Karla Starr

Karla Starr

Karla Starr is a writer living in New York City. She writes about social science, and is currently writing a book about how and why people get chosen for opportunities. Recently I had the chance to talk with Karla about whether luck is real, how to create more of it, and how to avoid the bad kind.

 Feeling lucky? Read on!

Everybody’s Invited!: What is luck?

Karla Starr: It’s one of those words that can have a slippery definition. It can mean a million different things, and some people don’t believe it exists. The definition I like best is “probability interpreted personally,” because you can’t argue that probability doesn’t exist.

EI!: Are some people really luckier than others? Because sometimes it seems that way.

KS: It depends on how you interpret it. Looking at the bell curve of probability distribution, if events really are random, then some people will be the recipient of more unlikely occurrences than others, by definition.

One of the main things that explains why some people might have more good things happen to them is rooted in personality. If you’re an extroverted optimist, you’ll have a larger social network which leads to knowing about more opportunities, such as cool parties or jobs.

EI!: What else contributes to feeling lucky?

KS: Whether you have an Approach/Promotion mindset or an Avoid/Prevention mindset. People with the former are more focused on the possibility of rewards. They’re focused on new friendships and experiences. Those with the Avoid/Prevention mindset are more concerned with preventing pain or bad things from happening. They’re more likely to focus on not being rejected, and not losing what they already have.

The Approach/Promotion mindset leads to the exploratory behavior that is associated with better luck.

EI!: I’m listening to you describe these two types of people and I’m thinking that one is clearly better. Is that just me being biased?

KS: It’s not that we all have one mindset or the other all the time. We can change from one to the other, depending on the situation or the domain. You might be risk-averse when it comes to money, but have a high risk tolerance in social situations. It’s also easy to prime people to behave in one way or the other.

EI!: Phew! Good to know. The Avoid/Prevention mindset sounds like it’s related to scarcity.

KS: It is! Or, rather, it’s related to perceived scarcity. People who perceive something to be scarce end up being overly focused on whatever goal they’re trying to reach. Here’s an example from earlier today when I took a walk outside. I wasn’t walking with a specific goal in mind, like, say, to the train, hurriedly. I was just wandering around my neighborhood. Because I wasn’t overly focused on getting from point A to point B, I was paying attention to the different things in my neighborhood. And I found five dollars.

EI!: Lucky!

KS: Yeah. So then I went and bought kale, and an onion, and a mango, because that’s how I roll.  You see that all the time here in New York. People are in such a rush that they only see the step in front of them. They wouldn’t notice if Benedict Cumberbatch walked right by them.

EI!: Um…I would definitely notice. Hey, if this is just about probability, then wouldn’t paying more attention open you up to more bad luck, too? If you’re looking around more, aren’t you more likely to notice your ex on the subway platform and start crying uncontrollably?

KS: That leads us back to another part of the equation which is optimism and, specifically, resilience. If you’re resilient you can recover from seeing your ex on the subway, and you might not consider yourself any less lucky for having seen him. What looks like an average amount of good luck might actually just be an abnormally high amount of resilience.

EI!: Word.


  • Always leave a lot of time to get from one place to another, and look around you. That’s when you notice the really cool stuff that can change your life.

  • Maintain a wide, diverse social circle. Increasing your network increases the number of opportunities you’re aware of. It’s just a numbers game.

  • Say yes to new things. Optimistic people imagine the world is full of potential rewards, and therefore they’re open to new experiences.

  • Don’t take rejection personally. While there are certain things you can do to set yourself up for success, there are so many factors that go into decision-making, many of which are out of your control. Resilient people can bounce back because they don’t personalize failures.

Be sure to visit Karla’s website for more.