I don’t consider myself a lucky person; in fact, I’m probably one of the least lucky people on the planet. I’ve always said that I could be the only person to enter a contest and some loophole would still prevent me from winning. Several friends of mine, though, seem to run into good fortune wherever they go. (And I may or may not want to kick them a little as a result.)
I’ve always believed that luck plays a role in success, especially when it comes to finances. Do I think it’s the only factor? Of course not! But it’s difficult to look at any wealthy person’s life without seeing circumstances – good schools, supportive parents, preexisting family wealth – that helped him or her along the way.
On the flip side, I can look at my own life and see that I’ve had plenty of advantages, too. I went to good schools. Not the best by any means, but good ones. My parents were (and still are) supportive of almost everything I’ve ever done. No wealth in my family, but we aren’t exactly poor, either. So why am I not super successful? Is it because I’m not lucky?
The Role of Luck
Awhile back, I wrote a post on my business blog about my sister’s success in creating a website and online business. (You should click through and read it; it’s a pretty cool story.) I’m really proud of her accomplishments, but it’s hard not to feel a little Eeyore-esque when I realize she has made almost as much in 4 months as I’ve made all year (not even counting her income from her job), and with a lot less work.
Overall, my sister seems to have amazing luck. I won’t talk about her personal life because she’d strangle me, but things have pretty much always gone well for her. When she decided to start a blog last summer – her first real attempt at blogging, I might add – she didn’t necessarily set out to make tons of money. She hoped to, sure, but it’s not like she knew some kind of secret that would propel her into untold riches.
No, she just used her knowledge (being an elementary school librarian) and skills (a former career in marketing) to create something that has earned a ton of semi-passive income. She was also lucky enough to stumble upon a profitable, untapped niche without even realizing she was doing it. It was the combination of both skills and luck that have helped her reach a level of success most of us can only fantasize about. However, the luck wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t been able to put her skills to use in the first place.
What My Sister’s Experience Taught Me
I really make an effort not to punish myself for dumb things I’ve done in the past. It’s not like it changes anything. So I try not to think about what my net worth would be if I had started saving money sooner, or how happy I would have been if I had pursued a different career, or why my sister struck gold on her very first attempt to earn money online while I’m still figuring it out. (Not that I’m bitter.) Except every now and then my brain goes there on its own, though, and I find myself whining, “Why can’t I just be lucky like other people?!?! Then everything would be perfect!”
Thinking like that is dangerous, which is why I try so hard to avoid it. Instead of looking at all the times that my “bad luck” kept me from succeeding, I have to realize that my choices played a role as well. How could I have gotten lucky while spending money? Maybe by getting an unexpected discount or something? But the real luck would have come from saving money instead – maybe I would have been able to invest in Apple when it was still dirt cheap, or help fund the first batch of Snuggies in exchange for a stake in the company. There’s really no limit to what I could have done with all the money I’ve wasted over the years, depending on the circumstances.
You see, the difference between my sister and me is that she has typically had a healthy relationship with money. She has never had to make decisions out of desperation. She has never filed for bankruptcy or taken out a payday loan. And because of that, she can spend time thinking up awesome ideas instead of panicking about how she’s going to pay her bills.
It’s not that my sister is so much luckier than I am. She has just made better choices, and now she’s benefitting from those choices while I play catch-up.
I make good choices now. My financial situation is under control. No more credit card debt, no more spending sprees, no more excuses. And I’ve spent this year building a business that I’m extremely proud of, one that has paid the bills and allowed me to stay home with my son. I feel incredibly fortunate, which is new for me. But that never could have happened without a change in the way I dealt with money.
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We make our own luck.” And I’ve always secretly thought that was dumb – if we made our own luck, why wasn’t my luck any better? Now I realize that my luck (or lack thereof) isn’t the problem – it’s the fact that I created a million roadblocks, mainly financial, that prevented me from accomplishing more.
To a degree, I still don’t think we make our own luck. At least not all by ourselves; we don’t exist in a vacuum. But I do think our decisions either put us in a position to take advantage of opportunities, or put us in a position to miss out on opportunities because we’re too busy worrying about other things. Guess which one I spent most of my life doing?
Success can be defined in any number of ways. Some people would call me successful (which I find hilarious) because I got my financial act together and became self-employed. Others might think I’m a miserable failure because I still have a car loan and student loans to pay. Your definition of success will never match up to mine, and that’s okay.
The best thing you can do, right now, is figure out what success looks like for YOU and what’s preventing you from achieving it. Are you putting up roadblocks, intentional or not, then wasting time lamenting the fact that other people are luckier than you? Or are you doing what it takes to remove those roadblocks and clear a path for success on your own terms?
To answer my own question, I think one has to be at least somewhat lucky to become successful. But I also know that “luck” is something any of us can access if we are (1) able to learn a skill, (2) willing to work hard, and (3) free of the negative thinking and poor decision-making that hold us back.
What does “success” mean to you? Is there something you want to achieve but haven’t managed yet? What’s standing in the way, and what can you do to remove those obstacles? Are you typically a lucky person? Tell me what you think!