Updated on 09.15.14

Everything’s So Easy for Pauline

Trent Hamm

Thoughts on Luck, Fate, Money, and Life

Beauty amongst adversity. by cat's eye view on Flickr!My father has the most innate, natural grasp of mathematics of anyone I’ve ever known. He can’t tell an equation from Greek, but when you back away from explaining things in terms of equations and instead talk about it conceptually, he understands intuitively a great deal of mathematics. Conceptually, he understands it as well as I do, and I took quite a bit of advanced math in college.

Not only that, he’s incredibly quick to pick up anything. He can fix a radio, dress and skin a rabbit, read a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, run a trot line, entertain a dozen people, and conduct a very interesting debate about politics, often all in the same day.

The kicker is that my father never had the opportunity to even complete high school. He quit because he had a sick father who was unable to work and three siblings who needed food on the table.

Every so often, I try to imagine him as a teenager. He made the choice to do what he needed to do for his family without skipping a beat, and he likely never knew or saw that he had the opportunity to do great things with his life. He had all of the tools he needed right between his ears, but fate dealt him a different hand.

Bad Luck That Changes a Life

Quite often, the only difference between the people we look up to and the people we look down upon are a handful of little events. A parent that cared a little more. An unexpected death. A bad test result with no positive reaffirmation to get up and give it another shot. A lost promotion. A hurtful comment at an emotionally weak moment. A flash of anger, by them or by someone else. A bit of peer pressure. The opportunity to make a connection with someone who can open a door.

Our lives are full of these little events, most of which are out of our control. It’s those events – and how we react to them – that determine much of what we have in life, and what we work for.

Hard for Some, Easy for Others

Some people are “lucky” in that they wound up on the right side of most of the coin flips in their life. Others are “unlucky” in that some events in their lives led them down a path away from where their dreams might have taken them.

Take my father, for example. What might have happened to his life if he had completed school? Might he have met a teacher that inspired him or recognized his natural talents? That one moment in time – the sickness of his father and his caring for his family – changed his entire life. He wound up never really leaving the town he grew up in and before he knew it, he was married, working in a factory and as a commercial fisherman for his “side hustle.”

What would have happened if he had stayed in school long enough for the math to click into place for him? What if a teacher sees that natural skill and pushes him to pursue it, making a few phone calls and getting him some scholarships that get him into the nearby university? His life follows a completely different path.

But his life – and his moral character – didn’t lead him down that path. Instead of being a “lion of the community” and living in a nice house, he lives in the same small old house that I grew up in, one in sore need of repair in places. Instead of going to the Lion’s Club, he has a beer with his friends at a picnic table. All because he had a hardship hit his life, and he made the courageous choice to give up his path and do what needed to be done.

Take another situation that pops into my mind. One of the most bright and cheerful and wonderful women I know, the third child of five, contracted polio as a child and, by early adulthood, was confined to a wheelchair and eventually required a great deal of equipment and medicine to even go through life. Through all of this, she’s maintained a sunny disposition. Her dream as a child was to have a house full of children, but life didn’t allow her to play that card. She has three beautiful sisters, all of whom had multiple children, and when you look back at their childhood and high school pictures, you see four equal young women, all with great opportunity in front of them. Three of them got to live their dreams, the fourth wound up with polio.

It’s so easy to look around and see those who wound up with lower-paying jobs and a different social outcome and draw some negative conclusions about them. They didn’t work as hard, or they didn’t apply themselves, right? Only rarely is that actually the full picture.

Never Give Up Most of you reading this site – and me included – are among the lucky ones. We’ve either not had many hardships in life or we’ve had enough positive luck to counteract the hardships.

But for those of you who have been knocked down by life, here are some lessons I’ve learned from the people in my life who have faced terrible luck and rolled through it to find whatever may come.

Lessons on Luck and Overcoming Hardship

Don’t blame others

If something devastating has happened to you personally, don’t spend your time blaming others for it. Your problems and challenges in life are not their fault. I happen to be deaf in one ear, which means that in some situations I simply can’t hear people speaking on my left side. This is not their fault, and blaming them for me not hearing their comment is foolish.

Get back up and try again

If you fail at what you’re trying to accomplish or if life knocks you down, don’t curl up into a ball and give up. Get right back up and give life another swing. I’ve watched many people give up on life because they hit a rocky patch – even after they came out the other side of it, they wallowed in self-pity and refused to get back up again. The mistakes and bad breaks of your past have nothing to do with your present.

