Are you confusing your good fortune due to your own skill rather than due to luck? I'm here to argue that above average wealth is mostly due to luck. Therefore, stop deluding yourself into thinking you're so great!
As President Obama said in a July 13, 2012 campaign election speech, “If you've got a business, you didn't build that.“
When I first heard Obama say this sentence, I was taken aback. From 2009-2012, I had been working on Financial Samurai for three years from about 5 am – 7 am and from 10 pm – 12 pm after working 12-hour days in finance.
If I wasn't building Financial Samurai, who was?!
I had also recently left my finance job because I wanted to be free. All I really desired to do was write while traveling around the world, so that's what I did.
Wisdom Grows With Age
As I've gotten older, I've come to understand more of what President Obama was talking about. Just like how it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of help along the way to achieve your goals. Obama was referring to not building the roads and bridges that helped your business prosper along the way.
I firmly believe that it was mostly luck (~70%) that helped me achieve a basic level of financial independence at age 34.
Of course, effort is also required to get ahead, but it's not the main reason. There are plenty of people who work much harder than you or I, yet will not achieve what we have.
The more we can recognize our luck, the more prosperous we'll become. The main reason why is because we will continue to work as if our luck will eventually run out.
I encourage you to list as many fortuitous events that have happened in your life. This way, you'll appreciate more of what you have and fight harder to achieve your goals and freely help others.
Outsized Wealth Is Mostly Due To Luck
When you accumulate a net worth of one million dollars, three million dollars, five million dollars or ten million dollars, know this level of wealth is mostly due to luck. It has to be given the median net worth is about $150,000 and the average net worth is about $750,000 today.
And when I say mostly luck, I mean greater than 50%. The range can be anywhere between 51% – 99% for how much luck was the reason for your outsized wealth. The exact percentage is your choice.
But if you have a net worth equal to 5X the median or you have an above average net worth for your age, consider yourself lucky. Beating the average so thoroughly is not easy.
In fact, roughly half of the world's richest one percent of people live in the U.S according to Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist. Therefore, just being able to work in America is a huge lucky break.
Back in 2013, all you'd need to do was earn $34,000 a year per person to be considered a top 1% global income earner. Inflation-adjusted, the $34,000 hurdle is roughly $45,000 today. Back in 2013, the global median income was just $1,225 a year, or $1,600 a year in today's dollars.
A Review Of Some Lucky Breaks
My first lucky break was being born into a stable, dual-parent household. They worked in the U.S. Foreign Service which enabled me to live in five countries before coming to America at age 14. They also both speak Mandarin.
With this type of background, chances are greater you will speak a couple languages, interact with people from more cultures, adopt a zest for travel, be more understanding towards people of different backgrounds, and have a broader world view.
Since middle school, my parents have always tried to make me appreciate the value of money. My first experience with money came when my father scolded me for ordering a lemonade at a restaurant.
“Son, why spend $2 on a lemonade when you can order water with a lemon slice for free?” he said.
This moment instilled in me a level of frugality that has stuck ever since.
In high school, his lesson of frugality paid off when I told him I'd only be attending a public in-state university to save on tuition. He encouraged me to apply wherever I thought looked interesting, but I insisted on saving us money.
In the end, his $2 lemonade lesson saved my parents, and ultimately me, over $100,000 in private university tuition in the late 90s. I always told them I'd pay them back once I got a full-time job and I did.
I’m grateful for my parent’s guidance. But things were not always easy. Here is a review of some lucky breaks that helped me build above-average wealth.
1) 70% Luck. Got Into A Respectable College.
After getting suspended in high school for fighting and getting caught shoplifting with friends and doing other illegal things, I thought there was no way any college would take a chance on this juvenile delinquent. But I paid for my transgressions and The College of William & Mary gave me a chance.
I kept the faith that if I did well in college, an employer would ultimately give me a chance as well. Luckily, I got accepted to college before my major transgression the summer after senior year.
Can you imagine spending four years trying to get good grades in college, knowing there was a high probability everything was for naught because of the mistakes you made in high school? For four years I had to keep the faith.
As a parent now, I totally see why kids having too much free time can lead to trouble. Few kids will become professional athletes, but at least playing sports may help kids stay out of trouble!
2) 80% Luck. Landing A Job In NYC.
I got through 55 interviews over 7 rounds to land my first job in investment banking at a bulge bracket firm. Someone like me from a non-target state university had no business getting this job.
But I got on a 6 am bus to go to a career fair one Saturday and one thing led to another. Because nobody else got on the bus, I had more opportunities to interview and get a job.
Although my base salary was only $40,000 in Manhattan, my experience working in banking taught me how to invest, network, sell, and build relationships early on. Further, I don't know if I would have landed a job in the International Equities department if I didn't have an international upbringing.
I’m grateful for my recruiter, Kim Purkiss for giving me a chance. She was a strong black woman who didn't give up on me even though I kept getting bounced around various desks because nobody wanted me.
3) 90% Luck. Making Money During The Dot Com Boom.
In 2000, I invested in VCSY, a Chinese internet stock that climbed 50X in six months. I sat on the Asian equities desk and thought internet in China would be huge one day.
I invested $3,000 in VCSY out of the $4,000 total I had. Then I told my colleagues about the idea who then told their colleagues at different firms.
Because I sat on the Asian equities desk at Goldman Sachs, other people found the idea to be credible. In truth, I was just taking a punt on this name I knew little about.
The $3,000 turned into a high of $170,000. I sold at $155,000 before it completely collapsed to $0 a year later. I've been trying to hunt for new multi-bagger fortunes since, but with no luck.
