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I realize that everything I say in this post can be explained by confirmation bias and selective memory. But that's the part I find interesting. So here we go.

I have a hypothesis that everyone is born with the same amount of luck, possibly because we are a computer simulation, but that's not my point today. My point is that luck doesn't appear to be spread evenly across a person's life. Some people use up all of their luck early in life and die young. Some people start out life in bad circumstances and finish strong.

For example, Lance Armstrong had an amazing life until the doping allegations. Steve Jobs was on top of the world but died young. Magic Johnson was frickin' Magic Johnson until he got infected with HIV. John F. Kennedy was the fornicator in chief until someone shot him in the head. If the pattern holds, I give Justin Bieber a year before he lands in jail.

On the flip side, Halle Berry slept in her car at one point in her early life. Later she won an Academy Award. Oprah had a rough childhood but finished strong. And so on.

You can probably think of lots of people who violate my hypothesis, apparently experiencing continuous good luck or continuous bad luck throughout their entire lives. But my observation is that people who have consistently bad luck with money, for example, are often having more than their share of sex and/or love, and vice versa. And famous people have more than their fair share of depression and mental illness. According to researchers who study happiness, money doesn't change your enjoyment of life that much. People who look extraordinarily lucky might be a lot less lucky than they appear to be.

Further complicating my analysis is the fact that people don't always grab the opportunities that luck provides. Some struggling folks might also be the luckiest, but it won't show if they don't take advantage of the luck when it wanders into their lives. Other people might be aggressive about exploiting the crumbs of luck they find, making it seem as though they have extra luck. Serial entrepreneurs come to mind.

Personally, I've been unusually lucky in my career, but if you factor in my childhood, and calculate the average, my total lifetime luck would be about average.

I'm curious about whether you perceive luck the same way. Taking into consideration your entire life, professionally and personally, has your luck been about average?

 
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Jan 11, 2013
I don't believe that your post can be explained by confirmation bias nor selective memory. It seems it is based more on sheer laziness to do any real thought or research. I will point out that I don't consider all laziness to be detrimental.

I am having a hard time quantifying luck. Does luck inherently have mass? Without an understanding on how one would assign value to luck, it becomes very difficult to approach what one would call equality on a social scale. Some humans die before birth, Are they really lucky (this may depend on when you consider a person a person which then may beg the question if miscarriage is murder (but I digress))? Though I find that nothing can be distributed evenly. Those who try are more than likely to be labeled a Communist.

Lance Armstrong is still pretty lucky; He still hasn't died of cancer. Steve Jobs didn't really die all that young. Magic Johnson is still frickin Magic Johnson since you still refer to him as Magic. Some argue John F. Kennedy's legacy as being a beloved president is attributed to his "luck" of being assassinated (I try not to take sides on this one since most of the people who believe this probably own assault rifles). Sadly I'll disagree that Bieber will go to jail in your timeframe. He isn't nearly the trainwreck that Lindsay Lohan still seems to want to be.

Marian Berry probably slept in his car at one point in his early life. Oprah is a force of nature, and luck does not apply (but is created) by such things.

Fleetwood Mac is probably the only entity that would match your observation of correlation between poor money skills and increased copulation. Even ugly hookers cost money. Famous people have more than their fair share of depression and mental illness due to their need to stay relevant and the bizarre behavior of how we as people abuse celebrity. Michael Jackson wasn't the sanest knife in the drawer, but we as a society didn't help him psychologically. Your mention of money with respect to happiness is only true at the extremes. Infinite money does not create infinite happiness. It does not however in any way tell us if people with $10 are happier than those with $20 (other factors like the proximity of a Taco Bell pollutes the results). This same principle also applies to the Laffer Curve (which is neither funny nor a curve).

I don't believe that luck creates opportunities. It is the other way around. It is like figure skating. A perfect 10 doesn't create a skating routine (unless there's a French judge around). A person who doesn't take advantage of luck isn't unlucky, they are stupid.

I would have to say that your career hasn't been unusually lucky. You haven't done anything stupid with the majority of the opportunities, lucky or not, that you were presented. A football player isn't lucky. There is alot of work, training, and experience that is used explicitly to mitigate the luck factor. The Hail Mary pass, however, is 100% luck.

Luck has been a statistic in some forms of RPG's. However a character that is all luck and nothing else is useless. They can't carry anything, can't cast spells, can't dodge attacks, lack any intuition, are very sickly, and can't find anyone who likes them. Their only good use would be as second base in a Tolkien themed game of baseball.

Hopefully I have proven that I don't view luck in the same way.

Professionally I have done okay, I attribute this more to my stubbornness than luck. Personally I haven't done okay. I also attribute this more to my stubbornness than luck. Neither of these two metrics I would say are average. Luck is like the Maraschino cherry on top of a Sundae. It isn't substantial by itself, but it does nuance the dessert.
 
