Updated on 12.04.09

Some Guys Have All The Luck

Trent Hamm

I am a very lucky person.

I was lucky enough to be born in the United States with (reasonably) good health. I was also lucky enough to be born to parents who wanted me to be successful in life and constantly did things to push me to learn and to succeed.

I have a wonderful wife and two great children. I live in a nice house. I’m currently doing the work I’ve always dreamed of doing. I have a flexible enough schedule that I can do things when I want to do them. I have enough financial security that I’m not worried about making the bills next month.

The first two elements were genuinely lucky. We have no control over how we’re born and how we’re raised.

However, as adults, we are in control of our own destiny. Every day, we make a lot of choices that have a huge impact in determining what happens to us. We can work hard – or we can take it easy. We can be frugal with our money – or we can spend with reckless abandon. We can set big audacious goals and work hard to get there – or we can sit back and wait for whatever may come.

For most of my early professional life, I just sat back and waited for whatever might come along. I worked hard at my job, but I wasn’t conservative at all with my money – I just spent it on everything that came along.

By 2005, I was in trouble. I was moving away from the career I wanted. I was in debt. I was living in a tiny apartment and, with a child on the way, it was clear that space was becoming an issue.

So I wised up and made some changes. I reordered my life so that luck would have a place to grow. I stopped spending money recklessly and started saving instead. I came up with a professional goal (becoming a published writer) and worked hard to achieve it. In short, I changed my life so that more luck could find a way in and bad luck had a harder time opening the door.

Bad Luck
Everything was not just handed to me. I was born poor and have been called “white trash” and ignored more times than you can imagine simply because of how I grew up. I was also born with hypothyroidism – it was diagnosed when I was three days old. I’m also nearly blind in my right eye and completely deaf in my left ear.

Those things are obstacles in my path. It would have been easy for me at many different junctures in my life to stop and say, “You know, this is just too much.”

I didn’t.

One crucial element in receiving good luck in your life – and keeping bad luck at bay – is to simply not give up. If you fail, pick yourself up, figure out what went wrong, work on fixing that problem, then give it another try.

Trust me on this one. With my eyesight and subpar balance due to the one-ear deafness, the idea that I could ever play basketball was almost a joke. Yet I played enough throughout high school and into college that I was a key part of a very successful intramural team and even played in a few pickup games against players on the university team.

You can overcome the bad luck in your life. Just don’t give up and don’t waste your time complaining and blaming others.

Cut Down the Tightrope
Want to get started on improving your luck? The first place to look is the areas in your life where you’re walking a tightrope.

What areas in your life stress you out the most? What areas can afford the least amount of failure? Those are the areas that are the most likely to introduce some very bad luck into your life – plus they restrict you from making choices that will improve your luck.

Focus entirely on shoring up those areas. Perhaps that area for you is your job – if you lost your job, you would be in crisis mode. Maybe you’re living paycheck to paycheck and a major unexpected expense would drop the hammer on you.

Whatever that area of concern is, solve it. Start building an emergency fund – that’s a good buffer against almost every kind of bad luck. Secure your job by working harder – and working smarter. Look to improve your own skillset so that you have more career security.

When your life is secure, your stress level drops and you have more breathing room to try new things. That breathing room is often the source of good luck in life, as it gives you opportunities that were impossible when things were tighter.

Want more advice for cultivating day-to-day luck in your life? Here are a ton of ways to get started.

Good luck.

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  1. leslie says:

    I love this post. I never knew about some of those obstacles. Your upbringing and the judgement you faced because of it, is something I really can relate to. I hate to think of the times that it keeps me down. Knowing that other people have been strong enough to overcome it really is quite a motivator! Thanks!

  2. karyn says:

    I would also suggest that, in addition to building a monetary emergency fund, people work on building a spiritual or psychological “emergency fund. Learn how to pray or meditate or relax now while you’re “lucky” so that you can deal with any “bad luck” that comes your way. Develop your support group and discover your resources now while things are good.

  3. chacha1 says:

    Good point, Karyn! Having a mental supply of strength, wisdom, confidence or just resilience can be crucial to overcoming the challenges we all face.