4) 100% Luck. A Fortuitous Phone Call.
In 2001, a headhunter called my VP to see if she wanted to work for a competitor covering West Coast clients. She said no and handed me the phone because I covered West Coast clients out of NYC.
One thing led to another, and I got a new job with a raise and a promotion. Over the next two years, 90% of my old analyst class got let go. I’m grateful to my VP for thinking of me.
This one phone call is something I'm most thankful for. If it wasn't for my VP and this phone call, I would have lost my job during the many rounds of layoffs post the Dotcom bust. I knew I wasn't being offered a 3rd year analyst position at Goldman Sachs.
5) 50% Luck, 50% Habit. Frugal Living.
After arriving in San Francisco for my new job, I decided to live like a poor student for a year and a half because I didn’t know anybody and didn’t know where to live. I could have ended up doing “equities in Dallas,” as Michael Lewis wrote in Liar's Poker.
In 2003, at the age of 26, I put down $120,000 and bought a 2/2 condo in Pacific Heights for $580,500. I figured, best to turn funny money (VCSY profits) into a real asset. Coming to San Francisco before web 2.0 was a lucky break.
Today, the condo is a paid off rental worth ~$1,280,000. It used to be a strong-performing asset, that was once worth up to ~$1,450,000. But condos prices have underperformed in SF since the pandemic. That said, the condo still generates a steady $50,000 in gross rental income a year.
6) 60% Luck, 40% Guts. Went All-In On Real Estate And Didn't Get Laid Off.
At age 28 in 2005, I bought a single-family home I didn’t need on the north side of San Francisco for $1.5 million. The $300,000 downpayment took all the cash I had. I needed a $50,000 bridge loan because it was December, and bonuses weren’t paid until February the next year.
In retrospect, I was overly aggressive with my purchase. Things were good for a couple of years until the financial crisis happened. I was sweating bullets with my ~$1,100,000 mortgage. If I got laid off and couldn't find another job within three months, it would have been game over for my finances.
So I rented out a room for several years, held on, and survived. I’m grateful to my grandfather for the bridge loan, the government for helping save the economy, and my company for not firing me during the downturn.
7) 100% Luck. Tried To Sell Property At The Bottom And Didn't.
In 2012, I tried to sell the house I bought for $1.5 million in 2005 for $1.7 million. I got no takers. It was embarrassing, so after 29 days, I took it off the market. Actually, my agent had told me a couple of people had been willing to offer $1.5 million, but I declined.
I wanted to sell because I had just left my job. The worst of the financial crisis had just passed. I wanted to minimize expenses and reduce risk. My wife and I didn't need a four-bedroom house because we didn't have kids yet.
I ended up selling the house for a million more five years later after my PITA tenants gave their notice due to luck. I only had one offer too, but it was $240,000 more than I would have taken.
The proceeds were reinvested in the stock market, bond market, and in real estate crowdfunding, which have showed positive returns. I’m grateful to my realtor for not pushing me to sell.
Today, the house I sold is probably worth $500,000 more (~25%). However, my reinvested proceeds have more or less kept up. I'm most thankful for the time and stressed saved not having to manage the property with rowdy tenants.
8) 70% Luck, 30% Ingenuity. Negotiating A Severance.
One October 2011 afternoon while sipping a Mythos beer in Santorini, Greece, I came up with the idea to engineer my layoff. Financial Samurai was growing and all I wanted to do was write online instead of be in an office for 12 hours a day.
One thing led to another and I negotiated a severance in the spring of 2012 worth five years worth of living expenses. At the time, it felt like I had won the lottery!
I wasn't too proud to negotiate. The majority of people I know think their employer would never offer them a severance. So they give two-weeks notice instead and quit. But quitting your job is more selfish than negotiating a severance.
I’m grateful to my manager and the head of HR for agreeing to make the separation work. I turned my severance negotiation experience into a ebook that has helped thousands negotiate millions in severance payments since 2012. The ebook has also generated over $500,000 in net profits so far.
9) 60% Luck, 40% Consistency. Growth of Financial Samurai.
Since starting Financial Samurai in 2009, the growth trend has been positive. I've had some flat years or down years do to some Google algorithm changes. However, for the most part, the journey has been good. A website can only go so far with only one main writer.
I'm grateful for the search engine traffic because I never expected it. I've got a small social media presence, an intimate free newsletter of 55,000 people, and a podcast and that's it. I'm not a part of any mastermind groups and I don't have a YouTube channel.
All I've done is continue to write and connect with others. I’m very grateful to all you readers who have commented and shared my work. I'm also grateful to Google, even though it can be quite fickle.
There's also something lucky and interesting in my space. Most personal finance writers don't have finance backgrounds. As a result, it's been relatively easy to differentiate this site by just being me and writing from experience.
10) 50% Good Luck, 50% Bad Luck. Left A Fortune Behind.
On the one hand, leaving work at the bottom of the bear market was lucky because things didn’t get worst. Having an economic tailwind boost the value of your investments makes it much easier to stay retired.
On the other hand, leaving work right before things got really good made me miss out on millions of dollars in forgone compensation.
As Dan commented, The Best Asset Class Performers From 2001-2020, “My opportunity cost of cashing out of the stock market in 2019 was not as severe as yours dropping out of the labor force in 2012! Salaries and wages have gone up 30% since you decided to quit, and you’re paying for all those health insurance premiums out of pocket. Hope you can get it together.“
In retrospect, if I could retire all over again, I would have worked for another three years. If I did, maybe I wouldn't have felt as much anxiety and stress the first year. Hence, my decision to retire in 2012 was a combination of immaturity, impatience, and bad luck.
