The Essential Formula of Building Up

Last updated: October 30, 2018


Success has a simple formula: you're successful when your preparation meets an opportunity. Preparation is hard work, and most people understand what it means. However, what do you do if you don't have opportunities?

You work hard to get the opportunities: you build up your pyramid of success from the ground up!

I call it a pyramid because you have to cover the bases to be able to move up. Some people are geniuses; some people are born into wealthy families, some people have been athletes since they were kids. But that's not most of us. Most of us will have to build up many kinds of skills. Most of us will first have to chase opportunities, and only then use our preparation to build it up into a success. Financial intelligence, articulation, computer skills, etc. All of that eventually gets together, and you achieve something great.

After finishing college and starting to work at a small software company in a German suburb, I thought I don't have what it takes to have an amazing and exciting life. I was wondering if this is what my life was going to be: a mediocre existence in an average small town. I didn't like that option — I knew how would that end, and I didn't like it (more about that on my next post). So I knew I had to do something different. Instead, I decided to try doing things I never did before, and then see what happens. "If you want something you never had, do something you never did." I've never been an athlete, so I thought I would start working out. Capoeira seemed interesting at the time, with its acrobatics and athletics, and I liked the idea of practicing a martial art. It's cool to be able to throw a ball, but it's more useful to know how to defend yourself or others. I signed up for a capoeira class and ended up practicing it for around a year and a half. I got into a decent shape, and in about half a year I started having visible abs! It felt great — I never imagined I'd have visible abs!

I wasn't the most excellent software engineer among my colleagues. I had to get better, so I had to something my colleagues weren't doing: I decided to study for SCJP and SCJD exams, and learn the ins and outs of Java. I wanted to know cryptography, but they didn't offer cryptography course in my undergraduate studies. At the time I heard about edX and Coursera education platforms, so I decided to take cryptography and software engineering courses from Stanford and Berkeley respectively. I was still not satisfied with the depth of my knowledge and the opportunities I had, so I wanted to move to the US. When I was in grad school in the US, I wanted to learn something extra, so I built a website on my free time,, where I learned a lot about web programming and Ruby.

I didn't have excellent social skills, such as knowing how to present myself, negotiate, etc. I wasn't confident either and didn't have the right mindset. I bought a few books about it to see what I can learn. My English wasn't fantastic either, so I started to improve my vocabulary and pronunciation. Later I took a writing class in a continuous education school.

I wasn't a citizen of a developed country, so living in a developed country was a challenge for me. I was lucky to see an article in my alumni magazine about getting German citizenship, and I decided I'm going to get it. It took me two years, and it was one of the most excruciating bureaucracies I've experienced, but I did it!

Eventually, my hard work started paying off: I got an interview for an internship at Google. Technical skills enabled me to answer questions. Boxing skills helped me stay resilient after I didn't do well on my first interview, but I had two more to go. After I got a full-time job offer at Google, but couldn't work in the US because of visa issues, German passport enabled me to work in Switzerland instead, which is one of the highest paid offices of Google.

It has been seven years between going to my first capoeira class and starting to work at Google and having the life I have now. I did the right thing facing lack of opportunities — I learned, worked hard, prepared, and waited. If you don't have opportunities, you work to get them. In other words: opportunities come to those who work for it.

"Once you grow up, you make your own luck." Barbara Corcoran (NPR How I Build This).

We live in great times now; unlike previous generations, our generation has access to the internet, which is full of information and learning opportunities. There are many platforms with a lot of free or cheap educational material. EdX, Coursera, Udacity, etc. If you're privileged with internet access, whether it's from the comfort of your home, a library, or an internet cafe, you have enough opportunities in your hands to move forward.

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