 
Jan 11, 2013
You are obviously living a very insulated life. My wife is a Social Worker who has worked with the mentally ill, special needs children, rape victims, etc.. The stories she could tell would break your heart...people who never get a break their entire life. You need to volunteer at a soup kitchen and hear some of the people's stories, you would retract this post quickly.

[I agree that if your brain or body are damaged you have a far lower chance of turning things around. That's a reasonable boundary on the hypothesis of luck distribution. One needs to be alive and have a minimum level of health or all bets are off. -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 11, 2013
"....the fact that people don't always grab the opportunities..."

I think that is the essence of the differences among people. Luck is irrelevant or non-existent.

That's why some successful people have other difficulties (personal or otherwise) and some others don't. They have taken advantage of maybe only one certain opportunity that worked out, but maybe many others that did not. They are still the same very different people underneath with the same issues as everyone else, before the "luck".
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
Overall most people's lives balance out. It's like flipping millions of coins, it evens out. Of course one unlikely flip at the wrong time can be quite bad, or quite good. Quantum mechanically, one view (many worlds) says what we're seeing is just one example of how everything could play out. We don't see the other versions, where we don't make it this far in life.
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
Netting out my life-long luck is difficult task.

I was born with a great deal of medical difficulty 48 years ago. Were it not (as I was told) for dedicated parents and physician, I would not have survived.

Some of those medical difficulties left me physically scarred, and so I was taunted (sometimes viciously) through my childhood, but I know of kids who are afflicted in ways far greater than I was, so I was luckier then they are today.

My kids had their own problems, and are thriving today, so perhaps my experiences have been fortunate in my care giving to them?

My career took a turn when my company relocated, making my commute 3hrs each way, so I took a job closer to home, at a 25% pay cut and into a field I am not incredibly liking. Sort of a push here, right? Altho, I know plenty who aren't working, so....
 
 
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2013
Do I perceive luck the same way? No.

Second question: My own "luck" is well above average.

Robot doctors? Yes. Universal Internet access? Yes. Wireless personal identification and the end of money ? Yes.

Equal distribution of luck? Not remotely plausible.

I have three kids of my own and spend quite a bit of time with other people's kids. Five or ten years ago when I was hanging out with 6 to 12 year-olds, the sense of possibility and potential in many bright, eager young kids seemed limitless. Fast forward to today and !$%*!$%*!$%*! entirely out of the control of those kids from immigration status (theirs or their parents), parental alcoholism and/or job loss, neurological disorders - too name just a few - crippled some of those kids, maybe not irretrievably - but enough to push some off the college track and into making other life-limiting choices.

If they repeat the life experiences of their parents, I don't see things evening out, luck-wise, in decades to come. I love my own kids and think they are all spectacular human beings - but I'm not fooling myself that they are competing on a level playing field. They are starting adulthood with access to excellent opportunities (one at West Point, one at Stanford and another who is on a different, but equally promising trajectory). Bad things could still happen at this point - but their chances for creating happy and fulfilling lives for themselves are pretty good.

It's hard to call the opportunities they enjoy "luck" when I know that they benefit from the efforts of thousands who've gone before them - to try to create a better society, better educational opportunities, etc. Just as I have tried to mentor other people's kids, my kids have benefited from access to mentors as well.

I can't look at a young man or woman who, ten years ago, possessed all the natural potential of my own kids - who is now setting out on a much, much tougher road - and believe that we are all recipients of an equal amount of luck that just happens to distribute itself differently over time. Real experience doesn't match that image.
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Scott, you've spent a lot of time preparing for and taking advantage of opportunities that weren't readily apparent to most others. You are luckier than most, but only because you created that luck.
 
 
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2013
Couldn't this be attributable to the Law of Large Numbers?
If you assume that every chance happening is a "flip a coin" type of occurrence, and then evaluate each flip to determine "good" vs. "bad", with enough flips, the average results end up narrowing down to the flip probability (0.5 for fair coins).
I could see that some flips may have higher stakes than others (lottery numbers, bullet trajectory, etc.) but perhaps over time, if you factor out the stakes, the end results come down to a 0.5 probability.
So, Scott's question appears to be "is the coin weighted for certain people, or is it fair?"
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
One of my college friends had a saying, "Skill predisposes you to be lucky." I sincerely believe this to be true. Skill doesn't guarantee success, but it does increase your likelihood of success.

Take professional poker players for example. Poker is the perfect combination of random chance and skill. The most skilled player won't win all the time, but he will win a disproportionate amount of the time. You even wonder why you see 1 or 2 new faces and the rest are all poker veterans? It is skill having an impact on a game that is inherently random.

Now, the fact that some people seem to be lucky early on, but die early has less to do with luck and more to do with their ability to deal with fortune and fame. I would argue that people that had a hard early life are more appreciative, generous, and cautious when they make it big. They live a life that is conducive to good health and long life.