11a) 60% Luck, 40% Purposeful Hunting. Found a neighborhood before it got hot.
In 2014, I discovered Golden Gate Heights three years before Redfin named Golden Gate Heights a top 10 hottest neighborhood to buy. I was sick of living in the north end of the city for the past 12 years and wanted a change of pace.
New parks, new restaurants, new scenery, and cheaper prices sounded like a great idea! Since fake retiring in 2012, I had longed to move back to Oahu and find a home with an ocean view. When I realized I could just move three miles west in San Francisco to buy an ocean view home, I was sold!
Since 2014, prices have risen handsomely. I wish I had bought another house or two in the neighborhood back then. I’m grateful to the listing agent who agreed on my offer with a handshake, and rejected a $30,000 higher offer.
11b) 100% luck. Heartland real estate boost due to pandemic.
Since the pandemic began, demand for single-family homes on the less dense west side of San Francisco has grown. Almost every month, I've been chronicling homes that have sold and I'm astounded by the amount of demand.
But the pandemic boosted heartland real estate investments the most in 2021. This was complete luck. Without the pandemic, heartland real estate prices would have increased closer to 10% in 2021, not 30%+.
Below are the returns percentages of the Fundrise heartland eREIT. 41.7% in 2021 is incredible. But maybe even more impressive is a 10.4% YTD return for 2022 given a surge in mortgage rates. I expect prices to moderate over the next six months and then strengthen after mortgage rates decline again.
12) 60% Luck, 40% Stubbornness. Not Selling Financial Samurai.
In 2018, I was very tempted by multiple offers to sell Financial Samurai for a tidy sum. But I turned them all down after running the numbers and speaking to one person who seriously regretted selling his site for millions. I stubbornly wanted to achieve my goal of publishing 3X a week for 10 years in a row by July 2019.
Valuations for private websites continued to increase until 2022. I did not anticipate such a strong return in the S&P 500 in 2019, 2020, and 2021 after a dismal 2018.
I would have regretted selling my baby in 2018 because Financial Samurai is still fun to run. It gives me something mentally stimulating to do after I spend time with my kids. Four years later, I've already earned back 100% of the potential purchase price. Now, everything feels like gravy with mashed potatoes and key lime pie.
The irony is if I was focused mainly on trying to make lots of money online, I probably would have sold and missed out on further gains. There are a hoard of online marketers I compete with who care more about profits than the joy of writing.
Further, if I had sold Financial Samurai, I also wouldn't have had the opportunity to write a traditionally published book. Publishing a book is a cool bucket list! As an author, I finally have some status to help my kids.
If you have a cash flowing online business that can't be shut down due to a pandemic, you've benefitted. Here's my step-by-step instruction on how to start your own website.
13) 100% Luck. Getting To Work In America.
I was born Asian and live in America. Living in America, alone, is like winning the lottery. But living in America plus being born Asian is like a dream.
Because I'm Asian, some people in America just assume I'm intelligent, even though I had a mediocre SAT score and didn't go to a fancy private university. It's funny because when I lived in Asia, people just treated me normally because I was part of the majority.
Even private universities like Harvard raise the required standardized test scores for Asians to get in. Although Harvard penalizes Asians for our personalities to throttle admissions, I see it as an honor Harvard needs to do such a thing.
Asians are seldom in race discussions because we don't fit a certain narrative. Therefore, one benefit may be that Asians are more free to just get on with our businesses. Being given the opportunity to work hard with less societal drag is a privilege.
14) 100% Luck. Don't need to sleep too long.
Since 1999, I've been able to operate on 5-6 hours of sleep a night plus the frequent 30-minute nap after lunch. I don't need to drink coffee or energy drinks to stay awake either. With more energy naturally comes more productivity. In fact, I've been up since 4:30 am editing this post before the kids get up.
I'm also a super optimist, probably due to having overcome all the troubles I experienced in high school. When someone says something cruel or says I can't do something, I get fired up to work harder. I love rejection! It's like spinach to Popeye.
Besides having asthma as a child, I don't have any disabilities that afflict roughly 15% of the world's population or one billion people. Of the one billion people, roughly 200 million people experience considerable difficulties in functioning.
We must not take our ability to walk, talk, see, hear, speak, and understand for granted. At the same time, we should help our brothers and sisters who do have difficulties. This is the minority we need to fight hardest for.
Finally, I don’t have a strong desire to be loved by strangers. As a result, I’m more easily able to speak my mind and break free from groupthink.
15) 85% Luck. Met My Wife In College.
Not only did The College of William & Mary take a chance on me, I also found my future wife in college during senior year.
Finding a life partner early on is either the best type of luck or manifest destiny. Life has been so much more fun having someone to share it with. Sure, there have been plenty of ups and downs. But at least the trend is positive!
Building wealth with someone is also much easier. You can be each other's champions before each job interview. You can share living expenses to save more money. As a couple, you can also take more risks, like one person retiring first or starting a business while the other holds down a steady paycheck until things work out.
We've been together for over 23 years and I hope we have 50 more. Marrying your equal is better than marrying rich.
Don't Take Your Luck For Granted
As you can see from the bullet points, most of the things that helped get me out of my parent's basement were due to luck.
I also made many terrible investment mistakes, such as buying a vacation property in 2007. This was a combination of stupidity, ignorance, and bad luck. Like a baby baboon, I thought my income and investments would keep growing to the moon forever.