Don’t be too proud to ask for help

When something disastrous befalls you and you’re having a hard time picking up the pieces, ask for help. Ask your family for help. Ask your true friends for help. They will be there for you when you need them, and they want to help you when the chips are down.

Make your mind up about others based on who they are

Don’t make judgments or assumptions on how they look or what they own. This is true for everyone. I’m reminded of a small company I’m familiar with. At one of them, the most naturally gifted person in the building is the janitor. He’ll often trudge by a group working on a project together and, off the top of his head, suggest an amazing solution for it. He does it so often that many of the workers there actually seek out the janitor for input on what they’re working on. But the company can’t promote this man, oh no, they can’t. He’s a lowly janitor who doesn’t have a degree. Even the people who ask him for help sneer about him behind his back.

As for me? If I were to start a competing business, that janitor would be the first person I’d want to hire. He wears shabby clothes, talks slowly, and pushes a broom all day, but underneath that he has tremendous gifts, ones that are often ignored because people can’t get past their first impression.

Jealousy does nothing more than drag you down

It’s easy to feel jealous of the successful person. We envy them and try to find explanations for how they found success while we did not. Doing that is a waste of time. Focusing on the fact that someone else had better luck than you did is time spent not focusing on the aspects of your life that you can control. Don’t worry about the guy who just got promoted – worry instead about what you can do to snag the next one.

One left a sweater sitting on the train
And the other lost three fingers at the cannery
Everything’s so easy for Pauline

– Neko Case, Margaret vs. Pauline, from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

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  1. great post! so many things worth thinking about here. blame is in awfully high demand, for something as unnecessary as it is :) people should spend more time thinking about how unproductive these patterns are (myself included! )

  2. scotty says:

    Great article Trent! You hit a great point which I tend to live by – play the hand of cards you’re dealt. Some people get some lucky breaks, some dont.

    Probably the best single comment I’ve heard about this issue in general is this: “You can be a victim once, and then you’re a volunteer”.

  3. Carrie says:

    Excellent post! We all are dealt different hands, and none of us truly knows the struggles of someone else who may seem lucky (or not) on the outside. I think that if we all focused on making the best of what we have rather than wasting time groaning about other people, the world would be a better place.

  4. Tori says:

    I need to remind myself of the ideas presented in the last quarter of this post early and often. Thanks, Trent.

  5. Penny says:

    I liked your article overall, but I have also heard that the difference between “lucky” people and “unlucky” people can often simply be their attitude and responses to life’s occurences. That the concept of “luckiness” is a sort of farse: it’s all in how you play the hand your dealt and whether you reach out to make the possibility of good things stronger. Do you work hard? Do you treat others the way you’d like to be treated? Do you at least try to see the silver lining? The people that answer “yes” are ofetn also considered “lucky” by their peers. This is no small coincidence!

  6. David says:

    Trent: You make it sound as if your father lost out…does he think so? Or does he have peace? We all have a myriad of paths from which to choose, and I don’t think there is one “best” choice hidden among a bunch of inferior choices. Making the choice, and embracing the choice, is where the power is.

    Your Dad made his choice. Sure, there were hard times, but no one can know what hard times would have come with any different choice. So here he is, 40(?) years later: sitting at a picnic table with friends and a cold beer, living in a (presumably) free-and-clear house, remembering being able to help the people whom he most loved–that sounds pretty good to me.

  7. It was a joy to wake up to this, Trent. Stumbled.

  8. Shanel Yang says:

    I used to think I was disadvantaged for being born female, Asian, poor, and the first born child to uneducated, alcoholic, borderline psychotic parents till I learned about 2 amazing people who never felt sorry for themselves or blamed anyone else for their situations or let them get in the way of their happiness or success: (1) Anne Frank; and (2) Helen Keller. Great post, Trent!

  9. Carmen says:

    I think this is my favourite post that you have written Trent. It just sits really well with me. :)

    In reference to your Dad, I think this line really struck me “But his life – and his moral character – didn’t lead him down that path” since I really think there is no correlation between extreme success in life and academic qualifications. It is character, drive & confidence that lead to high levels of success IMO. Along with luck of course. There are many very successful people who are not particularly gifted.

