Those three words have been the background music to the movie of my life.
For well over a decade that phrase has been trotted out in conversation with monotonous regularity.
I’m moving to London to work and travel for a couple of years. You’re so lucky.
I’m going to Africa next month. You’re so lucky.
I’ll be travelling for the next six months or so. You’re so lucky.
I’ve quit my job to follow my dreams. You’re so lucky.
Yeah, you’re right. I am lucky. It’s just not for the reasons people think.
I wasn’t born into money. My father worked (and still does) at the local hospital in the small town I grew up in. For years my mother worked at night a few hours a week in between raising four kids. There was always food on the table and clothes on my back, but finances were tight and handouts were few.
I haven’t won the lottery. I don’t even play the lottery – I have heard it described as ‘a tax on people who can’t do math’, and I can do math.
I’m no genius. My grades throughout school and university were always hovering around a B average. That’s not remarkable. Maybe I could have done better if I’d tried harder, but I was never going to be top of the school. My brother had to choose between taking a Fulbright or a Rhodes scholarship late last year. I am not him.
I’m not connected. I didn’t go to the “right” school or mix in the “right” crowds. Opportunities haven’t fallen into my lap. I’m not part of any of the old boy’s networks. Any doors that opened for me were due to figuring out how the handle worked.
In many ways I am just a fairly typical thirty-something guy making his way through his time on this planet, and yet I hear all the time how jealous people are of my life. Just how lucky I am.
I’m white. Racism still rears its ugly head in this world, and New Zealand and Australia are far from immune. While I may not have had doors opened for me due to my connections, I haven’t had them slammed in my face due to my skin colour either. It sucks and it’s uncomfortable to talk about, but I’d be foolish to believe otherwise.
I’m male. There are still a few gender stereotypes out there that haven’t been destroyed yet, and it is still safer to travel as a guy in many places than as a girl, so I’ll throw this one in there.
I have a good family. My family has its share of skeletons rattling around like any other, but my parents, siblings and cousins are wonderful and I am more grateful for them than they probably realise. They support me in my crazy plans and catch me when I fall. They are people I love and choose to spend my time with. I ask for nothing more.
I was born in New Zealand. Growing up in a stable first-world country that generally values the welfare of its citizens provides opportunities that are simply not available to others. People wonder why refugees go through terrible hardships for an uncertain future in distant countries. Why? Because the alternative is worse.
My brain works. I have a modicum of intelligence and haven’t managed to entirely destroy my remaining brain cells with drugs and alcohol yet.
And that is where the luck stops.
I work hard. I recently broke up with the corporate world, but when I was a part of it I worked hard. Now I am doing my own thing – and I’m working hard at that too. The secret isn’t to find ways of avoiding work, it is in doing work that matters and then taking a well-deserved break. I don’t always get the balance right, but I’m learning.
I make sacrifices. I know the value of money and the danger of debt. My credit card gets paid in full each month. If I can’t afford to do that, I don’t buy things in the first place. I have owned a house but no longer choose to do so, as paying a mortgage is too restrictive. I have made a conscious decision to spend money on experiences that inspire me rather than possessions that will end up in landfill. At the end of the day I can’t take either of them with me.
I choose who I surround myself with. Being surrounded by amazing people is one of the best feelings in the world. For the last few years I have spent my time with those sort of individuals and quietly removed the rest from my life. Recently I realised that some of the online communities I frequented were just a negative distraction, so I’ve dropped those too and never been happier.
I worked out what I actually want. I have spent a lot of time contemplating what I really want from my one precious life. Freedom, travelling and enjoying great relationships are what matters to me. Working this stuff out for myself rather than taking society’s default options was one of the smartest – and hardest – things I’ve ever done.
I don’t let fear cripple me. People tell me that I don’t seem to be scared of anything. It’s a nice sentiment – but it’s wrong. I am as scared as the next guy. I still get sweaty palms, a racing heart and all the rest – it’s just that I’ve learned how to turn fear into a motivator. Not every time in every situation, but often enough when it matters to not let it hold me back from making the big choices.
I don’t know whether what I am doing is right or wrong. I don’t know whether I will succeed or fail. I don’t know much at all really.
But I do know that I am probably no more “lucky” than those who keep insisting on my good fortune. I just make different choices.
Don’t wait for good luck to come calling.
Grab life by the balls and make your own.
[Luck image via fearthekumquat, sign image via Willy_G91, “don’t despair” image via quinn.anya]