15 years later, however, we still own the property. It is paid off and it's been nice to take the kiddos up there during the summers. Maybe they'll finally see their first snow this winter! Just don't remind me how much money I could have saved by just renting instead.
I've also talked about my perpetual rejections, which is the main reason why I continue to save and invest today. Bad things like pandemics, bear markets, injuries, sicknesses, and deaths are inevitable. There is a comfort to saving and investing for dark days ahead.
Thankfully, we can get insurance to hedge against the worst. I felt tremendous relief when I finally got a new affordable 20-year term life insurance policy earlier this year at age 44. In 2013, I messed up by only getting a 10-year term, which resets at $723/month in January 2023!
Prepare For Bad Luck, But Appreciate Good Luck
Sooner or later, we all will get unlucky. And when we do, we must accept bad luck as a part of life. The return of the bear market in 2022 is a perfect example of why we need to stay humble and diversified.
During bad times, we should also remind ourselves about all the lucky breaks we've experienced so far. Go through the gratitude exercise, like I have done with this post. I'm sure you'll feel more appreciative if you do.
I'd love to hear about your lucky breaks and how much you think luck plays a part in your success. What are some of the things you're doing to hedge against bad luck? How are you making the most of your good luck?
Related posts about wealth and luck:
When Do You Finally Feel Rich? It's Not Always About The Money
Be Unapologetically Fierce About Pursuing You Dreams
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148 thoughts on “Your Outsized Wealth Is Mostly Due To Luck: Be Thankful!”
I think it is a stretch that one can determine “good” luck based on a single isolated event. Good luck can quickly turn into bad luck we simply just don’t know, as we are inter-dependent and not independent entities.
Being born in the US (good luck) perhaps but if one gets run over by F-150 maybe rural Bangladesh was a better choice.
Believing in luck feels a lot like believing in magic. It does not require a lot discipline/awareness or even personal responsibility.
I found that the more I attribute any wealth or success I have to luck, the harder I work and the more personal responsibility I take because I didn’t do anything to deserve my good fortune.
If I get lucky, and then gray. If I don’t get lucky, then fine, because I didn’t count on Locke in the first place to advance. In the situation, any Luck turns into an unexpected bonus.
I think you may have missed my point. I don’t believe people know if “luck” is good or bad. To say “luck” is a key ingredient to success feels a bit disingenuous.
Gotcha. I guess I believe in people being more rational than you. I do believe people are aware of how much luck plays apart in any success they have.
What’s your story? Where are you in your financial journey?
My feeling is we can only influence the things we can control. The things we can’t control are where luck comes in.
From perspective on attributing luck to one’s success I believe the following:
1. Luck is a synonym for “God”, that allows supposed non believers to plausibly deny his involvement in their lives!
2. The Men who created the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence should be the inheritors of all praise for any of our entrepreneurial successes!
3. I know that other than a few good men and women during key life developing moments who interfered on my behalf with 5 minutes of their time and support that I was the sole driver of my own destiny!
Everything I own and hold dear I achieved on my own!
Moreover most of my achievements were being blocked or hampered by others interventions for one ugly reason or another!
Luck is how others view my achievements because otherwise they have to admit they have lesser qualities and capabilities than myself.
The Love for “God”, regardless of the amount of evil backlash for admitting it, is the key element in all good things that come my way!
Make no mistake life is brutal and painful, therefore being proud of yourself for your achievements should be your reward to yourself!
If it was not “God’s” involvement then it surely couldn’t have had anything to do with “Luck.”
I attribute God for all good things in my life and I attribute myself for being responsible and accountable for my failures and allowing bad results to happen because of my own inadequacies.
My apologies I left a post here but mislabeled/addressed it to PJH instead of yourself.
It appears it might have had to be removed because of that error.
Thanks for the article Sam!
I think luck plays a small role in success, but you still need to have the skills (and guts) to jump on an opportunity when it comes along.
I think we need to be careful about attributing too much of success to luck. Otherwise, there is likewise a temptation to blame bad luck for failure, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to improve your skills, knowledge, etc.
Hope you and your family had a nice Thanksgiving.
Heh, I lived overseas a few times as a kid and it was helpful, but I never came close to becoming fluent in another language. On the other hand, I tend to do okay in English.
Instead of ” . . . everything was for not . . .” try ” . . . everything was for naught . . .”
That said, yes, being born a US citizen is an enormous piece of luck. Someone once told me that, if it could even have a price, it might be worth in the neighborhood of half a million USD all by itself. Then, too, having parents with traditional values and a stable home is also luckier than it should be. Good health. High intelligence. Height. Handsome. All these things are lucky . . . but I still wonder: what would I have done if I could have swapped one or another for having been born wealthy instead?
“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.“
Always helpful if you supply the full context for that quote, which clearly indicates that the “that” in the sentence doesn’t relate to the business you’ve got, but the infrastructure mentioned in the previous – omitted – sentence that allowed the business to exist in the first place:
“Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
Unless, of course, you’re intending to deliberately misquote and mislead (not that I’m a particular fan of Obama…)
Thank you. Check out the 6th paragraph of the post.
“Wisdom Grows With Age
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand more of what President Obama was talking about. Just like how it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of help along the way to achieve your goals. Obama was referring to not building the roads and bridges that helped your business prosper along the way.”
Please let me know if you find any typos, grammar errors, and other areas of improvement.
Do you think above-average wealth is mostly due to luck?
