Updated on 08.28.14

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Are Now, You Can Do Better

Trent Hamm

An obviously upset Sam writes in:

You think your world is all rainbows and puppies. Guess what? Karma will eventually bite you in the [rear]. Seven months ago I got fired from my job for no fault of my own the company was going under. Now I cant pay my bills and Im going to lose my house. Your life isnt a real life.

In 2006, I did not have enough money to pay my bills even though I was working at a great job and everything seemed (on the surface) to be great in my life. My dreams of being a writer were quickly disappearing, as were my dreams of ever being able to adequately take care of my child. I reached a point where I had fleeting thoughts of whether I could kill myself for the insurance money to put my son and my wife on a better track and give them a life that I felt like I was incapable of helping them with.

Guess what? I got out of that situation. It wasn’t easy. I had to face a ton of my own flaws along the way, most of which are still a difficult part of my own life.

The biggest thing I learned is that no one is perfect, and every single person is in a situation that they can improve. Period. There are no exceptions to this. No one is living the best life they could be living. Why? Because, again, no one is perfect.

I’m certainly not perfect. I spend too much money on books and games. I have a hard time resisting a delicious well-prepared meal. I spend far too long on important decisions, to the point that I lose opportunities because of it. I get very down on myself and my own abilities all the time (truly, thank goodness Sarah is there to help me with this). I talk myself into purchases that I shouldn’t make. I lose track of routines that I really, really tell myself that I want to establish. I regularly find excuses to avoid social interactions that I should engage in simply because they make me uncomfortable.

I know very well that I can improve in each of those areas if I put my time, focus, and heart into it. I can cut my entertainment spending (and I’ve been doing pretty well at this as of late). I can eat better. I can be more decisive. I can focus on the good things that I do and not my failings. I can avoid making unnecessary purchases. I can convince myself to do that daily walk. I can go to that dinner party and interact with people.

Avoiding “Bad Karma”

The best method to keep karma at bay is to constantly try to improve yourself and your own situation

Look at the areas where you don’t do well and strive to improve them.

Here’s a good exercise: imagine where you’d be if you suddenly lost your job. Would you be able to pay your bills for the next few months? If not, then you’ve identified a weakness, one you can solve by saving some money each week.

Here’s another one: imagine someone might offer you a great job in two weeks. Would you be presentable enough for them to take interest in you? What skills would you be able to say that you had? Would you have a great resume on hand to give them? If you answered poorly to any of these questions, then you have a personal weakness, one you can work on. Make that resume. Keep yourself presentable and sociable. Make a good resume and keep copies with you wherever you go.

Bad karma happens to all of us sometimes

The truly devastating effects of that bad karma are often directly connected to our own choices. If we’re flying high and don’t prepare for the inevitable fall, things will hurt when we fall from that pedestal. If we’ve already fallen and aren’t preparing ourselves to rise again, we’ll stay down for the long count.

It is about us

It is about what we choose. It is about overcoming our individual flaws – and we all have them, and we all have different ones – and making the best of what we have.

No one does this perfectly because no one is perfect. One thing we can all do, though, is strive to improve ourselves and our situation no matter what that situation currently happens to be.

Don’t spend a second worrying about what or how someone else is doing. You can’t control that. What you can control (at least to some extent) is your own situation. Take charge of every element that you can and walk forward with it.

What can you do, right now, to start improving your situation?

That’s the only question that matters.

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  1. Michael says:

    That is the key, to be ready to be lucky. Trent, you got lucky because LifeHacker liked you so much and the freeware/open source software post was an unexpectedly huge hit. But you were ready for it by spending a ton of time on the site, writing four articles a day and getting up at 4am. That’s why your success is part of a real life.

  2. Vicky says:

    I feel like this was written just for me today :)

  3. Solomon says:

    Perhaps Sam was bitten by karma him/herself? It doesn’t only work one way.

  4. Tom says:

    I’m with you, Trent! My fiance and I have paid off almost $19,000 in debt this year, and people just think we have it easy. They seem to forget that I was kicked out of my apartment on New Year’s Day because I was broke and we currently work opposite shifts while I work in a lousy customer service job. It really isn’t about luck as much as it is about willingness to be uncomfortable/miserable temporarily to dig yourself out of your mess. Unemployed for 7 months? I couldn’t get a job so I took a seasonal customer service position to make ends meet. I busted it and now have a full-time job to pay the bills. I’m not making a career out of it, but it’s money right now. This guy has options, he’s just not seeing them. Another great post, Trent!

  5. Amity says:

    Wow. Three years ago I wrote to you with my story. I had left the country, was up to my ears in debt, and had no idea what to do. I lost my job, moved home with zero resources, and the creditors began to call. Karma!! You published my email then and encouraged me. It was a VERY HARD three years. I did in fact go through bankruptcy, it was educational and scary. But now my situation is so much better. It is horrible to be at the very bottom but it is amazing to change patterns in your life, make choices, fail, learn, fail, learn, and move forward.

  6. Annie Jones says:

    I feel as if Sam doesn’t really understand the concept of karma. As I understand it, whatever thoughts or actions a person has will eventually come back to them. So if a person thinks negatively, then negativity comes back to them at some time. Positive acts and thoughts come back as positivity. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense that if you, Trent, are a good steward of your things (money, family, career, material items) that something bad will eventually happen. Quite the opposite…more good should be coming your way.

    Sam simply sounds jaded. Trying to develop a more positive mindset would probably do Sam a world of good.