    Yet you are right about people helping others recognise their strengths, although it needs to be combined with a person’s interest in that area to have any power. For instance I was always good at Maths, yet never enjoyed it in the slightest so would not have considered a career path in that direction.

    Shame the Janitor isn’t appreciated. THAT surprised me the most in your article. And reminded me of a very special person I know: my first manager @ HP, whom I worked for after graduating university. His management style was based on recruiting and motivating employees that were ‘better’ than him which would result in success for everyone. He met/exceeded his objectives and in turn he was an excellent manager, incredibly generous with pay, promotion, mentoring and training opportunities. It takes a very self assured person to act in this way but was the most powerful business lesson I have learnt. Is he not tempted to look for another job?

  10. J. says:

    What a good post, and I love the shout-out to Neko Case, a great songwriter. I thought about quoting the same line in a comment on your previous post “Is a positive attitude enough?” because the post made me recall it; the picture you used is of a car from a Blue Line el train in Chicago, and the full lyric from “Margaret vs. Pauline” is



  11. raf says:

    One thing worth exploring here is the definition of success. We need to define success for ourselves, from our values. You mention the choices your father made, and if they align with his values then he has been successful – providing for his family/siblings doing what he believed was the right thing. Makes it much easier to let go of the path not taken (or unavailable), if the road you are on is the one you choose-that matches your values.

  12. Steve says:

    Internal vs. external locus of control

  13. Lurker Carl says:

    I believe one’s luck in life, at least in America, is this. What happens to you is 5% of the problem, the other 95% is how you react. We may not choose the specific path we follow in life but we are the ones who pave it.

  14. Jim says:

    You get points just for the Neko Case reference. Nice post.

  15. Tommy says:

    Sometimes things happen to us, but I will have to agree with Carl, it is mostly about how you take it. Has your father considered a GED?

    While Hellen Keller was special, I would consider it fair if Anne Frank had blamed the Nazis as it was their fault.

  16. Susan says:

    I absolutely love this Trent, your philosophical take is incredibly inspiring. I remember reading about 13 years ago of a 17 year old girl who lived in desperate circumstances with a mother who had some addiction problems, etc. Long story short, a teacher recognized her potential and she was accepted to Harvard. I guess what really resonated in the story was the undeniable and indefatigable strength of the human spirit. And you are a wonderful son to pay tribute to an amazing man like your Dad. Thank you so much.

  17. "Mo" Money says:

    This is a great post. You can be either a victim or a victor, and it is all up to YOU!

  18. imelda says:

    Trent, this was a beautiful article. You approached this concept from two different angles–the empathic, understanding angle, and the tough, advice-giving angle–and you managed to intertwine them perfectly. Often I and others have criticized you (and other writers) for telling people who are down-and-out to “stop blaming others” and to “get back up,” because they are comments that are often given from a perspective lacking in sympathy or empathy.

    But the way you have offered that advice here, as advice for people who really have it hard *from other people who have gotten through their tough spots* is the perfect way to do it. Well done!

  19. Battra92 says:

    Excellent, excellent article. Though while I do agree that life does deal people certain hands some people do consciously make the choice to live a certain way. I know people who actively get angry that people who aren’t doing physical labor get paid many times more than they do. I try and reason with them about supply and demand but they just get stuck in their mindset.

    The janitor story reminds me of my parents. They work in the school system and because of missing that piece of paper they are probably the most respected but most underpaid of all there.

  20. jake says:

    I am one where things always seem to go the hard way, and I wouldn’t say that it is all bad luck, but more of weird luck. In the past 3 months I have had two hit-and-runs on my car, the second causing my car to be totaled, my car was parked mine you. Of course insurance covered the lost but its the inconvenience and extra cost here and there as a result.

    Then I know friends who seem to float through life without a single worry. These friends just seem have everything work out for them at every single turn. Do I envy them? No, but I have used them many times for help. I found out early on that if you’re a person with bad luck, and you surround yourself with those who are very fortunate and you can say “lucky”, it helps, because most people do know they are fortunate and do go out of their way to help you.

  21. Kevin says:

    Trent – you might not be here if your dad didn’t make that choice. Life really is interesting when you step back and look at the “what-ifs”.

  22. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Thanks for the positive feedback. This was a little different than my normal stuff and I wasn’t sure if it would be well accepted.