“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.“ ~ Always loved that quote by Obama. Coming from a guy who never built anything in his life. It was a total slap in the face to any business owner who took the risk of going out on their own, raising capital, putting in 15 hours a day to get the business off the ground, the sleepless nights, anxiety that comes after your first successful year – wondering if or how you’re gonna do it again or top it, time away from family, making payroll for your employees, etc.
No, 50% + of success does not come from luck. All of your examples above came down to choice. You made intelligent choices because you’re an intelligent person. Not everyone is born with the same level of intelligence and therefore you can have people that work just as many hours, but make a fraction of the money because they lack intelligence or make poor choices in life. They also happen to be risk-averse. If you aren’t willing to take risks in life, you will always be average.
I agree with this. At 23, during the height of the Great Recession, I work endlessly, 15-17 hrs a day, 7 days a week. I did it as I didn’t have a choice in my mind as I needed along with my family to stabilize our business. My corporate job between my brother and I made up the shortcomings. This was a restaurant that we had to run so it isn’t a light labor industry. Our goal was just to break even at the time and the labor was a lost. Flash forward, 5 years later, through savings and relentless work, we had enough to build our rentals. The goal then was just to cash flow. We held onto the property and I suppose this can be attributed to luck. For us, it was more of a choice through our sacrifices. The properties has since appreciated 125%. There are other situation but I think that success is mainly personal sacrifices with some lucky break.
Great article! It made me think about my own personal journey and decisions I’ve made along the way. I used to think that my success was largely based on my decisions and calculated risk but being born a white male in America is a massive advantage that i never used to consider. Glad to be one of your 55,000
I attribute my good fortune/blessings, weathering of storms, and success, to God. I’ve experienced too many blessings, too many times including when needed most, for it to be random luck or coincidence. There is no doubt in my mind that it is God. I’m thankful and give all glory to God.
Thank you for sharing your story and acknowledging where your blessings come from, brother!
I always found that the harder I worked, the luckier I got.
Agreed – “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”.
I believe, as our founding fathers did, that we are blessed. Yes, “luck”, or happenstance plays a role in realization of your goals. So does grit, education, work ethic. At the end of the day, the only things we control are our work ethic and attitude.
On a related note, as a country we tend to conflate happiness with wealth. As Sam has pointed out in the past, there’s a lot of value in a simple life and great relationships with your family and friends. For me, I find value in relationships and experiences – the wealth/FI supports the ability to pursue/enhance your relationships and experiences.
We are truly blessed to be in this country and for those that initially secured of freedoms.
Great article! Thanks for your humility and honesty in this write-up – it really comes through! We are all truly lucky and blessed, and your story is a great reminder!
Started life negative, 1 generation off The Res, then in foster care. Junior college only option. Yet later: bought a home near the bottom in 2010, and my company was bought out in 2011. The latter resulted in 3-5 years’ worth of 401(k) contributions overnight.
I give luck 50% but it wasn’t luck that…
– made me drive a dreadful commute day in and day out,
– stay late night after night,
– come in early morning after morning,
– stay in a lower wage tier to gain the critical experience,
– volunteer at ASU as an advisor to improve my resume and public speaking skills,
– take the crappiest work assignments week after week to gain the exposure and leadership skillz,
– add side hustles to make ends meet,
– skip vacations for 7 years to pay off my mortgage by age 45
– miss putting my daughter to bed every night because those hours and travel were simply expected.
I always knew what I was doing to get the experiences and stay ahead of my coworkers.
With great sacrifice comes great wealth…that’s the other 50% and that’s why wealthy is hard but possible. ♂️
I remember when I was a classroom teacher trying to break into administration. I went on numerous interviews with no luck. Then my daughter (who was about 12 years old at the time) went online and found a very small school district that was advertising an administrator job. I didn’t think much of it, but I wanted to show my daughter that I appreciated her trying to help me. So I applied for the job. They called me! I had to go through 4 rounds of interviews with the small school district (which is not common in my field), but I eventually got the job.
THAT JOB was the catalyst for my trajectory to a superintendent position (which, in the State I was in was 1/135 positions in the entire State) and set my path to FIRE.
I am still amazed at how that all played out.
Incredible luck! And great follow through after your daughter found that job listing. What are the chances right? But good things tend to happen to those who try.
“Because I’m Asian, some people in America just assume I’m intelligent, even though I had a mediocre SAT score and didn’t go to a fancy private university. It’s funny because when I lived in Asia, people just treated me normally because I was part of the majority.”
Exactly. Asians are more intelligent than whites. An Asian among Asians will be treated “normally” because everyone is Asian!
“A strong black woman…”
No Sam, you worked hard, take some credit for yourself. She either pretended you had less use than you actually did or did not care as a probable diversity hire.
Without Kim Purkiss selecting me and then fighting for me through the multiple rounds of interviews, 80% chance I wouldn’t have made it through the gauntlet.
The reason why I had so many interviews is bc no desk wanted me. But we finally found a fit in international equities.
There are many qualified for limited job openings across all industries. So landing a job is like winning the lottery.
We gotta be thankful and give luck credit!
I’ve worked hard in my life but I’ve also had a lot of good luck. Sure I’ve had bad luck and failures too but I’ve tried to turn each one into a silver lining.
I always have a tendency to get super stressed out this time of year. But this is a good reminder to take a step back from the frenzy of it all and be thankful for the luck and blessings we have.
I admire that Sam accounts for luck in his success. In general, I find any lack of accounting for some luck as supreme arrogance in a world of mystery and innumerable unknowns. However, I believe people can actively position themselves to receive good luck and be ready to capitalize when the right opportunity comes their way.
