Painted on a wall in Thonglor, Bangkok.

Why Luck Has Nothing to do with Your Choices

This conversation happened many times over the years, though now that I’m traveling around the world more, it’s come up in dozens of conversations.

The “You’re so lucky!” conversation.

I’ve always heard it to some degree, because I tend to do fun shit and blather on about it to my friends because the world is amazing. The internet makes that easier, of course, and now I get to blather on to total strangers, as well.

But it almost never fails. Whatever question I’m answering, people will come out and tell me I’m lucky I get to insert any number of things here.

It’s most obviously the living in Thailand thing lately, but also variations on it:

  • You’re lucky you can still make money over there.
  • You’re lucky it’s so much cheaper to live there.
  • You’re lucky you can travel so long.
  • You’re lucky you don’t have kids.
  • You’re lucky you’re in your twenties. (Ummm…I’m 43)
  • You’re lucky you don’t have student loans to pay off like I do.
  • You’re lucky you don’t have a mortgage and two car payments to make so you can do these things.
  • You’re lucky you get to see these cool places.

First off, the only thing lucky about my life, if you want to call anything luck, was that I was born an average white male in the United States in the late 20th century. Shit’s a lot easier for me than had I been born on the dirt floor of a hut in one of the poorest countries on earth to illiterate parents.

Don’t think I don’t know that or take it for granted. I won the genetic lottery there, and it had exactly nothing to do with anything I personally accomplished. I was just born into that scenario through no fault of my own.

Most everything else in my life is based around choices and decisions I’ve made. The same can be said for you, regardless of whatever circumstance you were born into or raised with.

Many of the comments I get are assumptions that aren’t even true about things I have going on in my life.

  • It isn’t luck that I decided to design and build my life this way.
  • It isn’t luck that I designed my life so I can make money regardless of where my butt is parked on any given day.
  • It isn’t luck that I chose to live somewhere where I can take advantage of differences in economies.
  • It isn’t luck that I don’t own anything that I can’t carry with me wherever I go.
  • It isn’t luck that I don’t have massive education or consumer loan debts to deal with.

I made a series of choices to get my life where it is at any given moment. The things I do are the things I’ve chosen to do. Things don’t always work out the way I want them to, and I’ve screwed up more things than I have the space to list here, but I make it work with whatever hand gets dealt at any given situation.

Must have Balance, Daniel-San…

There is also a yin and yang balance to not only my life, but yours too. It’s tough to have it all, but it doesn’t hurt to try. You may think it’s glamorous to go gallivanting around the world like you don’t have a care in the world, but there are still plenty of cares in my world, just as there are in yours.

My glamorously lucky life: pushing the hired van up a muddy hill in the rain in Laos.
My glamorously lucky life: pushing the hired van up a muddy hill in the rain in Laos.

You worry about your mortgage being too high, while I have to deal with finding a place to rent under someone else’s roof. You worry your car might get a flat or break down somewhere, while I don’t even own a vehicle.

Everything has some element of a trade, and there are many things about my life that people simply wouldn’t be willing to trade to do what I’m doing. It doesn’t make my way or your way any better or worse. It only matters to you what you want to do.

Other Popular Sayings

Popular variations of the lucky sentiment also come in the form of “So jealous!” “I wish I could…” “I want to do that!” and a few other versions. Mostly followed by no changes at all or other attempts to do anything to actually get there.

There’s nothing to be jealous about, because the choices you’ve made are obviously more important than how much you actually want to do what I’m doing. I’m in no way special (arguably), and I could not do some of the things I do without help from a lot of people.

If I can do this, you certainly can.

You’re probably a hell of a lot smarter and more well-educated than I am, and I’m here. The thing keeping you from really doing what I or other people are doing is that you simply like your current life more.

If you really wanted this or something else more, you’d be doing that. And maybe you are working on it actively, in which case, this whole post doesn’t apply to you.

It may not be a lot more, and you many not even realize that you do like your life. You might bitch and moan about every day of your life to whoever will stand around and commiserate with you. But we both know if it was so bad, you could change it.

People spend lifetimes complaining about their place in the world instead of doing something to change it. I’m not saying you are that person, but you probably know one or two.

The possibly painful truth is, if you want something, you can get it. It may not be as easy for you to do something as it is for someone else, but anything is possible with hard work and a willing mind.

There are plenty of people with fewer born-into advantages than I had that have accomplished lifetimes more successes than I ever have.

You can say you wish you could all you want, but unless you take some action, it’s just empty talk. You don’t really wish you could do this or that, because you can. It’s just too hard for you to even try, or you’re not willing to give up the things you’d need to trade in your life to do it.

This isn’t just a post to make you feel bad if you find yourself saying these things. We all do it to some degree. It’s just a warning to watch out for this kind of self-sabotage in your own life. The things you believe make up your world.

The danger with this kind of self-talk is that ever time you just tell yourself that you “wish you could” what usually follows is some variation of “but I can’t”. You’re just repeatedly saying “I don’t have this. I don’t have that. I don’t have …” over and over to yourself.