    I too was lucky – born white and middle-class, to parents for whom it was never in question that their children would be college-educated. But I could have done what many of my classmates did: gotten an “Mrs” degree, and ceased to think of myself as a unique and valuable person, at the age of 22. Instead I moved away, put myself through grad school, moved across the country, doubled my income, and undertook the training to start an entirely new profession in my 40s.

    My luck has come from persistence and from overcoming the instinct to say “no” to challenges. And, perhaps even more important, from the willingness to say “no” to the easy choice.

  4. Great advice to get away from and cut the tightrope. Why can’t more people see their own danger?

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  5. Courtney says:


    “But I could have done what many of my classmates did: gotten an “Mrs” degree, and ceased to think of myself as a unique and valuable person, at the age of 22. Instead I moved away, put myself through grad school, moved across the country, doubled my income, and undertook the training to start an entirely new profession in my 40s.”

    Where have you gotten the idea that getting married makes someone stop thinking of him- or herself as a unique and valuable person? That’s a very strange (and bitter) thing to say.

    Trent, great post!

  6. Courtney says:

    (The other Courtney) also @chacha1

    I got a B.S. and a Mrs. before I was 22. And I got a Ph.D. at 27. I nearly doubled my income after grad school and am looking to increase it another 50% within the next year. But thank you for your (completely stereotyping) opinion.

    (I’m still married after 6.5 years too)

  7. Susan says:

    I would agree with Trent that our outcome in life is indeed shaped by the circumstances into which we are born. We do, however, have a great deal of control over many factors in life. It has been said, as an example, that one should choose their spouse carefully as 90% of all happiness or misery will come from that decision. One ‘saying’ that I like in particular, and subscribe to, is that the harder I work, the luckier I am.

  8. Henry says:

    A post about luck starts off with how lucky you are to be born in the United States? Isn’t that arrogant and misguided. I’m jealous of my old college roommate that is German. He has access to a wonderful high speed rail network that allows cheap and fast access to the Continent and a multitude of Countries. He is multilingual, as many Europeans are. His college and graduate school has been paid for by the state. He lives in a free, liberal, non-oppressive society. Great healthcare. Real jobs that pay a living wage. Now he’s lucky.
    And before you tell me that if I don’t like it, I can leave it, let me tell you that I would gladly take your money to assist me in obtaining foreign citizenship. If you don’t want to donate, don’t comment. We’ll all just have to sit here miserable, for now.
    Luck would be living in a society that makes it easy for you to not need to own a car and the trouble that comes with it.
    Luck would be living in a society that assures you will receive health care, no matter how poor you are.
    Luck would be living in a society that assures that your children will receive higher education, as long as they put forth the academic effort, not dependent on either the parents coughing up the dough or the student selling their soul for student loans.
    Being born here is not so much luck, but a misfortune. And we only have ourselves to blame.

  9. AnnJo says:

    @Henry, Wow!

    Bad as it is in these United States of America, just think: You could have been born in Rwanda. Sri Lanka. Afghanistan. Turkmenistan. China. Bhutan. Zimbabwe. Russia. Do you know how many people put their names in for the U.S. Visa Lottery each year just for the chance of winning a permanent resident card? (Last year, almost 14 million – chance of winning, about 1 in 140). Not to mention the people from Asia who pay upwards of $30,000 to get shipped in here illegally or the people who risk death from violence or dehydration to cross over from Mexico.

    Yes, it’s hard, but try to think of the glass as nine-tenths full, instead of one-tenth empty.

    Honestly, if you could guarantee me that you would acquire foreign citizenship and surrender your U.S. citizenship, I might indeed toss a few bucks into the pot to get that done.

    Meanwhile, I’m not planning on joining you while you “sit here miserable (sic), for now.” You know how to do that well enough on your own.

  10. ML says:

    @both Courtneys

    I think chacha1 was referring to women who go to college with the expressed interest only to find a rich husband. In other words, they do not intend to use their degree to hit the workforce.