If you are always looking for a yellow car (as a metaphor for an opportunity), you will be the first to see the first yellow car cresting on the horizon.
Discipline and luck are the two most important elements for achieving success in life.
I enjoy that yellow car metaphor! Once I got my Honda Fit, I saw them everywhere. Same for my latest car.
Consistency is definitely key. Cheers
“I believe people can actively position themselves to receive good luck and be ready to capitalize when the right opportunity comes their way.” Spot on. Born in another decade Bill Gates would likely not be as rich, but I would bet that he would be successful by any measure. Sam, w/o the the good luck as he described, would have done well regardless, maybe not as well, but was destined for good fortune given his personal traits.
Funny how those who work hard, and smart (a key ingredient as working hard in a dead end position will not get you anywhere), almost always come out ahead.
Having worked overseas for many years, I agree, being born in America is a winning ticket. No easier place to improve one’s position in life.
Very grateful for you and your writing Sam… I also love listening to you and your wife on your podcast… You have such a “sweet relationship”- I also love that you referred to her as your “equal“… your humility is very refreshing… I also enjoyed the podcast where you admitted changing your mind about the Roth IRA… Very unusual for someone to admit they might have been wrong… and then reconsider their position. I have learned so much from you Sam… And I truly appreciate the generosity of your spirit.
Thanks for reading and listening Maureen! It’s been fun recording with my wife. I hope our children will appreciate the archives when they or older. Will try to do more in the new year!
Finished up my Best Of FS 2021 post. Let’s see what 2022 brings.
Okay, on luck, anyone recall the old game, Zaxxon? You flew a little fighter craft that moved forward constantly and could not be turned. You faced a series of walls made of giant bricks where one brick would be missing. Using a joystick, you had to go up and down, and right and left, to align yourself so your forward progress would take you through that hole.
Life is kind of like that, except that on that joystick you control left and right, but up and down is random. The best you can do is line yourself up with the hole horizontally and hope that you will be the right amount of up or down when you come to it.
Which means there is luck involved, sure. But you are a lot less likely to get that luck without some effort on your part. Obama made it sound like it was all luck, and that luck was given to you by society alone. That rankled people who had spent some serious effort in their lives on getting lined up for a shot at success. He probably should have said everyone owes some part of their success to society.
Certainly true in his case. Obama and I are almost exactly the same age. While my dad was fighting in Viet Nam and my mom and I were eating at a card table in O’ahu (because we couldn’t afford much real furniture), and I was going to a public school, Obama was across town at the elite, private, and very expensive Punahou School on a full scholarship because his household was even poorer than mine. Society certainly set him on the path to success at an early age, so he likely thinks that applies to everyone.
As the old saying goes: You won’t find a general who thinks there is a serious problem with the promotion system.
I will go this far, I will agree that no one but maybe a child raised by wolves can fail to owe some part of their success to society, but only part. But how much? And how much is owed for this? One of the greatest sources of contention throughout history is on how much an individual owes to society, and how much society owes to individuals. If this gets too far out of whack one way, you get something like a human hive, something like what China would like to pretend it is. Too far the other way and you get anarchy, with everyone out only for themselves.
I consider my greatest piece of luck to be an American citizen from birth. And only incidentally because attempts to place a monetary value on a US Passport seem to wind up somewhere around 500k.
When you keep finding yourself “getting lucky” over and over… probably isn’t luck.
Perhaps. You have an example? Elon Musk comes to mind.
Maybe. Good luck begets more good luck because you have more opportunities.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. It applies to many things including picking stocks and investments. Nice picture too.
Thanks for the reminder about gratitude. I feel like equating one’s success to luck is a little like attributing it to God (a line I hear more often in my circles), when in reality, behind almost every lucky thing that happens to us there is a person who chose to enable that good fortune. I try to remind myself of this often so that I remember to thank those people when I can.
Thoughtful article, Sam. I find it interesting that in the West we attribute our success solely to our own doing, while in the East it is recognized that it is your community that led to your success. I believe the true answer is a mixture of both, but you wouldn’t be who you are and able to create what you do if it wasn’t for those around you that helped shape you into who you are today. It is also why I believe that intellectual property rights are not as prevalent in the East as the West, being that those around you don’t recognize creations as yours, but as the communities. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about hardworking and determination.
Hello, I am not sure how I’ve been receiving your emails/articles but I have to say I’ve been enjoying for some time now. After reading this article I’ve realized that I would like to share a bit and hopefully get a response.
I will have to say I’ve haven’t been the luckiest as I was born into a poverty city, a single parent which passed away when I was 12yrs of age. That left me scrambling to figure things out myself. After completing high school in 2007. I was highly interested in Real Estate and stocks but of course around that time the economy was in a horrible shape.
So I was forced into college which I’ve completed a B.S from Michigan State University. I purchased 2 real estate properties and I trade stocks. I am striving to earn a decent income of maybe 1 million a year but if I fall short then that’s cool.
What are your thoughts or tips? I need to do more studying on taxes, any tips? Is it true that you are supposed to used the banks to leverage your dollars vs saving at the banks?
I hope you or someone can respond.
My thoughts are that getting to $1 million a year takes time and a lot of luck. Here is an article on who makes over $1 million a year. But if you are in the right profession and give it a long enough time, it may eventually happen. What are your goals for the money though?
Hello thanks for taking the time out to respond. My plan is to build residual income through real estate (if I manage 15 units that at the lowest will generate 100k per year), I will invest in the stock market, Fundrise and start a business.
