Sitting in a cheap but well-appointed villa in Bali about 300m from the beach – particularly after a period of rough travel in the Phils – it’s easy to get in touch with gratitude.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be “lucky.” I hear it so often, from the locals and westerners alike: “oh my God, you are so lucky…you can do what you want, travel around see the world.”
This is unquestionably true. I can hardly ignore it the more I get to know people in these countries with a fraction of the income and opportunities I have, and how much more difficult it is for them to do things that many westerners have easy access to.
However, that said: I didn’t just arrive here on a magic feather. It took literally years of planning, financial positioning, research, and mental adjustment.
I had to undertake things that I was scared of, that taxed my energy and stamina, and I had to be willing to give up a lot: a certain degree of physical comfort, playing with a smashing band who I loved performing and spending time with, a lucrative and successful career as a producer, a stable and inexpensive place to live. Those are theoretically still available to me if I want to go back, but realistically speaking, less and less so as I am gone longer. My financial future is still very much in question, too.
None of this is coming from a lecturing or hectoring place. This path was also available to me because of a bunch of previous life choices that had significant downsides: no family or romantic attachments, a modest lifestyle that had no debt, and a life spent already living somewhat nomadically. A different person who made different choices couldn’t do this, but also perhaps wouldn’t need to do this, because they could meet their needs in another way.
It’s often said that “we make our own luck.” I don’t like that expression because there are certain things that we just can’t help. However, most people – no matter what their circumstances – have resources. They’re just not the same as other peoples’.
I continue to note that while people in the countries I live in have far less than we were given, in the main, they’re happier. I understand why this is: we may have more money, but they are still bonded to a wider community that we’ve been able to insulate ourselves from as we’ve grown more prosperous – which if not carefully managed, eventually leads to a culture where everyone distrusts, fears or is envious of one another while we zealously guard our own prerogatives. That, many would argue, is exactly where the U.S. finds itself. Are the people here “unlucky” because they were born without privilege or financial advantage? Perhaps. But do they have resources that we lack in terms of attitude, resilience, bonds to culture? Absolutely.
It’s easy to lose sigh of that, to focus on what other people have and not see that it’s just not the right fit for you and you (without realizing it) didn’t arrive where they did partly due to your own choices.
For instance: it took a long time to accept that my music career wasn’t going to progress past a certain point because I was simply a certain kind of guy with a certain set of talents, a certain kind of personality and vibe.
By contrast, I’ve been reflecting on Kenny Rogers’ gob-smacking 50 year career (because being in the Philippines has forced me to reckon with his God-like presence there) and I saw an interview where he said “if people like you, you’ll be surprised at how much they will do to help you.” You can trace his whole career to the fact that he’s basically a business-minded but likable and friendly guy who is perfectly willing to cater to his audience.
I’ll never be Kenny Rogers. But the point is: I never wanted to be, and that’s not who I am. Notwithstanding that he seems like a cool guy being Kenny Rogers would bore the crap out of me. It’s ludicrous to go “Dang, that Kenny Rogers, he’s so lucky” when he took careful stock of who he was and made appropriate decisions to get where he wanted to go. There’s a great interview with him around 1970 where he candidly admits he didn’t relate to the counterculture, he wistfully wished he did, but it just wasn’t realistic to expect that that connection could be made.
Even though the First Edition was a credible rock ‘n’ roll band, he didn’t waste time wishing he was in Led Zeppelin. He went on to become Kenny fricking Rogers, MOR and country superstar. I might personally enjoy him better playing bass in a harmony-laden pop-psych band, but that’s beside the point. He assessed where he was at, accurately, and didn’t spend time lamenting what wasn’t in the cards for him. He grasped the brass ring that was available.
Yes, life is often unfair, and some people get the sort end of the stick. There is no denying that. However…my own experience has been that most of the reason people don’t achieve their goals is that (a) the goals turn out to be much more trouble than they’re worth; (b) people don’t like to plan or think ahead; and/or (c) people want their goals to happen in a certain way. How many times have you had a conversation with someone where they said “wow, I really wish I could do X” and you say “well, you can always do Y to get X” and that person says “yeah, but I really wish I could do X without Y.” Well, you’ve just made X twice as hard, haven’t you?
I wanted to be successful as a musician. And in the end, I was. I just wasn’t successful in the way that I initially wanted to be. But that way was never appropriate to who I was, what I was good at, or what made me comfortable in life. I made a set of choices that elevated certain priorities over others, and they all propelled me to where I was going, but closed off or postponed other possibilities along the way. That’s how life works, and it’s fine. There’s no point in being jealous of where someone else is at in life when so much of it is the result of conscious or unconscious choices you made to put yourself where you are at.
Anyway, my point is: for most people, if you want something, usually you can get it…but you can’t specify how or when, and no one’s going to magically hand it to you. If they did, you wouldn’t appreciate it anyway, so it’s just as well. If it’s what you really want, if you put in the time, make the necessary sacrifices, and accept that you can’t precisely dictate the way you get the thing you want, there’s a good chance you will get it in the end (and even if you don’t, the journey often can take us places that we’d like to go that we never imagined).
I’m not saying this to lecture. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t want to be a ballerina or a football star because it’s not worth the hassle.” More power to you. I just mean that “lucky” should, to me, be a question of counting our blessings and valuing the resources that were handed down to us by fate, circumstances, and family. In terms of how we use those resources to get where we want to go…well, that’s up to us. And our own determination, discipline and how we fight our own inertia is more crucial to that outcome than mere luck.