Friday, 2 May 2008

Luck of the draw

Why is it some people have endless bad luck, hit by one disaster after another, while others are blessed by constant good fortune? Is it purely the whim of fate or is it their own attitude to life?

People who've done well for themselves are fond of saying it's due entirely to their own effort and single-mindedness, that anyone who wants to succeed can do so if their really want to. They're where they are because they deserve it.

But it simply isn't true. There are millions of people languishing in dead-end jobs and crime-ridden estates who're just as hard-working and intelligent but are perpetually held back by forces beyond their control.

We're more at the mercy of luck than we like to think. So much depends on our personality and our circumstances, what we were landed with when we came into this world and what happened to us as we grew up and came to grips with the adult world and its challenges.

If you have parents who're alcoholics or criminals or are mentally disturbed, who have no idea how to bring up children and treat you as a nuisance and a liability, what chance do you have of a fruitful life unless you're uncannily resilient and self-motivated? Not very much.

But if you have sober, responsible parents who love you and cherish you, who help you to develop your abilities and talents, who give you self-confidence and determination, your life is immeasurably different and you have a real prospect of achieving your hopes and dreams.

Even when we're grown up, so much hinges on random events we can't control. What our bosses are like, what area we live in, who we happen to meet, how healthy we are. Or whether we're struck by natural disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis. Our destiny can change overnight from prosperous to broke, from despair to joy.

But it's still often said that those who are poor deserve to be poor, that the wealthy and successful have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. It's a wicked lie that keeps countless people trapped in wretched and unfulfilling lives.


conortje said...

On the idea of luck I have noticed that people who already have money seem to be the ones that atrract more through winnings, better salaries, inheritance etc Then again maybe it's just my sour grapes (cause I can't afford to buy fresh ones hehe)

Nick said...

Conor - Dead right, money attracts more money, not only through conventional routes but through the dubious ones - off-shore tax havens, bogus companies etc. While the poor struggle just to hold on to what little cash they have. Not sour grapes at all, just a healthy sense of grievance.

Baino said...

Yeh I agree with random events and happenstance affecting life's outcomes. I don't even think it's all about money. Research shows that wealthy people aren't necessarily happier than those without. Some just lead a charmed life. My best friend for instance, same upbringing, same education, we married at the same time, have our pidgeon pair kids - but she just had impeccable timing and luck both financially and in life. Nothing has ever gone wrong for her . . Mine on the other hand seems to be one calamity after another. However, she's a total stress queen and I just accept my lot!

Wisewebwoman said...

I think we could debate this for hours and hours. I'll just make a few points.
(1)I am a firm believer in getting help to overcome family origins - TO RECOVER THE SELF ESTEEM THAT WAS STOLEN FROM THE CHILD.
(2)I have noted in my long career as a financial counsellor/accountant/healer that people are terrified of risk, they will cling to the safe old government yob-job until wheeled out on a pallet. This has a viral effect on one's life
(3)If money is the focus of life there is never, ever enough.
(4)The simpler the life the happier the person.
(5)Manifestation of wealth (and not just monetary wealth) is possible by concentrating frequently on the real goals in life.
(6)Suit up and show up for every invitation that comes one's way. I am amazed at the opportunities out there = LUCK
(7) Practice meditation to get more out of life.
(8)Forgive everyone who "done you wrong" and move on.
Enough for now, I should do my own blog post on this, Nick ;^)

Jenny Muir said...

Funnily enough I was talking to someone today about this, in relation to Gordon Brown for some reason:). Of course some of us have more advantages in life than others, but equally some people are good at making the most of their opportunities whatever these might be. www has a point about risk aversion, I think, but there's also something else going on which I can't quite fathom.

Nick said...

Baino - Fascinating that you and your best friend have had such different luck. But is your life really one calamity after another or is that just the way you interpret it? It seems to me you have a pretty good life!

www - Very good points, particularly about fearing risk. Nothing venture nothing gain is often true. I also agree that simplicity brings happiness and complexity brings stress. And forgiveness comes naturally to me.

Jenny - That's true, making the most of your opportunities is important. And recognising a lucky break for what it is and seizing it.

Baino said...

Nick: WWW has a point and working in the financial planning area myself, I understand the psychological effects of financial risk and deal with incredibly wealthy people who are obsessed, thinking they will never have enough to retire - being wealthy causes them incredible stress!

Nick, on the surface. Yes, I have food in the fridge and a nice sunny place to live and wonderful children. And I'm very grateful for my lot in life. Which is why I don't equate wealth with happiness.

I have had bad luck/karmer/whatever Wanna know the full story? Not for the blogosphere I'm afraid. Email and I'm happy to share.

Nick said...

Baino, I've heard that so often, that the wealthiest people can often be the stingiest and most money-conscious. They can be worth a billion and still be furtively eating baked beans and porridge.

Yes, I'd like to hear about your bad luck if you're willing to share it. I'll drop you an email.

Nick said...

Trisha has just commented on an old post about abortion but her comment is so relevant to this one and the issue of good and bad parenting I've copied it over.