Not buying it! Luck has a lot to do with it, but the decisions you make in life has more to do with it than luck.
Luck= high probability plays repeated.
For example, you wish to start a technology company and are from South Africa like Musk. A simple internet search shows that China disappeared Jack Ma for months and Europe slammed Google with fines. Meanwhile in the USA, twitter banned a sitting President. It’s rather obvious where a technology company will be most welcome and therefore move to the USA.
Thank you for your website and newsletter! Your advice to save “even though you like your job because one day you may not” was spot on and I feel lucky to have read it all those years ago. Wishing you and your family a happy and restful Thanksgiving!
Opportunity comes to those who take it
How did you run Financial Samurai from 5 – 7am and 10-12pm after working a day job for 12 hours? Were you ever worried about deteriorating eyesight as a result of the constant screen watching?
Although I work on my website after business hours, that’s the number one concern I have with watching a computer screen all day for 18+ hours. It scares me to death.
Didn’t think about it. I wasn’t looking at a computer all day for work. I was out and about a lot and traveling.
Die someone you know lose their vision or have their vision deteriorate drastically due to too much screen time? What were some of your lucky breaks?
I did go a little off topic there, I read this post a lot during the years so I wanted to ask a unique question.
A lot actually. But the biggest lucky break was my parents deciding to take a promotion to move to the United States even when they had a young family and they didn’t know a lick of English.
I didn’t control that decision, I had no say in it, yet that decision single handedly set me up for success, for life.
Oh also, I do know someone who had their vision deteriorate drastically due to too much screen time. Me :(
Like most people Sam you had some luck but beyond that you worked incredibly hard and that was key to your success.
I am so thankful and lucky to have a great family and good health. That’s the most important thing for me but I’ve also done ok in my career and am very thankful of all my luck.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
What a wonderful post and a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family Sam.
Reading the comments, it’s amazing to me how many people have a self-worth so tied to their net worth that the mere insinuation that luck played any part in their success is enough to make them angry.
If I took the time my list would be as long as yours, Sam. When thinking about an orphan’s life in a country on a different continent from where I was born, and I think about all of the opportunities here in the US along with my family upbringing, I was ahead right out of the gate.
It’s just a great reason to setup part of our wealth to give to those in need and, in my wife and my case, leave a whole bunch to charity when we die.
Love your humility, Sam! I think that’s one of the best things that makes you so likeable… (that and being a Giants fan! )
I agree… being smart and making the list of your opportunities is important, but anybody that doesn’t recognize a lot of lucky breaks went into them getting where they are is kidding themselves. I like to think my firm base in God helps me realize when things go my way when they probably shouldn’t have. Looking back on a long and happy career, I never would have chosen the path that I ended up taking. A lot of times, things don’t become clear until you look back and think “Wow, if I wouldn’t have done this, then that never would have happened…”
Thanks for keeping us grounded even though a lot of your base is doing very well thanks to your advice!
Greg, you’re too kind. Go Giants! Can’t believe we lost to the Dodgers. Ugh. I saw Larry Baer the other day btw. Seems like he’s doing OK after the incident.
Best to you Greg!
I had to overcome a lot of bad luck through hard work to earn my dollars. But thanks (sarcasm) for overtly telling me I got to where I am via chance.
It was chance. You transcended luck, but luckily for you, you were the type of person who could do that. Too many people quit after an early failure.
Ignoring luck as an element of success leads to survivorship bias, as the non-success stories either never get told or are used to condemn the whole system (i.e. the sad quasi-sepia tones used in all the photos for the hardship stories the NYT loves to run).
I agree with Liam. It’s great that you did the hard work, and that’s commendable in and of itself. But consider this: as an accident of birth, you possess the necessary intellect to be able to get where you are through hard work. Imagine if you had been born a doofus? I think we all know plenty of people who couldn’t get there, even with hard work. Or imagine you were born with a chronic health condition that would make it literally impossible for you to put in the hard work.
It’s good to work hard, and to be proud of yourself for the work you put in. But it’s simply not accurate to say that no portion of your success is due to luck.
I love this conversation regarding luck, and I like that you bring it up so often. It’s forced me to think about it deeply as a factor in whatever success I’ve had. I’m still not decided on it, but I do think that attributing your success to your intelligence & hard work alone is a fatal mistake.
In all of your case examples (except for where you’re born and who your parents are), you had consciously put yourself in a position to benefit from whatever opportunity came your way. It goes back to that old tripe: Luck is what happens at the intersection of preparation (consciousness) and opportunity (ether). The archetypal example of luck is like someone finding the winning lotto ticket in the gutter. Even in that example, they had to decide to pay attention to that piece of paper and explore its potential rather than ignore it.
I hate that Obama quote, by the way. He may have meant to say “If you’ve got a business… you didn’t build that ALONE.” or “…you didn’t build that IN A VACUUM.” But he didn’t.
Thanks to the good LOrd, my parents and my husband, but will lose it all after the dollar collapses which Biden and the democrats are working to accomplish,
Thanks Sam, I love this post as it is filled with gratitude, self-awareness and reflection. Of course you worked hard, applied insight and knowledge to work, and leveraged your networks to catalyze the events. I’m sure many FS readers are incredibly talented, motivated and self-driven to already put much of their own mind and sweat to work in their favor. But IMO, acknowledging serendipity and being aware of other people’s generosity in our good fortunes also make one grateful, humble and joyous of the world around us. And to then pay it forward for someone else – ah, it is what makes life fun and fulfilling.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Recognize our luck is so important, especially during a global pandemic!
