Good Luck, Bad Luck: Who Can Tell?


Must the glass always be half-full or half-empty? What if there was a different way of looking at things entirely? A new perspective that eliminates the need to decide just how full the glass really should be? (See also: Be at Peace in Less Than 5 Minutes)

By way of illustration, here is a story based on an old proverb:

There was an old man who had a beautiful horse. This horse was not only his family’s pride and joy, but it was also a means to an income for the family.

One day, the horse ran away. Fellow villagers visited the old man to give their condolences for such a stroke of bad luck, as the loss of his horse represented a staggering financial blow that would be hard to recover from.

“Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?” replied the old man. “It is as it is. My horse is gone.”

Perplexed at the man’s nonchalance towards the apparent tragedy, the villagers went about their business.

A few days later, the horse returned with a pack of 12 wild horses in tow. Again the villagers gathered, this time to offer their congratulations at such a stroke of good luck. Now he had 12 more horses with which to make 12 times the income! What a godsend, they said.

“Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?” replied the old man again. “All I see is that 12 more horses have appeared.”

The next week, while breaking in one of the wild horses, the old man’s son fell and both his legs were broken. What bad luck! The villagers exclaimed. Your son has broken both of his legs. That’s terrible. How will you get your work done? You are too old to do it yourself.

“Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?” was the (now predictable and equally frustrating) answer of the old man. “My son has broken his legs. That is all I know.”

Shortly thereafter, the government forcibly removed all the able-bodied men from the village, as the country had gone to war. The old man’s son, however, was spared since his legs were broken.

Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?

…and on it goes. Don’t we tend to live our own lives careening from one “good luck” occurrence to another “bad luck” event? Maybe we could stand to take a dose of medicine from the old man in this story, simply observing the events in our lives for what they are instead of drawing grandiose conclusions about the ultimate karma or fate of what has happened to us.

Personally, I can recall many times when I wasn’t so level-headed about such matters. Here’s my own “good luck, bad luck” proverb:

Two years ago, I was volunteering in trade for my accommodation in Australia, in a little piece of paradise. My boyfriend at the time and I loved the area, and after about seven months we decided we’d love to stay a little longer than we had originally intended, but we also wanted to move on from our volunteer gig.

Shortly after we defined our intentions, a friend told us about a house for rent that was only $400/month. It was on a huge piece of land that was full of fruit trees, backing onto a beautiful mountain range. What luck! we exclaimed, and moved in.

Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?

Two days after moving into the house, the Victorian bushfires hit the area, claiming thousands of houses and hundreds of lives in what was Australia’s worst-ever natural disaster.

We were evacuated from our new home for a month, surrounded by fires without even a way to get out of the country if we wanted one. Bad luck, huh?

Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?

We sat on our hands while evacuated and wondered from minute to minute if our house was still standing (as the fires burned slowly across the beautiful mountains in our backyard). To keep ourselves busy and doing something constructive, we volunteered in the relief efforts.

The Canadian High Consulate and Australian Immigration got wind of the work we were doing, and as a thank you of sorts, extended our (rapidly expiring) Australian travel visas by another year and gave us working rights. Getting working rights was a huge coup, since my boyfriend didn’t have a location-independent career to travel with as I did, and he needed the money. What luck, huh?

Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?

Once the fires were over and we had returned to our house (which was still standing), my boyfriend got a job. But as life takes its interesting twists and turns, it seemed that this new career of his, in addition to many other factors (too many to condense into this post) led to our eventual breakup. Bad luck, huh?

Good luck, bad luck: Who can tell?

So I embraced the world of solo travel. In doing so, I was contacted by a TV producer who was putting together a travel TV show that he asked me to host. This past September, we filmed the pilot episode in Paris and Nepal, and with any luck (Ha! There’s that word again), I’ll be spending a chunk of 2011 on the road with the show. This is an opportunity I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of if I had still been with my boyfriend.

Will the show be good luck? Bad luck?

Who can tell?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

So the next time you’re blown with a stroke of bad luck or blessed with a stroke of good luck, be careful about drawing too many stark conclusions about your situation. It could be good luck; it could be bad luck. Only time will tell.

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Guest's picture

Great way to look at it. I had a job in 2006 that was demoralizing and a low point in my career. Despite my best efforts, eventually I was let go and jobless. Bad luck, right? I ended up randomly getting in touch with someone I had worked with a couple of years before and he put me in touch with people he was working with. I got hired and got involved with the one of the best employers and by far some of most enjoyable work I've ever done, so now I thank my lucky stars every day for having lost that job!

Guest's picture

Love, love the personal good luck/bad luck story. I will look at circumstances in a different way from now on. Thank you for sharing.

Guest's picture

That old Chinese proverb is a favorite of mine too. When it looks as if life isn't going your way or seems horribly wrong, it's amazing how quickly it can change. Sometimes it can change with just one phone call or event.

Guest's picture

Great story. I'm a great believer that things happen for a culmination of reasons. Working hard and being in the right place at the right time typically go together with the successes I've had in my life.

Guest's picture

I used to see myself as an unlucky person as I failed in love and work time and time again. Now look back what happened, I realize 2 important things. First, I missed opportunities. They pass by my life but I hesistated to grab them immediately. Or there are 2 or 3 chances at the same time, and I chose the one among them but it didn't work. The second is to accept what I have instead of trying to change our destiny or we just fail. I mean what comes to use, let it happen naturally instead of changing it as what we shape perfectly because perfection doesnt exist. I read a book name Good Luck and Bad luck at There are some tips and superstitions that we can learn to improve our lives. I find it really useful.

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