Trisha said:

The individual should be allowed to decide what to do with their own bodies and in the case of abortion ‘lives’. I had an upbringing with a mother who wasn’t cut out to be a mother and it took a lifetime to get over it.

If a human being is not carefully nurtured it is many years of pain that they experience, abortion is far kinder than unfit parents and thugs on the street which is what someone turns out to be if they have bad parenting.

The growth of a human being goes on for very many years after conception which is a small beginning.

I myself am nearly fifty and have had two abortions and I could look God (or whatever you want to call a higher spiritual order) in the face and say I am happy that I did this and the yet unborn life is also happy that I did this. I am having a fantastic life for having made the right decision.

Thank God for science and how many people can say they're having a fantastic life. There would be two or even three miserable lives if I hadn’t had these abortions.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I tend to believe that we attract what we expect in life, but I'm not sure about that. Certainly some people are raised for success and happiness while other children in the very same family are not encouraged to believe in themselves, so I think parents bear a lot of the responsibility.

I don't think it's impossible to succeed without the kind of nurturing that infuses a person with confidence, but it's much harder and can take a lifetime because they are hugely disadvantaged.

Parents who can't treat all their children equally well should never have more than one.

Nick said...

Heart, that's an interesting issue in itself, how children can be treated very differently in terms of their parents' affections and support. Parents try not to have favourites but it usually shows one way or another. By the time I was a teenager my father doted on my sister but had a low opinion of me. Yes, if self-confidence isn't encouraged at an early age, it's very hard if not impossible to gain it as an adult.

Fate's Granddaughter said...

I am well and truly with you on this. While I do think it is possible to overcome adversity with the right tools, I think telling ourselves that anyone can make their lives better if they try hard enough (like the whole 'American Dream' fiasco) is a way to avoid guilt over the masses of people living with out.

Nick said...

FG - Yes, it's a great excuse for inequality isn't it? If you're not getting anywhere in life, it's just because you're bone idle and afraid of hard work. Nothing to do with the old boys' network or daddy buying you a nice little house.

Nomadic Matt said...

You make your own luck but if you start off behind, it's going to be hard to catch up.

Quickroute said...

I believe in fate but also in Karma - of course that´s kind of a contradiction I know!

Nick said...

Matt - Don't agree we make our own luck! If we really did, wouldn't I have spotted the formula by now and be a millionaire? Unfortunately a lot of people not only start off behind but continue lagging behind despite their best efforts.

Quickie - Actually I'm the same but I don't believe there's a contradiction. I think karma is the psychological environment we create around us, but we never know exactly what will come back from that, and that unpredictable element is what I'd call fate (if that makes any sense!).

GayƩ said...

The people who were born to unfortunate circumstances but pulled through to be millionaires have done one of the three things:
1 Worked hard to change circumstances,
2 Out of pure luck they found themselves in changed circumstances,
3 Stole, scammed, cheated, in cases committed even more terrible crimes to change their circumstances.

In the case of number 1, still luck has a lot to do.

It's one thing to have everything against you whilst you work towards or rather try to achieve a better life for yourself, it's another to be born with a bit of bad luck to start with but have the right environment to learn, study, work hard and achieve what you are after.

I think that communism in the ideal sense would serve this world right. But who will run the entire world and not be crazy and corrupt with power to run it like Stalin.

Wealth should be equally shared, effort should be equally put in, people should not have more or less than others and appreciate what they have without falling into the hands of greed (I want I want I want) That's my ideal world.

Of course everyone would have to have a macbook, internet, iphone, ipod, and wii cuz I can't live without them. :p (totally joking apart from the macbook, internet and wii)

Nick said...

Gaye - Your three options are good. Having the right environment to learn, study and work hard sounds straightforward but in practice can be sabotaged in so many ways - family tragedies, poverty, mental illness, you name it. That's why if we do do well for ourselves, we should just be grateful for so many things going our way and not make out it's purely our own efforts.

Yes, it's a pity so many attempts at socialism and communism have come to grief through the same old human failings of egotism, corruption and power-seeking.

dj mikey said...

I agree about luck, some have good luck and saome don't. Me personally my luck is better than I care to admit. My parents grew up in Belfast, with their own parents constantly scrimpping and saving to make ends meet. They both got to university, because they hard at school. Also at that time admission to uni was free.

I am grateful, because this paved the way for my to go to uni and hopefully have a great future.

But there are others who have become wealth through drug deals and other under-handed and illegal dealings. Acquiring wealth is simply about seizing the opportunities handed to you.

The opportunity handed to me was uni. In time I will acquire wealth, on the way I might make a difference. Since I am studying medicine, I will get to help those, who helped the local drug dealer pay for his shiny new Mercedes or BMW.

Nick said...

dj - I'm grateful too for the fortunate life I've had thanks to free university tuition, responsible parents and decent employers. A lot of people haven't been so lucky. I love your comment that you'll be helping those who've enriched the local drug dealers! And good for you training to be a doctor - an incredibly worthwhile job.