  7. bethany says:

    sorry you were the target of such hostility. It’s interesting that Sam used the term Karma instead of something else like bad luck, because as I understand it, that word has more to do with what your saying. If you believe in Karma then you believe you reap what you sow – if you try to make things better for others, things will also be good for you. If you truly believe in Karma, directing venom toward bloggers isn’t going to help you.

  8. Jaime says:

    You make some great points here Trent. Everyone has room for improvement no matter where they are at in life. You can (and in my opinion should) always be trying to learn, grow, and develop yourself into the best person you can be.

    Obviously, Sam’s journey is taking a difficult turn right now. Instead of railing against you and your perceived unreal life. I think more energy could be spent in self-reflection. Why did this happen? What can you learn from it? Did this apparent financial collapse have any warning signs? Is it opening the door for you to try something new and different?

    All of us have things happen that are outside of our control and disrupt the comfort and stability of our life. We can’t choose when and how they come. We can only choose how we respond to them.

  9. Poultry in Motion says:

    Trent, I have to say, you have some of the harshest comments (besides blatant spammers) that I’ve read on any personal finance sites. Perhaps GRS and some of the others are filtering comments, but wow, you get some spiteful posts that make it difficult to read past your articles.

    Granted, an audience and some degree of anonymity brings out a different side of people, but jeez, you’re site is like a magnet!

    I guess it’s healthy for people to vent, but why here? I love your site, and you’re an excellent writer. Some of your commenters leave something to be desired, which is unfortunate. I just think this site is an odd place for that type of behavior….your articles are more often than not, uplifting (and I appreciate that).

    Thanks for all the great content!

  10. ABQBrent says:

    This may be one of the most timeless, inspiring, wise and thoughtful posts I’ve read in a while. Thank you, and keep it up.

  11. Mike says:

    Amen Trent!
    Like you said, the world is what you make it. I’m glad you’re able to tolerate the bad and keep bringing us useful information and quality motivation.

  12. Leah W. says:

    Poultry in Motion, I’m not really surprised. Check out the July 8 reader mailbag comments.

    The truth is, some of us — like Trent, and like me — will be incredibly lucky in life. We’ll have parents who’ll help us out financially if we need it, like by co-signing on Trent’s first car. We’ll have spouses who have good jobs they don’t mind going to that give us good health benefits and help pay the bills so we can do what we love, even if it doesn’t make much money. When we put effort into it, we can actually pay our bills.

    Not all people are so lucky. Trent often overlooks the “luck” factor and chalks it up to his hard work and dedication. Truly, that’s part of the mix. But some people work just as hard and are just as dedicated, but they end up like Sam.

    It’s a little like Joel Osteen telling people that if God favors them, they’ll be financially blessed. When people aren’t financially blessed, God must not favor them. From Trent’s perspective, when people are in financial straits, it’s because of their own personal choices. Same thing.

    I think what we’re asking for here is a little sympathy, and maybe a little humbleness. It IS about your choices, for sure, but it’s also about the hand life deals you. Sometimes, people get dealt a crappy hand. It’d be nice for Trent to acknowledge sometimes that his hand, all things considered, is actually pretty decent.

  13. Moxie says:

    Sam just try to remember they can not eat you. That’s what my Grandfather used to always say….they can not eat you. Meaning that when things get rough….banks…loan officers….bosses…creditors…people…the world…..well they can do a lot, but they can’t do much really.

  14. Matt says:

    Luck favors the prepared.

  15. Josh says:

    Maybe Trent should introduce Sam and Leah W. (#10). Two complainers who think life is about the hand you are dealt, not how you play it.

    They will be very happy together complaining about how lucky everyone else is and that’s the only reason they are living better lives than them.

  16. David C says:

    Trent, this is one the best posts that I have read here. Sometimes we have to be reminded that we are still a work in progress. I have had bad things happen, after you dig yourself out, all you can do is learn from it and prepare for a possible reoccurrence.

    I think Sam needs a little brushup on the meaning of Karma, perhaps watching season one of “My Name is Earl” will put him in a better mood.

  17. Sharon says:

    For those looking for sympathy. I think Trent IS saying crap happens. But that you can improve good luck and soften bad luck by wise choics, hard work and a good attitude. You can’t “fix” it, but alter it somewhat. Hence the title of article says “you can do better”.
    For earlier article on this idea see the one he wrote on August 29, 2008.

  18. Debbie M says:

    I think what Sam means is that if your life is going well, you can’t trust that things will always go well. We have ups and downs. You can talk yourself into saying that the current up is permanent, due to your hard work, valuable skills, etc., but that doesn’t inoculate you from bad luck.

    I suspect he’s talking about the law of averages rather than karma. If you’re doing above average now, get ready for things to get worse.

    I agree that there are a few things you can do to make the consequences of your bad luck less horrible, and so I’m glad that Trent pointed out that whatever’s happening to you, you still have some choices about what to do. (Don’t believe me? Read Victor Frankl’s book about how he decided this was true even in concentration camps.)

    But it sucks when all the rainbows and puppies run out of your life, especially when it’s not at all your fault. And sometimes good people lose their jobs and then their house. And you have to start over again–it’s so depressing! And sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the effort because all your past effort didn’t protect you at all.

    But what are you going to do? Give up? Move into the street? Nope. Better to apply for governmental/church aid. Move in with friends or relatives if possible. Take on minimum-wage jobs. Sell some of your stuff. Brush up on some skills via library books and web resources. Anything you can think of to get going again. Good luck to Sam and other who are feeling like this.