  23. m says:

    Absolutely agree with your thoughts about:

    “It’s so easy to look around and see those who wound up with lower-paying jobs and a different social outcome and draw some negative conclusions about them. They didn’t work as hard, or they didn’t apply themselves, right? Only rarely is that actually the full picture.”

    I consistently tried to get the same sentiment across in my own (currently defunct) personal finance blog, as well as in comments on other blogs, etc. The attitude expressed in this post is one that I don’t come across too often in my reading of personal finance sites. I love that I have come across an entire post on the matter in yours!

    It’s easy to see our lives as being fully or almost completeley a product of our own doing when things are going well. Often, it’s only when things that are not in our control go wrong and we can’t seem to get out from under that many realize that life is a combination of both our actions and choices and external events that we can’t control.

    Sometimes, even when we do “everything right,” we can wind up appearing as if we did everything wrong, especially if onlookers judge only by the final picture, and not–as you noted–at the path it took to get there. Great post!

  24. Thanks for the article. I worry a little bit that people may use the thoughts on luck as an excuse, and that the article overplays luck a little.

    Too often we look at someone who was in the right place at the right time and call them lucky. In reality they may have worked very hard to be in just that place at just that time. In my experience the people who work hardest are the “luckiest”.

  25. BM says:

    You just described the story of my dad’s life. My dad decided not to go to college and join the army after high school. He had 8 siblings and his father was having a hard time putting food on the table and educating his kids.

  26. sandra says:

    what didn’t kill you, make you stronger.
    My life used to be very boring, and I never learn things like everybody. But since I step up for myself, I´ve learn a LOT, sometimes is very hard and scary but, guess what: it´s ALL my choice, and sometimes I complaint, but I´m very happy with my choices, my life, all I have and all.
    In this moment I step up in my job, because I´ve been bullied, but this is a sense of freedom and my alter-ego is very need amused that I´ve finally do SOMETHING for myself. I´m very scaried, but I´m finally grow

  27. john says:

    I’d be proud to have a beer at the picnic table with your Dad.

  28. Kevin says:

    Trent –

    To echo what “m” said, sometimes I am too quick to assume the worst about those with lower-paying jobs or such things. I am going to try harder to not judge people by how they look, but by how they act.

  29. plonkee says:

    You shouldn’t blame other people (unless it actually is their fault) but neither should you blame yourself. Sometimes bad things happen even though you are a good person. It works like that.

    But, yeah. Moving on is a great idea.

  30. Everyone in life has a different circumstance and comparing ourselves to anyone else will never give us peace. My husband is now complaining that we don’t have an RV. Why? Because 5 of our neighbors now have them. He’s comparing their “stuff” to us. I think this happens way too often in our society. People look around at what others have and that little (or big) “green monster” rears its ugly head. “I want” and “me too” leads to great unhappiness.

    I absolutely LOVE your post!!! :) No whining. No pity party. People get dealt a hand and they have to play it but it’s up to THEM to decide what to do with it and there are ALWAYS choices. Always.

  31. Sandy says:

    Amazing! This post struck a chord with me in a very right way.

    The events that happened in your dad’s life are more of circumstances that were outside his/anybody elses control (like yout dad’s dad’s illness…and your dad not blaming his dad makes sense.

    However, what if he ended up in life due to mis-givings/ill-intentions/fraud of others? Like for example, what if your dad’s friends/relatives would have cheated him with money big time and from that low’s he would have never been able to come up in life?

    From what point of view would you look at that kind of scenario?

    In such cases it is hard not to blame others who were directly related to your mis-fortune.


  32. Paula says:

    Your dad is a hero, no matter what education level he attained, Trent. His choice to sacrifice his dreams for the good of others is to be commended. I hope his story is told and re-told in your family as an example of unselfishness!

  33. IRG says:

    Great post and one that’s even more relevant in the context of defining life’s “successes.” –fiscal or otherwise (And NOT judging others in the process.)

    Personally, I think your father seems stronger, more successful and more worth modeling one’s self and life after than many of the folks in the biz world that are constantly hyped up in the media for their wealth and “successes.” (Often made by brutalizing hundreds and thousands of workers by depriving them of reasonable wages and benefits, while they line their pockets with $$$.)

    He created and maintained your family, clearly in a loving and supportive way that allowed you to grow up feeling you were loved and looked after. THAT is amazing achievement because many parents, ones with lots of stuff and lots of money, have yet to learn to do. Money cannot buy common sense, caring and compassion.

