On good days I accept it as a compliment; a sincere expression of admiration. Other times, though, it’s hard not to take the meaning literally.
“You’re so lucky.”
Lucky. The word hangs in the air like an accusation.
In many ways we are lucky. We’re lucky to have been born to middle class families in the richest country on earth. We’re lucky to have been raised by loving parents; to have received a good education; to have our health and all of our faculties. I’m immensely grateful, every day, for my good fortune.
In short, we’re lucky in the same way that millions of other middle class residents of developed countries are lucky. Everything else took effort, determination, sacrifice and, perhaps most importantly, a strong belief that we are the masters of our fate.
Which brings me to the other thing I hear when someone says “You’re so lucky:” capitulation. Capitulation to the vagaries of life. Surrender to imagined forces beyond our control. I hear in these words the sentiment “if only I were luckier, things would be different.” That’s a copout. We assign ourselves too easy a task in life when we ascribe so much of our condition to luck.
More than chance or fate, choice and consequence dictate the direction of our lives. Luck plays a part, but only as the wind against which we sail. Sometimes it blows aft other times it blows forward, but we alone control the rudder. And just like the wind in our sails, luck only determines our destination if we choose not to steer the vessel.
Wherever the wind has blown us, there is always time to right the ship. Here’s how.
Select a destination
What do you want to be?
It is a question asked exclusively of children, but why? Our epitaphs are not carved in stone the moment we reach adulthood. Sure, we’re more burdened than our younger selves by an accumulation of real responsibilities, but far more doors remain open to us than have closed. Every day we draw breath is an opportunity to remake ourselves in exciting and wonderful new ways. If we fail to exploit this daily blessing we shouldn’t blame bad luck for our lot in life.
So ask yourself a question you’ve long since forgotten: What do I want to be? Who do I want to be? Find the answer and follow it like your personal North Star.
Chart a course
You can never arrive where you want to be, except by chance, if you don’t have a plan to get there. Fortunately, there are few things left on earth that are truly original. If you’ve dreamt it, chances are someone else has already done it. Seek them out and mimic the hell out of them. There’s no shame in following a path someone else has blazed if it leads where you want to go.
Leave safe harbor
With your destination locked in, and your course plotted, it is time to set sail. Your journey will not be without risk. Nothing worth doing ever is.
Shannon and I confront our own fears with the knowledge that we can always turn the ship back around. There are few choices in life that can’t be undone. Careers can be rebuilt, possessions re-bought, savings replenished. Fear of leaving the comfortable status quo shouldn’t deter you from following your dreams. You can always return to your old life if you truly want to, although I doubt you will.
Steer the ship
The tradeoffs we make in life are the rudder that steers our ship. By choosing one thing, we necessarily forego something else. The culmination of those choices determines who we are, where we are, what we have – essentially everything. Oftentimes we make these tradeoffs unconsciously, without much forethought. In those instances, we end up drifting through life wondering how we got where we are.
Instead of drifting, take control of the rudder. Choose those things that drive you toward your North Star and avoid the Siren call of those that try to pull you off course. It won’t be easy. The Siren’s song is sweet. But it’s easier to resist when you understand that you’re steering toward an important objective and away from the rocks that threaten to dash your dreams.
You’ve plotted and planned and set sail for distant shores, and yet for all your efforts you remain frustratingly close to where you started. Welcome to the club. Not all sailing is smooth or goes how we planned. If our initial efforts haven’t yielded the results we hoped, it may be time to try a different tact. Get new skills or a new environment. Redouble your efforts and try different angles. Every destination is reached by multiple paths. You haven’t failed unless you’ve tried them all, or have given up trying.
Ups and downs are part of every long-term pursuit. Eventually we all get worn down and have moments where we wonder whether it is all worth the effort. Staying focused on the objective helps us overcome these moments of doubt. Picturing our future selves living the life we want helps put present day sacrifices into perspective. We know the path we’ve charted is the right one. Now it’s just a matter of walking the talk. Good things, dare I say luck, will follow.