    And Sam–you’re not in a war, worrying about torture or bombings. You’re not in a prison. It sounds like you don’t have any crippling injuries or sicknesses. You still have some things to be grateful for. Hang in there.

  19. Dorothy says:

    Yes, it’s human nature to credit our good fortune to our hard work, preparedness — in a word our own efforts, and to credit other people’s bad fortune as their fault.

    That does not negate, however, the notion of being prepared, of being ready for good luck.

    Here’s the secret of life, my friends: To figure out what you can control and what you cannot control, then to work on the stuff you can control and stop sweating the things you cannot. Is Sam (or Trent or any of us) in complete control of our lives? No. But we spend so much time butting our heads against the stuff we cannot control that we neglect the stuff we can control.

    My heart goes out to Sam. But I think we all agree he’d be better off to stop railing at Trent and the other things in his own life he cannot control, and get cracking on the stuff he can control.

  20. jesinalbuquerque says:

    @Dorothy: “Here’s the secret of life, my friends: To figure out what you can control and what you cannot control, then to work on the stuff you can control and stop sweating the things you cannot.”

    Has a familiar ring to it. I’m not an AA’er, but I have to say the serenity prayer just about sums it up, and I like Dorothy’s paraphrase.

  21. Joanna says:

    A good book for Sam is “Touch the Top of the World” by Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to summit Mount Everest (and all 7 highest peaks if I’m not mistaken). He has a wonderful perspective on turning into adversity instead of away from it.

  22. BonzoGal says:

    Trent DOES acknowledge his blessings/luck. He writes about that constantly! I don’t see how anyone can miss that. He feels lucky to have found Sarah, lucky to have parents who taught him resourcefulness, etc. And he admits his faults all the time, so I don’t get how anyone finds any lack of “humbleness.”

    This is an advice and education blog, so of course Trent is going to write about what worked most of the time. Sometimes he writes about what didn’t work for him, or what mistakes he’s made. There’s a great balance of both here.

    Trent gives out free, well-researched and valuable advice, and some people still dump on him. Geez louise…

  23. Kevin says:

    Great post. I disagree with the use of the word “karma,” on both sides of this debate. People use “karma” as a crutch, as an excuse for not having to take responsibility for their own actions. It’s lazy to fall back on this idea that some mystical, magical force will ensure that the universe is “fair.”

    “If I’m a good person, then ‘karma’ will reward me with riches.” Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that considerably less virtuous than being a good person simply for the sake of being a good person?

    “I don’t need to worry about that jerk – ‘karma’ will get him.” Isn’t that lazy? What if ‘karma’ *doesn’t* get him? We’ve all seen plenty of examples where the nice guy finished last, the bully got the girl, and the lazy bum won the lottery. Why do we have this obsession with convincing ourselves that the universe will make sure everything is fair?

    The truth is, life is NOT fair. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Ask the people in Haiti or New Orleans about Karma. Ask the relatives of the people who were in the Twin Towers on 9/11 about karma. It’s baloney.

    People are accountable for their own actions (and inactions). They need to quit using “karma” as a crutch to carry them through rough spots, and instead actually DO something to improve their situation.

  24. Julia says:

    I believe all things are balanced. Really mean people exist because really nice people exist. You ever talk to somebody when you have a really negative attitude and they respond with excessive optimism? Then later you can talk to them with a really positive attitude and they respond with excessive negatism.
    Trent’s posts are very inspiring. That’s probably what makes it a magnet for negativitiy.
    I respect the level of posts that do make it past the filtering, because I believe even jerks have a right to their own opinion. Trent’s gotta have a thick skin to take it all with grace. I respect him all the more for it.

  25. almost there says:

    Contrary to most posters, I agree with #10, Leah W.I have been following TSD for the past 3 years and Trent is incredibly fortunate compared to lots in our country. His wife did have a job and health care so he was never in fear of having to be kicked out onto the streets. He had food, a good job and all he had to do was get rid of the gazingus pins that attracted him like a mynah bird to shiny objects. If Trent’s wife were to remain unemployed and the family had no health care for 7 months, Trent would still be in pretty good shape but I’ll venture to say if it happened to him in 2006 he would be where Tom is now. Yes, Tom can get to where Trent is, after he gets a job, pays debts or files BK and has a supportive spouse with a steady taxpayer funded job with little chance of having it taken away. Trent is starting to pat himself on the back too much. It took lots of people around him to allow him to quit his day job.

  26. chacha1 says:

    I agree this was a constructive, measured response to someone who is probably lashing out at everybody right now.

    Sam has clearly been in a downward spiral. He needs to start asking for help. There’s a lot of it out there, but it doesn’t come knocking on your door. Especially if you’re full of rage.

  27. Daniel Fryar says:

    Progress, not perfection, should be our goal.

  28. Gretchen says:

    White Male American.

    That’s a pretty “lucky” hand right there.

  29. MattJ says:


    “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

    Not really a believer in karma, myself. Too many real-world examples of people doing great evil and suffering not a bit for it, or people who have never wronged anyone living lives of misery and deprivation.

    Good luck, Sam. It wasn’t karma that got you, just the random unfairness of life.

  30. MikeTheRed says:

    I generally reject the entire concept of luck when it comes to the events in ones life. The only luck you get is at birth. Did you get a good roll of the dice and get born into the US or another 1st world nation? Into a loving and supportive family? Did you get a good hand in the genetics department? That’s about where “luck” really ends.

