toss, lifting, mobility training, etc.) It actually feels ridiculous that these weren’t popular all along, but I digress…
When I started seriously training in March 2015, I didn’t know a single person within a 200 mile radius that was training like me. But I did know some people out on the West Coast at Driveline, the first company I trained with. So what’d I do?
I shared my training on the Internet. I posted about it on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I tried starting a blog but didn’t like that format. Later, I started a dedicated Instagram account called “@reklaitispitching” where I shared regular updates from my training and performance.
Along the way, I connected with plenty of awesome people. I’m not going to list them all out by name, but these people are some of my closest friends, confidants, and the party animals who lit up the dance floor at my wedding.
Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was putting myself in a position of luck. While I may not have had the words for it (or awareness of it) a few years ago, I formed relationships that would pay off non-linearly for years to come.
So when it comes to how I got the job with the Angels, it wasn’t necessarily a matter of “what“, it was more a matter of “who“.
Of my professional baseball connections in early 2019, what was the likelihood that any one of them would call me and ask if I was interested in a job? On an individual level, maybe 5% each. But as a group, the probability that one of the ~20 people I knew would think to call me was higher, maybe 30-40%. While far from a guarantee, that’s significantly higher than 5% of each individual person.
The lesson is that by having many relationships, I increased the likelihood that one of them would lead to something. That wasn’t part of some master plan from the beginning, but instead is the payoff of doing cool things, telling people about them, getting to know those people, helping them, and generally being a good person along the way.
While I’m still ridiculously young, one of the key insights I’ve discovered about life is that people are a power law. This means that the best in the world aren’t just marginally better than others; they’re exponentially better.
This is true within your set of friends as well. While you may not know which friend is especially awesome, it becomes clear over time that a small group of people take on a much more significant role in your life. When I first talked with Derek Florko in the summer of 2015, I had no idea he would call me nearly four years later with a job offer that would change the trajectory of my life. But by investing in genuine friendships, it happened. And I’m extremely grateful.
Which brings me back to the idea of a Luck Surface Area.
How to increase your odds
“The amount of serendipity that will occur in your life, your Luck Surface Area, is directly proportional to the degree to which you do something you’re passionate about combined with the total number of people to whom this is effectively communicated. It’s a simple concept, but an extremely powerful one because what it implies is that you can directly control the amount of luck you receive. In other words, you make your own luck.”codusoperandi.com, How to increase your luck surface area
Doing cool things and telling people about it drastically increases the number of cool opportunities that come your way.
Whether it’s people you admire reaching out to you, opportunities to collaborate on stimulating projects, job offers you didn’t have to interview for, or a cherished lifelong friendship, doing cool things and telling others about them is one of the surest guarantees I can give you on how to create a more fun life.
In fact, this is what Tyler Tringas calls “Power Networking“.
If you want to connect with someone who has extreme demands on their time, you’re going to need to do something awesome first. Networking is best done via a “pull” approach where people are attracted to things you’ve done, rather than as a push of your work on everyone else.
Your work should act as a magnet, attracting other like-minded people to you. Most networking does the opposite.
So what’s a coach to do?
When I was in college, I had a heuristic that former elite-level-players-turned-coaches didn’t know what they were talking about. I heard enough horror stories to see a loose correlation and started to think that it was true in every case.
That was five years ago. I don’t think that way any more. Now, I find myself in the middle. I see one’s playing career as a different thing from their coaching career.
- Just because a player was great doesn’t mean they’ll be a good (or bad) coach.
- Just because a player was bad doesn’t mean they’ll be a bad (or good) coach.
There are obvious things going on here that I’m just flying by, but forgive me. They’re not relevant to this article.
What is relevant is that no matter what, a coach should use his or her story – the combined experiences of one’s life, trials, and successes – to develop into an elite coach. This is the idea behind what I call Story Arbitrage, someone leveraging their own story to produce outsized returns in their life.
So what do you do if you don’t have that appealing of a story? It’s just like the saying about the tree: the best time to start writing your story was 30 years ago. The second best time is today. It’s never too late to write the next chapter in your story.
As I mentioned above, I’m very active in our hiring process at Tread. The way we phrase our hiring philosophy internally is that we don’t want a resume; we want a story.
We’re not looking for someone who’s checked all the boxes, done all the things, has all the current certifications, and thinks that’s good enough. Instead, we want someone who’s endured tough times, taken themselves further than they ever thought possible, and can package their experiences into a concise story to relate to others.
To close this out, I asked Eric Jagers, 26-year-old MLB Bullpen Coach for the Cincinnati Reds, what he would tell coaches who want to start writing their story. Here was his advice:
“What I’d add is not waiting for the perfect idea, moment, or opportunity to arise before taking action. That was by far the best piece of advice I got before I began pushing content via Twitter. Just go/do what you think is cool right here right now… reflect often and iterate along the way. In doing so, I believe you enable yourself to become a voice people expect to hear from and go to for information.
If you wait for the perfect time to take action, it may never come.”
So what does this have to do with luck? Everything, I think.
As I connect the dots of the last 6 years of my life, I can’t help but be astonished at how lucky I’ve been. It’d be easy for me to chalk this up to fate or good fortune, but that’d be wrong. Because before the fate, before the good fortune, there was work and there were relationships. And that work and those relationships have propelled me to where I am today.
So have I gotten lucky? You bet I have. I’ll never deny that.
But the good news for you is that luck isn’t a zero-sum game. You can have some too. So go, get started.
Because if you wait for the perfect time to start, it may never come.
If you’re intrigued by this topic and want to read more, here’s a list of places to go next to learn how you can bend luck in your favor:
- Incerto, Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Taleb writes, “I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.” This entire series is his attempt to help you do that. You’ll want to start with Fooled by Randomness and work forwards. (Affiliate link)
- How to Get Lucky: Focus on the Fat Tails, Taylor Pearson – If you want to get lucky, you need to understand power laws. Pearson’s got you for this.
- How to increase your luck surface area – If you resonated with the idea of a luck surface area, you’ll want to check this one out.
- Luck and the Entrepreneur: Part 1, The four kinds of luck: Back when Marc Andreessen was a blogger, he wrote some of the best material out there on entrepreneurship including this one on luck. My takeaway: I can influence luck more than I thought I could.