By: Revanche

When down and out, don’t blame luck

February 6, 2009

JD at Get Rick Slowly’s post on luck and the associated article from Newsweek “What it takes to survive” really struck a chord with me.

In the last several years, there’ve been challenges in droves: health, family, bankruptcies, debts, tragedy. You name it, we had it. We managed, sometimes by the skin of my teeth, but the toughest recurring theme throughout was the devolving relationship with my mom.

Once my biggest inspiration and help, she changed dramatically as the difficulties ate away at her self esteem and faith. When faced with a new obstacle, she began insisting that “bad luck” was to blame for all our problems. At one point, she began to blame the house and its “bad karma” for the bad luck. I wanted to scream/cry: this is the person from whom I learned to pick up and solve the problems, no whining. (Or rather, no whining unless you’re multi-tasking. That was ok.) What was this madness?

In the article, Professor Wiseman states:

“Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods,” Wiseman writes. “Instead, it is a state of mind—a way of thinking and behaving.” Above all, he insists that we have far more control over our lives—and our luck—than we realize. Going back to the Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, great thinkers and writers have argued that 50 percent or more of what happens in life is determined entirely by chance (or Fortuna, the Roman goddess of fortune). Wiseman says no way. He believes that only 10 percent of life is purely random. The remaining 90 percent is “actually defined by the way you think.” In other words, your attitude and behavior determine nine tenths of what happens in your life.

I absolutely believe that life can be mostly determined by your choices. It drove me nuts that my role model was trying to convince me, the last person standing, that there was nothing effective I could do to turn around our situation.

Her mindset meant that she was handing off all responsibility for their/her decisions. With it went the ability and willingness to learn from the mistakes and effect change.

She chose to resign herself to my brother’s irrational and selfish behavior, to allow him to run roughshod over them, instead of standing up to him. He was only nice to her when he wanted money or help.

She would choose to forgo medical treatments to give him money, and he actually took it! (*banging head against wall* This. Is. NOT. OK!)

She railed against the whatever-you-want-to-call-it for my dad’s stupid decisions instead of refusing to bail him out. If she wanted to shelter her money from his failing attempts to make money, all she had to do was give it to me.

She had some nominal control but gave it all up because she couldn’t control other people and the outcomes of her decisions. Instead, everything went wrong because of “bad luck.” I finally realized that the sense of helplessness had overcome her ability to see solutions. I totally understand, sometimes I feel helpless, lost, whatever, you all see it here. But there is always something that can be done. Always.

~ work to build my professional reputation,
~ reduce expenses,
~ protect & preserve my emotional sanity,
~ take care of my family to the best of my ability,
~ establish firm boundaries with each family member,
~ scan the horizon for more opportunities to learn, build and flourish.

I’m sure that luck has its place – getting the prime parking spot when you least expected it, coming into a windfall, etc., but it should not be granted the power to dictate your life, not if you have any aspirations at all. That’d be the greatest tragedy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I found this paragraph particularly interesting:

Third, lucky people persevere in the face of failure and have an uncanny knack for making their wishes come true. They’re convinced that life’s most unpredictable events will “consistently work out for them.” Their world is “bright and rosy,” Wiseman writes, while unlucky people expect that things will always go wrong. Their world is “bleak and black.” When Wiseman gives lucky and unlucky people a puzzle that is actually impossible to solve, the reactions are very telling. “More than 60 percent of unlucky people said that they thought the puzzle was impossible, compared to just 30 percent of lucky people. As in so many areas of their lives, the unlucky people gave up before they even started.”

While I do tend to expect things can and will go wrong, and spend plenty of time figuring out how, when and why, I think of it as disaster planning. Even if I think something’s impossible, I’m still too obstinate to give up before I start, unlucky or no.

7 Responses to “When down and out, don’t blame luck”

  1. I really like this. I think I’m lucky, and I while some of it really is “luck”, I know you create your own luck, to a degree.

    Also: “protect & preserve my emotional sanity”
    That is so important, but you never really hear anyone talking about it. Weird.

  2. I enjoyed reading this as well (and such a weighty post for 6 am Revanche!).

    I think it is human nature to want to shirk away from responsibility (the responsibility to take action when needed) and to blame things on bad luck. I do believe in luck – i’ve been incredibly lucky and for some reason, things always seem to work out, even if at first it doesn’t appear that way. But do I sit back and wait for luck to help me out? Nope. Do I blame something on bad luck when things go bad? Nope. I just reflect and then see what I can do to change the situation.

    Now, the human birth lottery – that is luck. I consider myself very lucky to have ended up with the parents I have and not the parents of the begger child like the ones on the streets of Jakarta.

  3. mOOm says:

    Well, it depends how “lucky/unlucky” is defined. The way it is being used in what you quote I would substitute optimistic/pessimistic. And I think it is much better to be optimistic (though realistic). But I would tend to say that the outcome of life is likely 50/50 purposeful action and random chance (which is better than using the word luck I think). By taking action to orient yourself better – think of a sailing boat tilting its sails for example – you can position yourself to get greater benefit from the positive random events and less damage from the negative random events.

  4. Miss M says:

    What a wonderful, insightful piece. There are random events in life over which we have little control, but we can control our response to those events. The seemingly lucky people are often just taking advantage of opportunities they see that ‘unlucky’ people are forgoing. But, as was mentioned, all of us won the birth lottery. I could have been born in a hut in africa with little opportunity. I know I’m lucky in that respect. And weird coincidence, I just wrote a piece about the birth lottery in response to a comment on another blog. Cue twilight zone.

  5. Revanche says:

    stackingpennies: I freely admit that I’ve only just learned how important, and hard to come by, emotional sanity can be in tough times. Well worth the effort of protecting it.

    losangelesdaze: Birth lottery: Yes, most of us (here in the pf community) are pretty lucky even if we’re not well off.

    mOOm: I think it’s a mix that’s difficult to sort out in a meaningfully quantitative way. After all, positioning oneself to be open to opportunity is critical to seeing and accepting them, yet good things can happen despite a closed mind, and vice versa.

    Miss M: Blog minds 😉

  6. I love that last paragraph – I know it says “luck” but it’s really more about attitude. If you feel that things will work out, the tendency is that you will see all the little positives here and there that might add up to one great thing happening.

  7. Revanche says:

    Fighting Bankruptcy: More than ever, it’s important to try to keep a positive attitude.

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