  11. Auntielle says:

    Wow, Henry’s comment “We’ll all just have to sit here miserable, for now” is a perfect example of someone CHOOSING to see himself as a victim. So many others, if they felt the same way, would be living as frugally as possible in the U.S. and saving up every spare dime, in order to facilitate that wish to live in another country. But there will always be those who choose to “sit here miserable, for now”, and wait for other people to drop cash into their laps rather than go out and make their dreams/goals come to fruition on their own. Pathetic. And with that kind of “Woe is me” attitude, chances are slim that a person would really be happy in life, no matter where they live.

    Oh, and I’m another reader with a “Mrs. degree” who did NOT “cease to think of myself as a unique and valuable person” upon marrying. Indeed, my marriage became a partnership which has allowed both of us to give more of ourselves and our resources than either of us would have been able to do on our own.

  12. Matt says:

    Trent: I love this post and I very much agree on focus to shoring up our issues that seem to be a tightrope walk for us. I like to look at luck as preparation meeting opportunity. Getting an ideal career with my ideal wife wasn’t due to chance. I recognized the opportunities placed in front of me, put one foot in front of the other and took action to bring both into my life.

    Thank you for another great post at a great time of the year to really look at life and what you want most out of it. You can’t look at problems as problems- look at them as challenges that can be solved through assessment, developing the right skills or seeking out the right help to get what you want.

  13. deRuiter says:

    “The harder I work, the luckier I get” often is true. And also, the harder one works, the more people who “sit here miserable for now” resent this. German’s a great country, but they fiddle with their unemployment figures, which are much higer than published. The German government sends hoardes of people to school for ten weeks each, training them to be fork lift operators, paying with taxpayer dollars to support them and their families. These people taking this training are counted as “employed” and when they graduate, there are no jobs. How many fork lift operators can one country absorb? Please, if Germany’s better, move there and work to become a citizen, make room here for somone who follows the American dream.

  14. kristine says:


    Luck has nothing o do with the perks you mention. It is people working hard and taking personal risks to put a system in place that provides such things. If you you want to put your money where your mouth is, instead of going to another country then you should work from within. Sounds like you would make a great Working Party or Socialist candidate. And I do not think there is anything wrong with that- it is multiple points of view that makes America a great place to live. I am rather left-leaning myself.

    I would love it if our country provided those things you mention. So let me know when you run for office. Do the grassroots things- use the internet in lieu if major funding. Then your words take on meaning, instead of just bitter steam. And if you have the energy to really get behind it, people will listen.

    The love it or leave it attitude is as bad as the complaint, as it implies an unwillingness to accept criticism or change, with an eerie tinge of jingoism. It’s better to consider the actual argument, than to react emotionally. Clear heads prevail. While Henry was clearly negative and complaining (a turn-off), his specific points: mass transit, universal healthcare, merit based equilateral access to higher education- these are not things unworthy of thought in the wealthiest nation on earth.

  15. kristine says:

    Regarding making your own luck via hard work:

    I believe in this, but with one caveat-

    Without the initial luck of good parenting and good birth situation, then the remaining struggle is much harder, as we all know.

    People routinely point to examples of those who “rise above” as justification for thinking that if anyone wants to, they can succeed. That is holding the average to the standard of the outstanding. If people of privilege actually believe this (most I have met do), then every person with means and opportunity should have been outstanding, and been the next Bill Gates. There are the average and the outstanding at every level.

    So, I agree that we make our own luck at some point, as long as our achievements do not allow us to lose our generosity of spirit toward those who try and fail, or those who never get out of the starting gate. Judge not… as they say.

    I just saw a speaker, the woman who was the real person in the “Homeless to Harvard” movie. She overcame insurmountable odds and pain. But the foundation was there. Her drug addicted parents loved her enormously and she felt loved, and both her parents had higher eduction, in fact her father was in a PHD program. So I would never compare her with all children of drug addicted parents, who may have never even known an educated person, or ever felt love. That is a broken foundation. Every life is unique, you just have to do the best with what you have.