    Luck implies randomness, a lack of control, as if what happens to us and where our lives go is beyond our own actions. It’s some external force that decides things for us.

    Life presents you with a series of choices and options. Some good, some bad. Many of them pass right on by without most people realizing they’re even there. The key is being aware of the opportunities, and being in a position to capitalize on those opportunities. Or at least have the courage to take a risk for something potentially amazing.

    You have to place yourself in a situation where you can take on the opportunities you want most. Being in a good position and making a good decision isn’t good luck, it’s being proactive in your life.

    Conversely, being under a mountain of debt, broke etc isn’t really bad luck so much as it’s the end-result of bad choices.

    Of course, there are the outliers like being hit by a car, or winning the lottery, but when most people are examining the trajectory of their lives and determining whether they’ve been lucky or unlucky, they’re looking at things like “I spent my life stuck in a job I hated” or “I’m $30,000 in debt!” or “I found the job of my dreams!”

    By and large, it’s not luck. It’s taking charge of your life.

  31. This is one area I like to focus on. No matter what your situation, you can always take steps to improve it. You will never “arrive”. It is a continuous journey of progress and betterment that you should strive for.

    In response to the #10 comment. Surely there are people that work just as hard and are as dedicated, but they do not take the necessary steps to get to where they want to be. It may be ignorance, lack of education, or one of many other things. The point is, I can work hard with a shovel trying to move a hill of sand, but someone working just as hard with a tractor will see much more progress.

    It’s not about the drive and determination of one person vs the other. It’s about taking the initiative to learn and try new things until you find one that works.

  32. The Head Hunter says:

    An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered – GKC

    Sam’s lucky and he doesn’t even know it. We learn more from our failures than our successes. Apparently he never learned to save as much as possible, live on far less than you earn, and not buy more house than you can afford.

    Do you think hitting rock bottom will teach him these lessons? I think so. It happened to me and to many of you. Alot of Americans are learning what our great-grandparents knew and our parents forgot, depression-era induced financial literacy. And we’ll all be better for it.

    I’d like to hear from Sam again a year after he’s worked through this, he’ll have a great story to tell then…

  33. dot says:

    This was a great post. It provided advice to prepare ourselves for the inevitable downfalls we all will have and inspiration to pull ourselves out of these periods. It was well written and heartfelt.
    It is a shame someone had to stink the place up with a racial comment.

  34. Evangeline says:

    Luck has nothing to do with it. It’s called hard work and blessings. Sometimes the hard work is looking in the mirror at the mistakes you’ve made and sometimes it’s digging yourself out from someone else’s actions. Poor Sam is having a rotten go of things and it’s understandable that he would be angry at Trent for living ‘the good life’ when he can’t. Misguided, but understandable. I pray that Sam can get rest (needed for energy and decision making), stay nourished both physically and mentally/spiritually, then rededicate himself to finding employment to satisfy his financial needs. Perhaps with a little reflection, his anger will ease and he can see TSD as a tool for improving his lot in life.

  35. Crystal says:

    I think Sam is just feeling lost and depressed…that makes people lash out sometimes.

    I agree that we can all improve ourselves, but I would also suggest that constant work towards this goal may lead you to miss out on some truly happy moments in life. I’m okay with being imperfect and only look to improve those parts of myself that I dislike or that hurt my life in some way.

    I look to improve my relationships on a constant basis but I’m okay with my tv addiction as well. I am currently trying to change my eating habits permanently but I have accepted that I NEED the internet.

    I know that I only have one shot at this specific life, so I try not to overthink it when things are actually going well. :-)

  36. todo es bien says:

    Sam, if you read this, I am sorry to hear about your misery. I hope you find solace and comfort and that things change for you soon enough.

    Virtually everyone who participates on this site is winner of the “sperm lottery”, we had access to education, clean water, food, housing. We have been given much, and we have also worked pretty hard to extend our blessings. I personally consider myself the luckiest man I have ever met, in that despite my foolishness I have so much love in my life, and I have the privilege of raising my daughter. This is not my karma, it is my good fortune. Propriety would suggest that if you have good fortune that you extend it those that have less.

    I know it is trite, but I would exhort the blessed among us to extend ourselves a bit more into the world to help where we can. So many suffering in so many ways. May you find yourself at peace.

    I apologize if this message is offensive in any way, not my intention.

  37. Michelle says:


    You made my day with that quote. A real LOL moment.

    With regard to karma, bear in mind, folks, that it originates in a religion that believes in reincarnation. Karmic repercussions don’t always happen in the same lifetime. Yeah, there are scumbags who steal millions and get off with a slap on the wrist. According to karmic theory, though, they’re probably going to come back in their next life as a fruit fly and they have to work their way up the ladder of consciousness again and again until they get it right (enlightenment is the ultimate goal). How this eastern religious concept jibes with western religions is up to you. It’s just one more thing that can’t really be “proven” since you have to be dead (and reincarnated) to find out for sure.

    Good things will happen to you and bad things will happen to you; this is true for every single human on this planet and truthfully, it’s pretty subjective how good or how bad a thing really is. My catastrophe is your minor annoyance.

    How we respond is what’s important, however. Feeling anger or depression for a while is normal (going through the 5 stages of grief for the life you once had). But wallowing in it long term is counterproductive. As Trent has said before, the past is past. All we can do today is learn from the past and try to make the future better. And by this I mean, better prepared to handle the downs because they will come no matter what we do or how “lucky” we are. We can’t prevent “bad luck.” We can only prepare for it. As they say, hope for the best; prepare for the worst.