Where as people who start with a silver spoon in their mouth seem to treat fame and fortune much differently. They don't appreciate it as much. They feel entitled and don't believe the rules apply to them. They think of themselves as being better than those "below" them (the only difference between poor people and rich people is how much money they have; it isn't morals, work ethic, or brains as there are all kinds at both ends of the financial spectrum). They are more likely to act in ways that are inherently destructive/stressful and lead to a shortened lifespan. (Jobs was a notorious angry jerk. Armstrong didn't think rules applied to him. Kennedy and Magic Johnson were well known philanderers.)

Anyway, that's my take on it.
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
I once read something that the author claimed was channeled from an advanced being from outside of our world/reality. This being stated how those of us who were living in this world at this time are incredibly fortunate beyond measure. It reasoned that what is currently occurring in this world is not only unprecedented in the entire history of this world but also something quite unique to all of physical creation. It stated that many countless beings wished to participate in what was occurring here in this world but only a very few select individuals were chosen/allowed to be here. My first reaction to this message was that this was one stupid s*o*n of a b*i*t*c*h or else he/she/it was just !$%*!$%* with us.
Then as I thought about it for a while, someone from outside of our world/reality may have an entirely different perspective that we could not possibly imagine from our incredibly limited position.
The being then went into great detail explaining why we were so fortunate to be participating in this grand cosmic experiment. Ultimately I could see the logic in its conclusion of why we were so "lucky" to be here in this place, in this moment in time. I understood how he could feel that way, but I still didn't like it. And it didn't make all of this mess one bit more tolerable. So, as with just about anything else, it seems that luck is in the eye of the beholder. What is considered luck to the outside dispassionate observer may not feel very lucky to the poor bastard to whom this luck is bestowed upon.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2013
I don't believe in luck.
There's chance.
If you can profit from it, it's luck and that's it.
Profiting from chance requires preparation (your mind must be open to many sudden changes and equipped to make use of them) and flexibility (chance doesn't repeat itself).
And that's what makes a person a lucky one.
 
 
+38 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2013
Pretty stunning to see a millionaire with a fulfilling career and loving family write about how he's no more lucky than anyone else on the planet.
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
When I was 8, I climbed too high in my uncle's maple tree; the branches broke, and I fell forty feet -- straight into a huge lilac bush which was growing at the base of the tree! Had lots of painful scratches on my torso, but no serious injuries. I don't even know how you'd compute the odds of that - forty-some years later, it gives me the willies to think of it!

I've had moderately bad luck all my life in any sort of gambling - casino games, poker night, etc., which is why I only play small stakes. If that's the averaging taking place, I'll take it!

Or maybe the software running my computer simulation couldn't accept an early exit from the model it was running, so it generated the lilac bush, Hunger-games style, underneath me before I hit the ground. Or my consciousness jumped timelines until it found a reality which included the lilac bush. Maybe someday we'll know, eh?

Helm
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
On an unrelated note, was today's Dilbert censored by your syndicate? It looks like it should contain a reference to p ornog raphy, but it says tissues instead.
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
But didn't you know a family when you were growing up who seemed to have a huge amount of luck, winning the "impossible" prizes at the local carnival, culminating in winning the Irish Sweepstakes? What was their counterbalance - hit by an asteroid and lightning at the same time?
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
And to answer your question I would consider myself somewhat unlucky. Yes, I know, Im not in a third world country, but I measure my luck by the lives I see around me in the society I live in, not by comparing my life to those in other societies, and by that measure my life has always had some definite flaws though still better than some.
 
 
-12 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 10, 2013
"What about those African kids who die of famine, parasites or whatever? When have they ever been lucky?"

Xeronimo74,
You're making the mistake of applying your personal definition of luck to people with a completely different world experience.

One of those kids was lucky that his mother loved him very much and showed it. Other kids were abandoned out of necessity or had mothers who weren't as loving.

Another of those kids found a patch of grass that tasted horrible but was nutritious and filled his starving belly for a short time.

Yet another was born into an "affluent" clan, who by our standards had nothing, and was still infected and starving, but they had more than those in other clans.

And they all died young, possibly the luckiest event of all in their short suffering iife.

Luck is personally defined.
What some consider lucky, others don't.
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
Why can't everything you just said be explained by the statisticians understanding of luck, i.e., that luck is purely random and not something you have a net supply of that can run out?
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
I believe that anyone who has been born or raised in the U.S. or other fully developed country and has not experienced a significant tragedy in their lives is already living on the positive side of the global good luck / bad luck divide.
 
 
Jan 10, 2013
I have no idea how much luck others have had in their lives, so then, I have no idea how my level of luck compares to what others have experienced. But having just said that I'll play along.
Relative to the other 7 billion poor bastards on this planet I suppose I could be considered to be pretty damn lucky. I'm lucky I wasn't born or live in a 3rd world country or any major metropolitan area. Lucky I wasn't born in another age where life was even more screwed up than it is today. Lucky I'm not religious or in any way involved with politics or the political system. Lucky I do not currently have to work in order to survive. Lucky I don't have to be bothered by others if I don't chose to be. Yet I don't feel particularly lucky, I suppose that given the infinite number of possibilities available for existence within this and other universes, being marooned on this world cancels out all the above luck.
 
 
 
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