  16. Evangeline says:

    I love this post. However, I think things have more to do with faith and hard work rather than luck. Life has required me to lean on my faith oh so many times, as well as having the faith in myself that I could indeed pick myself up, dust off my butt, and make positive changes. That takes determination and a whole lot of hard work. I don’t believe in luck, really. But I do believe that the Lord puts you in certain situations for very big reasons. And I believe it is up to us to overcome the difficult and utilize the rest. And Trent, I know what you mean about hardships of youth. I was picked on daily because of a physical deformity and yet I loved school with all my heart. I came home crying more times than not because children can be cruel. I was a teenager before reconstructive surgery was available. It would have been all too easy to make this the excuse for everything that ever went wrong. However, it simply gave me the kind of compassion I have needed so often. People who lean on such reasons for lack of success are just making excuses. There is always the opportunity to improve your life and increase your determination.

  17. gardenurse says:

    Great post! I so agree with your statement of, “don’t waste your time complaining and blaming others.”

    It is such a waste of precious time and energy to do so. If you put that time and energy into the task at hand rather than complaining about it, you’d see positive results.

    I’m in the health care field, and when we are shorthanded, a certain few will stand there complaining and blaming others for several minutes. While the rest of us take a minute to figure out how to deal with the situation, dig in, and get the work done.

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Some things you can’t do a darned thing about, but others you can, and complaining and groaning about it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem.

  18. Johanna says:

    I find posts of this form frustrating. It reads like a rant that was composed in response to some specific argument that Trent saw (i.e., some specific instance of someone “complaining and blaming others”). But we don’t get to see that argument – it’s not quoted or linked to – so we don’t get to see the other side of the story.

    In the past, Trent has accused people of “complaining and blaming others” when in fact they were pointing out legitimate cases of discrimination based on factors truly beyond their control, such as race or sex. I get the impression that Trent doesn’t like to be reminded of the existence of racism and sexism (he could have mentioned at the beginning of this post that he is also lucky to have been born white and male, but he chose not to do so). So I can’t help but wonder if whatever case of “complaining and blaming others” inspired this post wasn’t something similar to that.

  19. kristine says:


    I agree. White and male is definitely lucky. So is good looking. Our society values this so much, in fact, that people make millions based upon their looks. And studies clearly show that being tall is an advantage in the workplace as well. When I was young and beautiful I definitely used as an advantage.

    I often find people who have none of those birth-luck qualities generally have to work harder, and are more compassionate. They have to develop character and get their values straight much earlier on.

  20. stella says:

    Plenty of people work hard, are persistent, consider themselves lucky, are grateful and appreciative of everything in their lives–and yet, there are far too many of these same people today who are barely surviving, if that.

    Prejudice exists, on soooo many levels. Some obstacles are NOT surmountable. (You do have health issues Trent, but others have ones that lock them literally in because they cannot get around, have no help or resources. Everyone is not CHristopher Reeve. Everyone cannot get healthcare. Even working people.)

    You do the best you can. That is all you can. But don’t think for a minute that good things come to all good people. Simply not the case. ANd plenty of good things come to people who are miserable human beings and bad citizens (I could use stronger language, but that suffices.)

    Indeed, much more is possible than we can sometimes imagine when life is very challenging, but EVERYTHING in life is not necessarily possible or within our reach. That attitude is what has led to so much frustration and disappointment in some folks (young and old) because they have these expectations: Do good, work hard and it will work out. That’s how many of us were raised. Show up, shut up and do the job and then some. Keep trying and don’t give p. You’ll catch a break, it’s the law of numbers. (Tell that to those looking for jobs full time for years now.)

    But it doesn’t and it hasn’t and it won’t. For many, many people. (Someone made the point earlier that everyone can’t be Bill Gates.)

    Just ask the unemployed, underemployed and will never again be employed –who include hardworking people, smart-working people, who lived/live frugally and carefully and are still living on the edge because of issues way beyond their control: Greed, lack of corporate responsibility, etc.

    And let’s not even talk about those not lucky enough to get a decent education, to have a supportive family or friends or who come from abusive families or are in abusive relationships. I have a friend who works with young people from these situations. He shares their stories and I am in tears. That these kids are not out there killing people is a miracle enough, but their lives with rare exception, are doomed. (And let’s face it, some of those kids are suffering from the effects of a motehr who was on alcohol and/or drugs while pregnant. These kids have definite cognitive deficits that can’t be overcome by “hard work, will power, faith” or anything else.)

    When I read these kinds of posts I often wonder: Gee, is somebody trying to convince themselves or others?