    I hope Sam gets through the five stages quickly and is able to start moving forward again soon.

  38. matt says:

    As for the company going under and that resulted in getting laid off, it sounds like the writing was on the wall, no luck there. Perhaps check ‘who moved my cheese’ out of the local library.

  39. Trent. This port inspired me to write one of my own. You might find it interesting. It’s over at http://www.thebestmoneyblog.com/the-myth-of-luck-in-financial-success/

    Thanks for all you do, and keep up the hard…luck.

  40. Stephan says:

    i think its important to always look ahead and find opportunities. they might not jump out at you, but they are there. sitting at home and complaining about your situation will not fix anything. go do something, even if it does not reward you monetarily as doing anything is better than doing nothing!
    Preferred Financial Services Blog

  41. Vivek says:

    I’d say decide what you determines your happiness.

    Sooner or later you realize that the external (people, situations, things) don’t make you happy. You can have the best of everything and still be unhappy. You can have the worst of everything and still be happy.

    Once that decision is out of the way, once you decide to be happy — the rest is fluff and you can work towards it.

    I like to say – if you are happy, nothing matters. If you are not happy, anyway nothing matters.

  42. WalkingTheRoad says:

    The thing between luck and hard work and karma and self improvement is: You cannot effect luck or karma. It doesn’t really matter if Trent is lucky and Sam is unlucky. Luck is not something you can control. Do you want to wait for luck to provide you the good life or “try you luck” at changing you life? You can sit in your dirty diaper all your life bemoaning your fate/luck/birth order/parents/karma, which is one choice. Or you can clean yourself up as best you can and move forward and see if you can effect a new and better life. Choosing to identify yourself as a victim is a choice that will insure that you will be victimized. Allow yourself to cry and rant for a short time over the bad thing that happen to you but then pick yourself up and change what you can. Trent’s article is a great roadmap of all the choices that are ours to make. Thank you for a thoughtful and well written article. Well done.

  43. Wes says:

    This is one of my favorite posts since I first started following thesimpledollar.com. The discussion is quite interesting as well. For those of you on either side of the randomness/hard work debate, you should read Nassim Taleb’s “The Black Swan.” In it, he discusses the role of randomness (specifically, randomness which we cannot predict) in our lives. As a believer in hard work and making your own destiny, this book opened my eyes to ways that events outside our control can have huge impacts on our lives.

    That said, I think trent’s mentality of taking control of your situation is an excellent approach to life. Sure, events that you can’t control will effect your well being. Knowing this, you should still do everything within your control to better your position, which includes, as Taleb argues, hedging against unkowable risks and maximizing your exposure to positive random events.

  44. Jeremy says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Trent. I’ve been where Sam is, possibly even worse – lost my job, my apartment, my financial aid for school, my girl – and all of my self esteem in less than one year. I spent several years blaming everyone else and especially being angry at former employers who I felt never compensated me adequately for the hard work I did for them.

    When I finally got over that, and admitted my own failings, my life began to turn around. I realized that I MUST take responsibility for myself and my choices, or I will go no where. I’m still working on it, but my goal is to build on my own security, so when I hear a knock on the door, I know it’s opportunity, not Murphy.

    I wish the best for Sam in all his endeavors.

  45. Sandy L says:

    1. I loved this article. Right on and just what I needed. Was beating myself up over a couple things and this puts it into perspective.. Don’t give up, but don’t lose hope in improving yourself either.

    2. I don’t agree at all with the comments about being “lucky” to have a wife with a stable job, to help support their family. Would it have been more noble to have married someone who was a deadbeat? I’m sure it wasn’t luck to marry Sarah. It was deliberate choice that included not settling for someone who’s values did not match their own.

    I would even go as far as saying, I’m not even lucky that I was born in the USA. My mom did everything in her power to immigrate here and it took her over 20 years to do so. That was not luck. That was perserverance. She made a very difficult decision and didn’t plant roots in her home country so that she could have the freedom to leave at any time. She was single, while everyone around her had families. That was hard.

    Some people never get the opportunity to come here, but some just aren’t cut out to make the sacrifices it takes to get to that better place.

  46. mary m says:

    Poor Helen Keller, must have had really bad karma being born into the hand she was dealt. Imagine if she would have been lucky enough to have been born 100 years later, in 1980 instead of 1880. She could have gotten all kinds of assistance from all kinds of government programs. She would never have had to work for anything at all.

  47. BonzoGal says:

    @ #21 almost there: After “following TSD for the past 3 years” how could you possibly miss Trent writing about his luck and blessings being part of his success? You claim he “is starting to pat himself on the back too much.” Really? At what point does Trent EVER say that he’s done everything perfectly or that he did it all himself? He always gives credit to others in helping him to this point.

    Trent also has done a REMARKABLE job in getting out of serious debt and then passing on his learnings to his readers, gratis. Maybe you and Leah W. should be a little more “humble” about what YOU contribute.

  48. Doug says:

    One thing I’ve noticed in my own financial journey is that most people will never congratulate you for working hard and succeeding.

    I think it has to do with self-idealization. “I’m a good person, why am I not sitting on a six month emergency fund?” “I’m a good person, so why do I get fired?”

    The way so many of these people deal with this is by telling themselves “Well, if so-and-so has money/a good job/a new car/a new house/whatever, he must be cheating the system. He must be greedy, selfish, and step all over people to get where he is, because I don’t and I’m at the bottom of the heap.”