    Far too many people for whom life has gone “well” spend far too much time judging others for whom life has not been so easy.

    Luck IS a factor in life. There are plenty of hardworking, good living, honest, ethical people who do their job and help others but for whom there is no financial or work reward. If anything, their loyalty has been penalized.

    That’s the part of life nobody really wants to comment on: Life is great, but it’s also, on many occasions and many times, extremely unfair. The biz world has numerous examples of companies where execs make money even as they cut salaries, benefits and pensions for the workers who actually make the products and offer the services. (And just look at the legal system, where justice is often “purchased” and the color of your skin or ethnic background and not your actions can influence an outcome negatively.)

    If they were honest, many people who have succeeded would admit that they did the work, yes, but were helped by others– AND had luck. We all need help, but we don’t all get it.

    And it’s never easy for anyone to ask for help.

    My takeaway from this article is a reminder to always ask: Is there some way I can help someone else be MORE of who they are? Help them help themselves to create a “better” life?

    Really “successful” people don’t just create wealth and a good life for themselves. They are people who in a zillion ways, small and perhaps large, reach out, without asking, to improve the quality of life for others.

    often, kind words, small acts of help and support can make a HUGE difference in how others adjust to their challenging life circumstances.

    Far too many people would rather blame than help. But as life teaches, things can change. Compassion often only comes when they themselves fall on the hard times they could not believe would happen to them! If they’re lucky, they realize that stuff happens and then learn how to help others.

    Most people in tough circumstances are anything but whiners or self-pitying or going around with their hands out. In fact, many blame themselves for fates that they’ve done little to create. (People who work hard for a lifetime, for example, then are kicked out of a job right before they qualify for a pension at an age when they can’t get a new job. People get sick and their insurance doesn’t cover them. Etc. Etc. The list goes on and it’s real. Many people in financial trouble did NOT live beyond their means or spend foolishly. That’s another myth that needs breaking.)

    Nobody makes it out of the trenches on their own. We all need help at one time or another, and we are all capable of helping others.

    Real kindness and compassion for our fellow man is what has gotten lost in a lot of the fixation with wealth and things. (Once you’ve got your toys and feel “safe”, too many people could care less what happens to others who cannot do what they did. That’s just pathetic.)

    I was raised in a religion (that I’ve since abandoned) that taught us to help each other and to not judge our neighbors. That you really could not know what another was experiencing. All you could do was help. So much of that religion didn’t work for me, but that lesson stuck.

    Our church/community was a mix of incredibly wealthy people and incredibly poor and lots of working, middle class folks–but you really didn’t feel the distinction. There were lots of drives and lots of “charity” work (as it was called then). It was the norm to donate food, clothing or time and services.

    In the real world of friendship, and in our communities, it is our honor to help others.

    And speaking of help…when you really need it, look to the average man/woman on the street. They are the first to pitch in with their help and their $. People with the least in terms of resources are often the first to give.

    The big-money folks pick and choose their charities for the most part to benefit their image and status. (Not all, obviously. But many.)

    In today’s economically stressed and under-resourced society, where working people cannot get basic services like health care and struggle daily to feed their families, it’s time to rethink how we can help others.

    As I was taught, the more you have, the greater your responsibility to help others. More importantly, the greater your responsibility to help change the world so that MORE people can life with dignity.

    Sorry to get so fired up. It’s all the politicking in the air, I guess.

  34. Lisa says:

    Thank you. great article. It resonated with me in a very big way. I feel like you wrote it just for me :). One thing I wanted to mention – If you follow abraham-hicks at all (which I do), blame is actually a healthy step up the emotional guidance scale. It’s one step above discouragement. The problem is getting stuck there. I was stuck there for many years – or rather I would cycle down to despair and then up through anger and sometimes to blame, but then I would go right back down to despair again. The trick is to move right through blame up, up, up until you are at hopeful – and at hopeful, everyone has a shot at anything.

    thanks again.

  35. jess says:

    I really love this post. Thank you for GETTING IT. I grew up (and still live in) a very rural area where most people simply do not go on to college, my generation (20s)included. I have known so many brilliant people who didn’t make it through high school or college and have been punished economically their whole lives for it.