    There will always be things to be grateful for (heart beating, able to breathe, can walk even if not well, etc.) if only the most basic levels–as we mature, we realize that daily, cause you can no longer take much for granted. There will also be a world where the playing field is very very uneven. And some work hard but can never catch up or catch a break.

    Some folks start life in a “hole” and can never get out.

    So maybe instead of just talking about our good fortune, we should actively be looking around to see who we can help. Cause there are people ALL around us who need real human help. Everyday.

    But it’s often hard to help others, when you’re drowning and can barely stay alive yourself. A situation many now find themselves in.

    More posts that list real resources for people who need all kinds of help would be really interesting. Many people I know want to help but are having trouble finding ways to “donate” their time, energy and talents. (You’d be amazed at how difficult it canbe to volunteer! The hurdles people are put thru for liabiliy reasons.)

    Not everyone belongs to a church (which is often the best/easiest way to find/help others), nor do they want to be affiliated with religious-based organizations.

    Everyone has something to give and maybe this year instead of spending all the time and money on gifts we could direct that to people who need it.

    I had a fantastic meal on thanksgiving at a friend’s house. THe food lasted me and the six guests for a week. I kept thinking: I wish there was somewhere nearby we could have donated that food. I didn’t need six days of leftovers (no matter how good) and I know others did need it.

  21. Courtney says:

    @ ML “In other words, they do not intend to use their degree to hit the workforce.”

    So a woman is only a “unique and valuable person” (per chacha1’s comment) if she enters the work force?

  22. Susan says:

    Henry #8 Move to Canada, my good friend, it’s the land of milk and honey. You can have all those things…. Truly though, I don’t think the US is such a bad place to have been born. Others have done worse.

  23. Diane says:

    #20 Stella
    With the advent of websites that serve as clearinghouses for organizations that need both long and short term volunteers, your argument no longer holds water. Liability, schliability. You can’t just waltz into an organization and be in charge, but you can join a group that interests you. Start with small activities and look for ways to be useful. In time, your services can become as important to the organization as you want them to be. In fact, it’s exactly the same as the approach to paying off debt. Start small, be consistent, focus on the goal.
    If you need inspiration, pick up a copy of Daryn Kagan’s great book, “What’s Possible.”

  24. Sharon L says:

    Trent, there is a bone-anchored device that will give you hearing in your deaf ear. This could become very important someday so that you can locate sounds. Because it is an implanted device, insurance will cover it. Look it up on the Cochlear website.

  25. ML says:


    I am talking about women who go to college to find a husband with the intent of not ever having to work. The main reason, parents send their children to go university is to get an education. At some elite institutions (think the Ivies and liberal arts colleges), some women are on the hunt for a rich husband. I have seen it with my own two eyes. Yes, some people are fortunate to find their life partner at school and at some point make the decision to stay at home. My own mother was a stay at home mother for a portion of her working life, it is one of most difficult jobs! I an not disparaging SAHMs!!!!!

  26. Inspiring words.

    And you’re right, I firmly believe that in a sense, you create your own luck.

  27. Jules says:

    @ Johanna:

    Discrimination is one of those things you can’t change, but you can be prepared to deal with. And the work that you put into being prepared makes you luckier than all the other poor sods who weren’t.

    One of my (black) friends is now living in…Japan, which is arguably more xenophobic than a town of ex-KKK members. He’s managed to learn Japanese and find a job, which is no small thing in a country like Japan. I’m now living in the Netherlands, which is more friendly towards visibly-different, non-European types (I’m Asian), but one still encounters “interesting” people from time to time, like the guy who won’t rent apartments to foreigners.

    If everybody were to wake up tomorrow and find themselves white, middle-class, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, the day after we’d all come up with some way of separating one group of people from another, and discriminating against them. Discrimination happens. Fact of life. Deal with it–be better, more educated, more eloquent, do better–and move on. Because ultimately, the people you work for do not care what you are, but how you do.

  28. Johanna says:

    @Jules: “Discrimination is one of those things you can’t change”

    Not so. Racism and sexism are not permanently woven into the fabric of the universe. They only exist because individual people do and say racist and sexist things. And those individual people most certainly can change their minds and change their attitudes – if all the progress that’s been made in recent decades (in the US at least) isn’t evidence of that, I don’t know what is.