    It’s an exercise in denial, and it’s ultimately futile.

    The next time someone shows up with a mark of success, examine what you are feeling. Is it jealousy and envy? Or is it inspiration?

    I have a coworker who bought a BMW. Not a vehicle I would buy, and certainly not on payments, but she did. She later wanted to sell it because the comments people made to her. “You must have money,” that kind of stuff. No, she worked hard to get a good paying job, and could afford the payments. Again, not what I would do, but she succeeded. I made sure to congratulate her on meeting her goal, not on going into debt for a car.

    If more people took inspiration from the successful instead of envying the successful, we’d live in a much better world.

  49. Amy B. says:

    The article has some great content. Thanks, Trent.

    This is also a good reminder for us to reach out to others. You never know when you provide an opportunity (good example, good idea) to someone else.

  50. RJS says:

    Nice article and great comments. I would add that I don’t think that anyones life is less real than anyone elses. There are different journeys and along the way there are accidents and actions/choices.

    I work in video production and just yesterday worked on a project that was about people with brain injuries. It was about an organization where they are paired up with others with brain injuries as mentors who teach them skills and socialization. It was amazing to see people with diminished physical and mental capacities accomplish so much. Very inspiring. You could look at these people and think, wow, look at what they can’t do or you could look at them and think, wow, look at what they CAN do.

    By april 2006 I had racked up 25,000 in credit card debt. After years of no miracle solutions I realized I needed to look at the situation from a different perspective. I decided to cold turkey it…I cut up my cards…friends thought, how on earth can you live without credit cards. I shrug my shoulders and say, “I guess I’ll find out.” Now it is over four years later and in 4 months I will be finished with the debt. People have said you are lucky that you were able to get that to work. I find that offensive. I worked very hard to accomplish this. At the root of it though I made the concious decision to look at the problem differently. that is why I really liked the Chesterton quote The Head Hunter shared.

  51. BD says:

    Leah, @ #10 : SO WELL SAID. Some people do everything right…go to school, work hard, stay out of debt, live below their means, keep their noses to the grindstones, try to be compassionate and kind to others, and life STILL deals them a crappy hand that no one could foresee or be fully prepared for, and they STILL end up in poverty and with no job, and try as they may, can’t find steady work for years. I know.

  52. Amateur says:

    I hope Sam makes it and gets to keep his/her house, sounds like a rough time.

  53. I definitely know I can do better, I just have a hard time staying focus most of the time

  54. Seth says:

    at#26 MikeTheRed. I couldn’t have said it any better. I completely agree with you. We create our own luck. Period.

  55. Momof4 says:

    @#39 Doug. Well said. People will never congratulate you for working hard and succeeding. I have just landed a contract of my dreams through hard work, networking and volunteering.People begrudge and diminish my achievements. I dust myself off, pat myself and move on. On another note, my son is having a difficult time, because he under-performed in high school this year.We talked about how life is not all smooth-sailing, there will be bumps in the road…but what defines you as a man, is how you respond to and learn from those mistakes. How you respond to life’s curve-balls, and there will be many, determines your future.Being prepared and positive helps immensely. Good job Trent, love the blog!!

  56. Rick Loftus, M.D. says:

    As a Geluk Tibetan Buddhist, point of clarification: There’s no such thing as “bad” karma–there’s just karma. Things happen to us, sometimes due to causes we can see, sometimes (if you’re Buddhist) due to causes from a past life that aren’t obvious. The point is, everything that happens to us, happens FOR us. Reality is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. The struggles we go through are part of what makes us grow. Having just divorced after 12 years, lost my home of 10 years, had to close my medical practice and go bankrupt, I should be a wreck. But losing “everything” made me see how rich my life is. I’m landing on my feet, and while I wouldn’t choose to go through this again, I have faith I’ll be braver, stronger, and wiser because of what happened. Blessings to Sam. It’s always darkest before the dawn, man. Hang in there and grow, grow, GROW!…

  57. I struggle a little with this concept and let me tell you why.

    On the one hand I agree that all of us can improve – not just financially but in many areas of our lives. We can be better parents, we can be healthier, we can be better at work, we can be better friends and partners and so on.

    All it really takes it mindfulness and some effort (though a plan is also useful).

    On the other hand, if we’re never content to sit on our laurels and are always striving for the next improvement in our lives I wonder if we’re ever able to really sit back and enjoy things.

    If you derive pleasure from achieving goals then maybe you will. But I worry a little that always focusing on the next goal – rather than taking stok and ejoying the “now” is robbing us of one of the simple pleasures in life.


  58. deRuiter says:

    Sam, What are you doing to fix this? Have you rented the house and moved in with family? Have you rented a couple of bedrooms and kept the rest of the house for yourself? Rented out the garage? Taken a job delivering pizzas at night while you job hunt during the day? Held yard sales to sell everything except your beds and clothing to raise cash? Did you have savings? Credit card debt? Tried to sell the house to get out from under? Were you in sound financial conditon before being fired? Were you already overextended financially before you were fired?

  59. Excellent article! We also experienced my husband being unexpectedly unemployed when the market was flooded with people in his profession and he was 55+ which meant age discrimination was well disguised but alive and well.

