Realizing How Lucky I Am

Angara River, Irkutsk, Russia

Do you believe in luck?

I have heard some people say that they don’t – that everything they have, they earned themselves through hard work. If they are lucky, it’s because they made their own luck. I don’t dispute the claim that good things usually come to those who work hard and position themselves to reap the benefits of their hard work. But I also think a lot of it just comes down to luck.

I am lucky that I was born in the United States, a country where I was raised enjoying simple comforts that we take for granted but that people in many countries go without – things like electricity and running water and television and internet. While I may have whined endlessly as a teenager because I couldn’t have the Guess or Girbaud jeans I craved and we couldn’t afford for me to play on the traveling volleyball team, I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from.

I am lucky that I was born and raised in Minnesota, a state that tends to be open-minded and forward-looking. A state that elected Jesse Ventura as its governor and elected the first Muslim to the U.S. Congress (and ok, Michele Bachmann too, but we’ll just try to pretend that never happened). Growing up in Minnesota, I enjoyed an excellent public school education – something that I may not have had access to in other states.  I had amazing teachers who encouraged me and brought out the best in me. I was able to learn Spanish and earn college credits and take world history – a class that sparked a lifelong interest in Russia and the former Soviet Union and eventually led to my career break travels through those countries.  Growing up in Minnesota, I also was not exposed to the close-minded, often racist views that you can find in other parts of the country. Sure, my high school wasn’t too diverse, but I don’t recall any animosity against the few minorities among us. Maybe it was there and I just didn’t see it, but from what I did see, Tara and Cedric and Jachai and Chris weren’t treated any differently than anyone else.

I am lucky that I was raised the way I was.  Sure, my parents divorced when I was eight and I had to deal with an evil stepfather throughout high school. And yes, I often resented having to spend every other weekend at my dad’s house, missing out on fun with my friends. And of course I hated the fact that my parents rarely made it to my volleyball games and I was often left waiting for an hour or more for someone to pick me up after practice. But, despite all of that, I turned out okay. The fact that I was a latchkey kid from third grade on gave me a sense of independence and strengthened my ability to fend for myself.  The fact that my parents encouraged me to get a job at age 15 to pay for my brand name jeans, school dances and prom dress made me appreciate the idea of working hard and earning something for myself. And the fact that my dad traveled all over the world for his job when I was kid likely inspired my interest in the world and the desire to travel myself.

I am lucky I left big law firm life when did. I started my practice as a tax attorney working on securitization transactions – basically the deals that brought down the economy in 2008. But I was offered an out in 2005 and I took it. If I had stayed, chances are I would have been laid off and I would have struggled to find work again due to my specialization. I was lucky to get out when I did.

I am lucky that I haven’t been the victim of crime at home or abroad. It may sound weird to say it, but I am. Considering I live in one of the most violent cities in the country and that I have traveled to 38 countries, many on my own, statistically speaking, I think I am very lucky.  There have been shootings less than a mile from my home in Chicago. I have a friend who was held up at gunpoint a block from her home. Overseas, I accepted rides from strangers and shared a cabin with a crazy guy on a boat and rode on numerous buses and subways where I could have been the target of a pickpocket. But I came away from it all unscathed.

I am lucky I got a job as quickly as I did when I returned from traveling. Sure, I put a lot of work into it and I’d like to think I had some excellent credentials. But I also got a lowball offer from a potential employer on a Friday afternoon that prompted me to do a new search of job postings, which led to me see the posting for my current job just five minutes after my boss posted it – and my now-boss happened to be someone I already knew from my previous job. Everything came together perfectly. Luck.

Luck is defined as success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. So maybe some wouldn’t call all of this luck. Maybe it’s simply good fortune or serendipity or coincidence.  But really, I see a lot of it as chance because I had no control over where I was born or where I was raised or what kind of parents raised me. While I made certain decisions about my job path and my travels and what I do to try to stay safe, there is only so much I can control.

I haven’t always thought of myself as lucky. I often tend to focus too much on the negative and on everything that goes wrong. I sometimes even have a chip on my shoulder because of perceived slights in the past. Nonetheless, recent events have made me realize and appreciate how lucky I really am – lucky to be born in a free and civilized country, lucky to be educated and free from hatred and lucky to be safe both at home and abroad.

5 thoughts on “Realizing How Lucky I Am”

  1. Pingback: Travel Bloggers of the Month: September “Back to Business” Edition | The HostelBookers Blog

  2. I think it’s easy to believe luck and hard work are an either/or thing – when ‘You’re lucky!’ is used to explain what you have in life, it’s easy to get defensive, because it seems like a dismissal of your own effort. But no one can make it without some sort of luck – even if it’s just the absence of bad things.

  3. I tend to focus on the negative so I’ve made real big efforts in the last few years to do the opposite. Like you, I feel very lucky to have been born in North America. I feel lucky to have a job that gives me a good lifestyle. And the more I travel, the more privileged I feel.

  4. I to often tend to think about the negatives and everything that goes wrong. However recently I have been lucky in some cases, like finding a job in a new state but close that I can stay with relatives to save money until I find a place of my own. I have been lucky to have friends who have connected me with their friends who live in the nearby areas of my new home. Each day I wake up thankful that I am alive, employed in a job I like, and that I have a family that loves and supports me. Congrats on the new job!

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