    I did not go to college right after high school – my parents had no money and it wasn’t even discussed. When I made the decision to go back a few years later, it was a difficult one. I knew that I would have to incur student loans, but I also knew it was the only way I would be able to obtain a degree and make more money. Luckily things went well and I didn’t have to spend too much money. I don’t regret my decision, although I know how you feel about student loans.

    I have nothing but respect for all of the uneducated people I know, and I don’t wish they had the means to go to college. I wish that they had the means and methods to show their amazing talents to the world without being judged because they lack a degree. In many ways I feel that a degree nowadays is just a ticket to the middle class. It prevents families who do not have the means to send their children to college from progressing economically. I’m a big proponent of education for everyone, but it should not be so expensive that obtaining a degree is out of reach of most people if they lack wealthy parents or the willingness to take on tens of thousands in loans.

  36. Susanna says:

    Great article on a topic which I’d like to see you explore further.

    It’s not “bad luck” but the Law of Attraction (as famously set out by “The Secret”). Ever have a day where nothing went right? It the Law of Attraction and yes, your friends who have “good luck” are attracting it whether they know it or not. You can too (and you don’t even have to read or watch “The Secret”). The improvement starts by thinking of yourself as a “lucky” person. Good luck. ;-)

  37. MoneyBlogga says:

    What a fabulous article. I’ve read many of your posts but personally I think this one is the best. Your dad sounds like a champ, a real man in every sense of the word. By the sounds of it, he played the hand he was dealt and he didn’t resent it. You are very lucky for that believe me. My own family situation wasn’t anywhere near as blessed – my father took his bitterness out on all of us around him. He continues to do that very same thing to this day because he never saw the value in what he had right there in front of him. Obviously your father did and your respect for him shines brightly through.

  38. Todd A says:

    I’m just 40 years old, but, I would seriously doubt that many among us in the somewhat recent generations have the fortitude to endure and persevere the way so many did in the years around WWII. That’s not to say that we don’t have our own skills and attributes, but, our parents and grandparents really paved the way for us.

  39. Pearl says:

    This is the best article you’ve written, in my opinion.

  40. Hope D says:

    I really enjoyed this article. My family has been going through some tough economic times. My husband has a disability that keeps him from working as much as he would like. He is an incredibly talented graphic artist and photographer but is unable to take on the workload that would make us prosperous. It is very frustrating for him. We have been needing a newer vehicle but haven’t had the money. Two of our friends just bought newer vehicles, which were the exact kind we need. It was a little hard for me, I am ashamed to say. I am over it now a few days later, but I needed a reminder not to whine. You article did that. Thanks.

  41. Todd says:

    I agree. I think this is your writing at its best, Trent. (And it’s always good.) The sentiments and values in this post should be the heart and soul of all personal finance advice–otherwise it’s all simply about greed and self-importance.

  42. Michael says:

    Anne Frank, sure, but Helen Keller was not a good person.

  43. Shevy says:

    Your description of your father reminded me of this quote from Robert A. Heinlein:
    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    It sounds like your father qualifies. Great post.

  44. Jesse says:

    This is a phenomenal post! Thanks for promoting the idea of individual responsibility and never giving up. Churchill probably said it best:

    “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

  45. Georgia says:

    I know this is late, but try reading Tim Russert’s book culled from all the letters he received from sons & daughters about their fathers after he wrote about his father, “Big Russ”. It is marvelous.

    And this is why I’ve developed a very positive attitude over the last 71 years. I have learned to love every place I’ve ever lived, from Chicago to the middle of a farm in the Midwest. I’ve loved every job I’ve had from waitress to S&L Br Mgr. Even to working in a mental institution. I do not wish to suffer, so I search hard for the good in each place and job.

    As someone wise once said, What guarantee is there that your other options would have turned out better than the one you took.

  46. LA says:

    Wow – am I glad you included this as one of your favourite 25 (and I agree, the discussion is great). What an incredible writer and thinker you are, it just keeps getting better.

    This article has come at a good time for me. I’ve been a bit blue recently; I feel like I living an unauthentic life in that I am not able to tell people I have a hidden disability (epilepsy). It is easy to get caught up in the “poor me” and to blame others for what has happened in my life. But the reality is I am more than successful by anyone’s standards. I have achieved my doctorate, I am a mother of two, I own a house, a car, I am meeting my basic needs and more.

    A little positive attitude and gratefulness can go a long way and I thank you for helping me (and others) get back on track.