    Fortunately we had the habit of being prepared for the “unpredictable” –a habit that made the difference between surviving and being destitute. We can predict that at least one major thing will need maintenance or happen this year tha twill be very costly. When I changed my attitude from being surprised and annoyed when something went wrong to expecting it I had less stress and was better prepared. My habit became to always made sure we had a “cushion”. If we had a year when it wasn’t needed, we could almost always predict the next year we would be better prepared for whatever unpredictable thing was coming

    When my husband lost his job and couldn’t find another and my work also took a nosedive, that meant the difference between total financial devastation and surviving.

    Losing a job and not being able to afford health care can be emotionally and financially devastating but doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Our cushion and starting out by not having debt helped us weather the storm until we could be resourceful enough to figure out every place we could eliminate or cut back and every resource that could bring in extra revenue–including finally taking a job that required auctioning our house, relocating and earning a lot less money.

    We couldn’t predict those years of him being basically unemployed but that habit of preparing for the unpredictable made the difference.

  60. Excellent article! We also experienced my husband being unexpectedly unemployed when the market was flooded with people in his profession and he was 55+ which meant age discrimination was well disguised but alive and well.

    Fortunately we had the habit of being prepared for the “unpredictable” –a habit that made the difference between surviving and being destitute. We can predict that at least one major thing will need maintenance or happen this year tha twill be very costly. When I changed my attitude from being surprised and annoyed when something went wrong to expecting it I had less stress and was better prepared. My habit became to always made sure we had a “cushion”. If we had a year when it wasn’t needed, we could almost always predict the next year we would be better prepared for whatever unpredictable thing was coming

    When my husband lost his job and couldn’t find another and my work also took a nosedive, that meant the difference between total financial devastation and surviving.

    Losing a job and not being able to afford health care can be emotionally and financially devastating but doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Our cushion and starting out by not having debt helped us weather the storm until we could be resourceful enough to figure out every place we could eliminate or cut back and every resource that could bring in extra revenue–including finally taking a job that required auctioning our house, relocating and earning a lot less money.

    We couldn’t predict those years of him being basically unemployed but that habit of preparing for the unpredictable made the difference.

  61. Lynn says:

    Perhaps Sam is getting at vulnerability. It doesn’t take more than a main breadwinner losing all income suddenly coupled with a family member being diagnosed with an illness that results in high medical costs/long term care to put most people over a financial cliff. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are. My family is in a great financial situation and it was scary how quickly my son’s recent illness ate through our savings. Most of us are fortunate that multiple crises don’t fall upon us simultaneously. I think that is what Sam is getting at. Good people don’t always get what they deserve.

  62. Shawn says:

    Obviously Sam hasn’t been following the Simple Dollar very long. Anyone who has, knows your story and that luck didn’t turn everything around for you. It was hard work, struggle and perserverence. Sam- you can do it! We all can, after all if we didn’t think we could why do we keep reading?

  63. Alex says:

    Thank you Sam for prompting this article and dialogue. Thank you Trent for your insights and enabling this dialogue. You are both successes and because of both of you I am better off as a human being today.

  64. Cheryl says:

    Bad things happen to good people and life is not fair. Those seem to be 2 premises that can be easily accepted.

    I think the point many people are making is fair – that negative feelings are not going to improve one’s situation. You can’t control what happens, but how you respond to what happens.

    I liked Trent’s approach in his response. Whether we’re in a good spot or a bad spot we should look for areas of improvement in our lives because you never know what’s around the corner. I’m working hard to improve my family’s financial situation, but I’m aware that there are any number of things that could devastate our situation. I may never be enough prepared, but by reducing our debt and boosting our income we can be better prepared for whatever life my throw our way.

    In general I think it’s good advice not to dwell on the negative, but learn from it. I have areas of weakness that could be improved upon, but for now I’m focusing on maximizing my strengths and in doing that I am indirectly improving my areas of weakness.

    And I agree that as a community we should be looking for ways to help those less fortunate. Although I often feel like I’m struggling to maintain my meager middle class existence, there are far too many who fare worse right in my own community.

  65. Erin says:

    You have put into words far far better what I have been trying to express to family and friends for years. Focus on what you have control over, yourself…..no one else.
    Thanks….saving this one!

  66. cathy says:

    We were in the same position as that of poster #44. Husband was laid off from his work at age 55 due to restructuring. Both hubby and I have always had the mindset that we had to have a good emergency fund to dip into if unemployment would hit us. I am a stay at home mom of a bunch of boys and have always been frugal to the core – baking everything (including buns, bread), gardening, mending, second hand shopping (love this!), avoiding malls, etc. We are further ahead by me staying home and our sons benefitted so much from this as well.

    When my husband was laid off, he went to one half his salary but we managed because of the life style we lead. Some may think we are deprived but we think of ourselves as blessed and have no desire to keep up with the Joneses…. I also want to add that making it a priority to give to the needy also is a blessing. We have no idea how blessed we are with even running water and electricity. Live simply and you will live well.

  67. John F says:

    “Luck is when Opportunity meets Preparation”

    I’m not perfect at living by that either, but that’s the best way I’ve ever heard it put. True, you’ll never get ahead if you don’t get a break, but you also won’t if you don’t prepare yourself to take advantage of the one that comes along. True, misfortunes (the opposite of opportunity?) will likely push you back down. But they’ll devestate you if you don’t prepare yourself to be able to mitigate them.

    Statistically, anything on the normal curve can happen. Preparation serves to shift the distribution a little, that’s all.

