Making Your Own Luck is No "Secret"
Nora Dunn's recent post about The Prosperity Game got me thinking. I do not believe that quantum physics has anything to do with your outlook on life or how much money you make. However, I have definitely noticed how some people seem to have all the luck, while everyone knows one or more downtrodden people who are perpetually asking, "Why does everything happen to me?"
First a disclaimer: Plain dumb luck DOES play a major role in our lives. Readers of this blog are among the luckiest people in the world: Most of us were born in wealthy Western nations, we can read English, and we have access to computers and the Internet, for starters. One thing I have learned with travel is that I was born with a whole fistfull of winning lottery tickets, without even knowing it.
But, assuming a group of Americans all born middle class, with a similar amount of opportunities, why will some people become those who "have all the luck" and some become those to whom "stuff happens"?
It has a lot to do with what Wise Bread is about: Managing your life wisely to create security, taking advantage of opportunities and planning.
Here's an example that tells the whole story of the haves and have-nots of luck: All cars get old and need more and more maintenance to continue running. This reality is well known, and yet different people use that information differently than others.
Say that Lucky Eddie and Calamity Jane go out and buy the best cars they can afford. Lucky Eddie researches Consumer Reports' reliability data, scours Craigslist or newspaper ads, and is able to pay cash for a 5-year-old compact car. Calamity Jane goes to a used car dealer and pays the same amount for an 8-year-old sedan that she felt to be "really cute."
Lucky Eddie figures he can put another 100,000 miles on his new car, so he puts a little money aside each month towards the car's replacement in four years. He gets regular maintenance and oil changes.
Jane doesn't think about any of that and just drives her car.
Two years later Lucky Eddie and Calamity Jane both lose their jobs. Lucky Eddie decides to borrow from his car stash to take a computer class at the local community college. When his car breaks down on his way to class, he has AAA tow it to his garage, knowing he can't afford to have it fixed right now. He takes the bus to the rest of his classes.
Jane, who doesn't have a car stash, takes advantage of her time off to take a road trip to California. Her now-10-year-old car, which has been burning oil, runs dry and breaks down in the middle of the desert. When a passing motorist takes pity and gives her a lift to a service station (she doesn't have AAA and her cell phone battery is dead), she tells him about her latest run of bad luck: no job, stranded in the middle of nowhere with a dead car.
Meanwhile, Lucky Eddie has landed a new, better job with his computer training and is able to use some of his signing bonus to buy a later-model used car. He can't stop telling friends how lucky he was to land this exciting new job just as his unemployment benefits were about to run out.
If you find Lucky Eddie's hard work story square or boring, replace it with whatever works for you. Maybe Lucky Eddie spent some time playing The Prosperity Game and it awakened his imagination, leading him to take a chance on marketing a widget he invented.
I guess it's the old story of the ant and the grasshopper, but it rings much truer to me than "The Secret": Plan for life's ups and downs, and someone else's calamity is merely a footnote on your annual budget.
I won't be smug and say that I would be just fine if the janjaweed came pounding on my door or Lake Michigan tsunami'd all over my house. Nor do I imagine that my present circumstances aren't thanks in part to good luck. I But I do know that planning and hard work has protected my family from becoming perpetual victims of "bad luck."
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