  47. anjeee says:

    Trent, while I agree with the last four of your premises, sometimes your writing is just too generalized, and you make sweeping statements that are often not true. It is an aspect of your writing that I don’t care for.

    You wrote, “Don’t blame others. If something devastating has happened to you personally, don’t spend your time blaming others for it. Your problems and challenges in life are not their fault. ”

    In your case with your hearing, I agree, it is not anyone else’s fault. And I also agree it doesn’t help to waste time dwelling on bad things that happen to you. However, to state that “your problems and challenges in life are not their fault” is simply not true in many people’s cases, and your statement is very disregarding. My children and I, for instance, were stopped at a red light on a highway, obeying the law, when a man driving recklessly hit us from behind at 65mph. How are my childrens injuries, and my broken back, not his fault? He was being willfully reckless and careless. I don’t dwell on him, but I take offense at your broad, generalized statement that my problem is not his fault, and can think of many more people and examples where it is indeed someone else’s fault. Domestic violence, for example…

  48. Carrick says:

    That last paragraph is just what I need to read over and over again–I’m thinking every day would be good. I dwell on how much luckier other people are in so many ways constantly. Some have advised me to think about how much worse off other people are to make myself feel better, but that actually makes me even more depressed–as it should for anyone with a heart, I think. So to just say that thinking about others is a waste of time and that your energy is best spent on focusing on bettering your situation is the best solution to me.

  49. Courtney says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m reminded of a local (big) corporation where even the janitors have 4 year degrees. ;)

  50. Mneiae says:

    I really liked this post! The first part reminded me strongly of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, where opportunity plays a huge role in success. Your father could easily have gone the distance, were it not for his circumstances.

  51. Missy says:


    This article is so true. I have seen these types of things happen to people along the way in my life, myself included. There are people who can pick themselves up and move on no matter what even with grace. We all have problems, and sometimes it is hard, but I want to be one of those who can keep going. Great article.


  52. Lenore says:

    Brilliant work, Trent! It’s nice to see that some of the comments from myself and others seem to be making you think. The last thing this world needs is another self-help author or motivational speaker who accentuates the postive while refusing to acknowledge the negative. (Yes, I’m looking at you, lady who wrote “The Secret” and recruited Oprah into your cult.)

    Optimistic visualization can be a helpful tool, but only when we attempt to comprehend the full spectrum of human experience can we truly learn, grow and improve. Whether you get hit with bipolar disorder (as I did) or polio, dreams can be devestated. Still, life is what you make of it to a great extent, and the victors are those who never stop trying. Sometimes we have to revise our dreams in the face of unforeseen circumstances, but sometimes we find happiness where we least expected it.

  53. carol says:

    Brilliant! For years I taught in a continuation high school. All those years I taught only one basic lesson…choice. For every one of us, some bad luck is going to happen and we cannot control it. We can, however, make choices on how we deal with it and even small choices can determine our lives.

    Your dad could have walked (or run) away from his family and taken care of himself. Instead, he chose to stay and that determined his whole life and yours and influenced the direction of your life and family. I can tell you are very proud and you should be.

  54. That story about the janitor really hit me hard. I really empathized with him, and wish his story had a better ending than being laughed at behind his back.

    I know I’ve been on that end of life, even with a degree. I’ve worked some really tough jobs (toilet cleaning, lots of waitering, working in a kitchen washing dishes and frying food), and it can really wear on you, especially when you know there’s more inside your brain, that no-body seems to value. It can really wear down your self-esteem. I have a good job now, but let me tell you, I always know in the back of my brain that can always go away (esp in this economy) and I can end up scrubbing toilets again. Probably not a bad thing to keep in mind, keeps me humble.

    I wish that problem-solving janitor HAD been hired away by the competition, to be their resident creative genius. Wish life was like books…

  55. Robbie says:

    Thanks for this post, Trent. It’s an important reminder.

  56. Rich says:


    One word… fantastic. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking article. Thank you for re-linking it on today’s post so newbies like me could take a look.

  57. Ajtacka says:

    As I read this, my boyfriend is playing a video he just stumbled on, of an australian guy doing a whole dub track by voice, the refrain is something like “i’m not going to spend my live wondering why I never made it”. Very appropriate, I thought. Unfortunately I’m not of a name to give for people to find it.

  58. Sri says:


    Of all the time I have been following your blog, this post, according to me, is your best written post.

    Description of life!


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