  68. John F says:

    And in no way does my previous comment imply that the Sam’s situation is his own fault. I have no idea. Even if you shift the distribution of outcomes a lot, the extremely negative event still has a nonzero probability of happening. Doesn’t mean you can’t lower the probability of it happening from the odds of rolling snake eyes at the craps table to the odds of getting bit by a polar bear in the desert. Sure, the Phoenix zoo might have a break-out… but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth the effort.

  69. sjweiland says:

    Thank you Trent for another inspiring edition. Most of the comments were uplifting and motivational; a great reference for difficult days. Sam did spew venom. Trent set a positive example by responding with kindness and offering helpful suggestions. Many of the contributions could assist Sam. Sam many of us have pulled ourselves together after experiences that would be difficult to believe if one had not been present. The only failure is giving up. Be thankful for life’s difficulties as they make good times much sweeter. Love yourself enough to persevere and you will find strength and positive self-worth. Many of us in TSD community are showing support and caring for you Sam. Please take that to heart.

  70. Susan says:

    Many of the comments already posted bring to mind the phrase from the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

    I have no doubt that there is some luck involved in life, things will play out differently for different people, and there is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. That said, I think people can enhance the “luck” (or perceived luck) in their lives by looking for opportunities, being positive and proactive.

  71. Tall Bill says:

    Soo true #47.

    Scored big time on Real Estate.

    Paid big time on Medical.

    Back to even & taking steps back up.

  72. Kirstie says:

    I would like to point out to Sam and some others that this is a blog, a tiny area of Trent’s life. We don’t know really know what is going on with his family and health so making ‘luck’ comparisons is pointless.

    We all have ups and downs – that is life. However, even if you can’t stop yourself being made redundant, you can put yourself in a position where being made redundant is easier. If you need advice on this, isn’t it lucky for us that Trent works so hard on his blog and we can access all this information for free?

  73. prufock says:

    You make good points, but I think there is also something to be taken away from Sam’s complaint. There is an attitude among the successful, particularly (it seems) writers/bloggers, that “because I was successful following these steps, you can be too!” Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple, and for every successful author and blogger out there, there are ten who work just as hard but don’t get anywhere.

    I agree that you can always better your situation, but it annoys me whenever I see successful bloggers say things like “follow your passion and the money will come” or “quit your job and start a blog so you can travel and make money at the same time.”

  74. Pattie, RN says:

    Leah and her followers seem to believe that life is all luck, therefore, if my life sucks, it is because I am unlucky, not because I made poor choices. Sure bad things DO happen to good people (see the book of this title) but how WE act, behave, believe, and react has a lot to do with how we play a rotten hand. Are some us more blessed by birth that others…sure thing!! (and that is BLESSED, not lucky, btw) but the only thing we can totally control is ourselves. I highly suggest reading Victor Frankle’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The author got the ultimate rotten hand as a concentration camp survivor…and found that his soul and attitude were the ONLY things the Nazi killers could not steal.

  75. M says:

    Pattie, Leah was pretty clear that she considered luck one factor, not the only factor. So was every else who agreed with her (and I agree with her too, as someone who’s also had a pretty decent hand so far). “Some people who have it bad are just unlucky” is not in any way the same as “all people who have it bad are just unlucky”. Logically-speaking, that would be like saying “some mammals are cats” is the same statement as “all mammals are cats”.

    It is very possible for someone to work incredibly hard and still get a bum deal in life, while someone else can be very lazy and still have a good life. That’s why it’s unfair to immediately assume that people who are in bad situations are themselves at fault for it. The analogy you use actually works against you here. Yes, comparing Frankle’s life with a good attitude to what it would have been with a bad attitude, having a good attitude has probably helped him somewhat. But despite all his effort, *he was still a Holocaust victim*. Aren’t there plenty of people out there with bad attitudes that didn’t end up in concentration camps? So, comparing a person with a good attitude vs. a person with a bad attitude, the person with the good attitude does *not* always have a better life, and you cannot assume that someone who has had a worse life has done something wrong to deserve it. Taken to extremes (such as the Holocaust example), you can see how horrendous that assumption really is.

    Also the blessed vs lucky thing depends on one’s religious beliefs, so I think you’re being a little disrespectful to others on that front as well.

  76. Lynn says:

    Wow…I think Trent was unbelieveably COURAGEOUS in his sharing when he started this blog. He did what so many are terrified to do—take a real hard, honest look at his life and share that where he started was NOT a good place. Then he picked himself and WITH us, started making those difficult daily choices that eventually add up to CHANGING one’s lifestyle.

    Learning how to make those small, but continual changes and learning how to stick to goals from EACH OTHER always seemed the way of The Simple Dollar, to me at least. I have NEVER felt that Trent was preaching at us, but that we were all learning together. This guy obviously hasn’t read much of The Simple Dollar.

    I think Trent’s response of encouragement is the ultimate testiment to this purpose of this blog and reassures me this is the one place I’ll turn, even when time constraints limit my opportunites to absorb a broader range of sites. Thanks Trent!!

  77. Tom says:

    Well thanks to your blog I’m in a good position to assume the worth, even if it already happened to me when I lost my 2 years old boy.
    I’m now able to lose my job and still be able to feed my familly and pay for my house for almost a year, a thing that I never thought off before, even if I’ve never been in debt. I’m now way more confortable with my financial future.
    I even quit my job last year and started to work as a freelance.
    I can now enjoy a lot of free time while being my own boss, chosing what I want to do, and be able to rebound if ever I wasn’t able to continue.
    I’m not reading this blog as frequently as I used to be, but thanks anyway.

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