    But there is still a long way to go. And while neither I nor any other one person can end all discrimination singlehandedly, we can all do our best to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

  29. Jules says:

    @ Johanna:

    Racism and sexism are only the most blatant examples of discrimination. A lot of it is subconscious–pretty women, or tall men, or hell, even one’s accent. It’s a rather naive POV to assume that just because nobody dares *act* on the fact that someone’s different in some way means that that difference isn’t noted, nor acted upon in a subconscious manner.

    Being prepared to deal with discrimination is not automatically whining “You don’t like me because I’m [fill in the blank]” every time something doesn’t go your way. It lies in sticking to objective measures of excellence, and meeting them, and making sure that people measure your worth by what you are able to do.

    Like I said above, if we were all to wake up tomorrow white, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, the day after tomorrow there’d be cliques for those wearing red shirts and those wearing blue shirts, and those wearing yellow shirts would be frowned upon. Our brains are hard-wired to discern differences between “us” and “them”, and it’s naive to think that we can just wipe out millions of years of evolution just because it’s no longer socially acceptable. All that we can do is make sure that we act–or not–upon our perceptions of those differences in a manner that is becoming to being human.

  30. Johanna says:

    @Jules: Why are you assuming that I don’t (or that I think people shouldn’t) strive to be good at my job? That’s pretty insulting. Saying “Hey, this is not okay” in response to unjust discrimination does not imply that I don’t do anything else with my time, and it absolutely does not equate to “whining every time something doesn’t go (my) way.”

    ‘Our brains are hard-wired to discern differences between “us” and “them”’ – Do you have a reference for that, or did you just make it up? Aside from the fact that most statements of the form “our brains are hardwired to…” set my BS detector off, this particular one is not consistent with how most discrimination works. If it really were all about favoring “us” and disfavoring “them,” then men would discriminate in favor of men, and women in favor of women. But that’s not what happens. What happens is that men *and* women discriminate in subconscious ways *that favor men*. This has been shown experimentally – for example, when people are asked to evaluate the resume of a fictional job applicant, and half are shown the resume with a male name at the top and half are shown it with a female name, the ones who see the male name rate the applicant more highly, whether they themselves are male or female.

    I’m less familiar with the research on discrimination based on other characteristics, but I imagine that this holds across the board: Both blacks and whites (in a white-dominated society) discriminate in favor of whites, tall and short people discriminate in favor of tall people, people who do and don’t meet the cultural standard of beauty discriminate in favor of people who do.

    And again: If it’s so naive to think that these forms of discrimination can be overcome, how do you explain the fact that it was all so much worse 50 or 100 years ago than it is today?

  31. Jules says:

    @ Johanna:

    I’m not implying anything about *you* (maybe I should start?). But I’ll stick with legal jurisprudence in what I consider -ism, and say that you shouldn’t ever call it unless you can’t prove otherwise.

    You’re being too literal in how you read “us” and “them”, and obfuscating the point: we all identify with many different groups, and part of how we make sense of the world is to stereotype the groups we identify as being part of, the groups we can identify others as being in. I do it, you do it–and your own examples show that people in general exhibit a preference for men, based purely on the stereotype men at work. I’ll be willing to bet that, if you did the same sort of test, but for a nanny position, you’d get a preference for women.

    And actually–I don’t think it’s all that much better nowadays. We’ve merely hidden the problem behind numbers and quotas and lawsuits that spawn more problems than they solve, rather than actually tackling the core questions: what constitutes equality? How can this be achieved? I don’t think we’re any farther along (as a society) than we were 100, 200, 500 years ago.

  32. Matt says:

    I have been a loyal reader of your blog for over 2 years. I love reading your posts each morning. Usually, I read and think about your posts, seldom posting a comment. But, this post about luck really touched me and made me want to comment on it.

    I felt it was your best post written to date.

    It seemed like you exposed yourself (your bad luck) to your readers and offered an inspiring message back. I felt more connected to your words, I think because you told us of the challenges you have faced so far in your life and because I hadn’t realized them before.

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring us.

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