Every time you look at all the things you don’t have as something you want, and don’t take some action to get closer to those things, you’re just reminding yourself that you don’t have those external things that you believe will give you happiness. It’s great if you’re moving toward something, but saying you want something, and believing it’s unattainable for whatever reason isn’t ever going to do anything good for you.

Don’t let those seemingly unattainable wandering dreams get you down. Either do something to work toward it, or just acknowledge that you are really where you want to be and be thrilled with that! It’s your life, you’re living it, and happy where you are! What’s not to love?

Read the stories if you find them entertaining, but do so in the comfort of your lay-z-boy in the man cave of your mcmansion if that makes you happy! If that’s what you want to do, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. “My way” is by no means the only way. Embrace your life.

If you are making changes to pursue your dreams, then great! How can I help you get there?

But if you just sit around and think you aren’t lucky, I hate to tell you that it’s not luck: it’s just you.

20 thoughts on “Why Luck Has Nothing to do with Your Choices

  1. James,

    100% agree. But it is easier to blame outside circumstances than do something about it. BTW, enjoying your photos you post to FB. Have fun over there!

    1. Glad you are seeing this for yourself!

      (This is my fiance, for anyone reading the comments. She’s pretty wonderful, and I am lucky to have her in my life. In case you’re wondering.)

  2. Your mother finished high school early to have you… then over a decade later, went to college… and now has a PhD. While you were learning to walk, your father was the 2nd smallest guy on his JC football team – and played center. As a baby, you had eye surgery and the surgeons said your eyes would never work together. We read about a doctor who claimed exercises could fix it, and we took you to him, and in Jr. High you were the most consistent hitter on your school baseball team; something that requires both eyes working very well together. Your first car cost me $2, and on your own you learned how to repair every system it had before you could drive it… and you earned the money yourself. It is part DNA and part nurturing (intentional or not) and your journey to uncover the real you has been “interesting” (and sometimes terrifying!) to watch. You’re doing a fine job!
    Pop (or, as I signed your absentee excuses, “The Great White Father”)

  3. Oh how often I’ve wanted to write this post! Taking responsibility for your own happiness is one of the bravest things a person can do.. and it’s scary. But the ‘you’re so lucky’ comment just irks me. Luck has so little to do with where I am in life.

  4. Very well said. My husband and I encounter the same comments and reply with similar responses. I was just mentioning to someone last weekend that the luckiest thing that’s every happened to me is being born in this day and age.

    1. And how amazing is this day and age?! I still get gobsmacked ever time I have a question about something (which happens about every 32.4 milliseconds), and I realize that we have the entirety of human knowledge available to us right here at our keyboards.

      I never did like the Dewey Decimal System. This is much better 😀

  5. Luck? For some of us it was just plain hard work. Started working when I was 16 years old, retired last year just shy of 60. Worked while getting my bachelors degree and my masters degree, finished the masters in one year while working 25-30 hours per week. Now I am still young enough to enjoy travel, but not so young that it is easy to do vigorous hikes that I could have done when I was 30. Choices is way more important than luck, that is for sure….thrown in with hard work and good financial planning.

  6. I get those same comments about working remotely: “You’re so lucky to have a job that lets you work out of your home,or out of your motorhome while traveling.” Luck had nothing to do with the fact that I created this opportunity because that’s what I wanted. It took hard work and a couple of failures.Where was the luck? I do agree that my birth was lucky for the same reasons you mention.
    Great article and inspirational to the “Wish I was that lucky” crowd.

    1. If I’d listed all my failures, stops/starts, and redirects, this post would have been considerably longer 😀

      I didn’t take the easiest path to get here or anywhere else that people have said I was lucky to get to. It’s like the lie of the “overnight success,” where that overnight part is a time warp of dozens of years and thousands of hours.

  7. GREAT post!!! We are preparing to hit the road full-time in our RV, and I’m sooooooooo glad you wrote this! I can relate already! LOL! Now, I can just forward YOUR post instead of writing this up myself…..yay!! 🙂

  8. On the flipside, sometimes I wish I were “lucky” enough to be happy with the more well-defined path – certainly it would make life easier! But as you put so well, we all have to follow our own happiness… so the sacrifices and long days (weeks/months/whatever) of my freelance travel/art life, however exhausting they have been of late, are always worth it – since they are by design, and by choice. Definitely not luck. … I will say, though, that I do feel lucky that I have been able to cross paths with people like yourself and Cherie, who help bolster in others the confidence to create a new path! Thanks for the great post, James!

    1. I still do this too! I didn’t want it to sound like I’m “taking credit” for meeting up with you guys, even if I made the effort to seek you out. I don’t really think of it as lucky or that I did something as much as I just try to remain grateful for each experience, and try to get as lucky as I can when opportunity presents itself. It makes the hard work parts a bit easier!

      I’m grateful for your hard work, sharing it with us, and knowing you!

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