And who would have though everything would come roaring back so strongly and quickly.
I think you’ll enjoy this following related post: https://www.financialsamurai.com/if-you-want-to-naturally-be-nicer-get-richer/
My apologies up front, no time for a lengthy and worthy post, short version follows.
I personally give credit to God’s grace for all unexplainable fortunate events in my life!
My Financial Security!
My failures are due to my own poor decisions at the time they were made!
Do not get me wrong I believe in all the same information others have posted but using the word luck in the place of God’s grace is not compatible with my understanding of being faithfully devoted to him as our forefathers were when they gave birth to the greatest nation the world will ever know!
Amen, Thy Will
I lucked into finding your site many years ago and I continue to cherish it.
Perhaps the luckiest gift is to be an agent of luck and watch others flourish too.
Thank you for all the luck you give to us as readers!
This is your second post about the so controversial, most of the time mocked or rejected concept – luck. At least, there is one more published in April 2017. And they are by my favourites. Because they are simple but genuinely candid, and somehow innocent.
I admire/love your stubbornness not to accept appraisals for your writing, work experience or achievements – which you could – and prefer to stay and show humble. This is rare!
You know that our biggest enemy and the source of all evil lies within us – the ego, which set free the greediness and the pride, as the belief you are better than others.
All the best,
I had an extremely wealthy uncle who had made good starting from essentially nothing when he graduated high school. He managed to get into a military academy and, afterwards, found it wasn’t for him, and got out after his initial four year service commitment ended.
When we were talking, he told me he didn’t know anyone that had made the big money (not his words) without at least one or two pieces of outstanding luck. He wasn’t talking about building it slowly, through saving and investing; he was talking about corporate executive kind of lucky.
He also mentioned that part of the problem, as he saw it, was that universities were not teaching their students how to be successful. They were teaching them how to be what employers are looking for.
It resonated with me because I recalled, just a few years earlier, a VP at a telecom that I worked for, who spoke to me about his meetings with the faculty at a nearby university and how it had taken entirely too much effort, in his opinion, to make them understand that the students needed to be taught things that would make them more employable (by the telecom).
It seems a subtle distinction, but it’s huge.
Getting out of this trap requires quite a bit of luck, either in getting the big breaks despite this, or in developing some rare insights on your own, or even just having an uncle who has already figured it out and tells you, right when you are ready to listen, and early enough for it to do some good.
Destiny is in love with effort.
Love that saying! Thanks!
This is a very interesting article. Thanks for sharing this story. It’s very informative. I don’t think any of this was luck. There was a reason why you needed to be at all of these places. A person can generally be “lucky” with little things in life, but when it comes to big life-changing events or the decisions you make – luck has nothing to do with that.
Sam: I totally agree it’s 100% pure dumb luck: I was lucky to join an Internet company pre-IPO in 2004 and now my net worth is ~$10M. Had I failed the interview in 2004 like the two WhatsApp founders, I would most likely join them and later got acquired by FB and I’d probably worth even more. But that’s life :)
If you live long enough (I’m 52 now) and seen enough, you’d realize meritocracy is the most over-rated quality in life, and entitlement is pure evil. I’ve seen brilliant coworkers who are 10x smarter, but delayed their departure to join the next hot startups because the company tried to retain them, and 10 years later found themselves out of work and 10x poorer because their retention stocks became worthless.
If you really believe you deserve your success (and failures), you’ll probably not make it through middle age.
Yes… but blowing a windfall is the most common thing in the world.
That’s why 95% of people who win the lottery go broke.
Almost 8/10 major pro athletes are broke within 6 years of retiring.
Getting lucky on a good IPO is somewhat random…
But having financial literacy and knowing how to grow wealth and make it productive takes discipline, skill, and intelligence.
It’s okay that you’re doing well and other people aren’t… you didn’t take it from them.
Sam, very thought provoking as always. It seems to me like the biggest piece of luck is in being born into the family you have described. Your thoughts on helping others and familial duty and honor are well articulated. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Anyone who is successful will tend to say things like hard work, networking, focus, ability to say no, etc. make one successful. I cant remember anyone every denying luck being part of it. One could argue that the other drivers bring luck but there is always an element of luck.
What is your definition of luck?
Oxford’s dictionary defines it as:
“success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” [note that it is both success and failure that carries the definition]
Some of the examples you set forth can be attributed at least in part to ‘fortuitous timing’, the old right place at the right time, but to define such a large percentage of one’s success OR failure being attributable to the above definition of ‘luck’, I believe sells one short. You still made decisions to put yourself at that place at that time AND make the correct decisions that result in your ‘good luck’.
Despite one’s humility attributing success to factors outside their own making, to me, what is more important is what actions you take AFTER said incidence of luck. To me, this is as important as how one handles adversity. The true measure of someone is how they handle BOTH- the good and bad in their lives.
I’ve been flat broke twice in my adult life (measured by having a less than zero net worth and no assets other than a very used car) and no job. The cause both times was due to decisions/risks I made not some metaphysical unknown force that decided to take a karmic dump on my head. After a short pity party, I started over but did not lay blame or causation anywhere but on my own shoulders. While financial and emotionally a bit painful, it also made me tougher and more appreciative of what I still had – my family and my health. Both of which I strive to never forget or take for granted.
Now, having achieved some modicum of success (financially speaking) for a third time, for me it is a combination of many factors – not the least of which is knowing what NOT to do – learning from my earlier mistakes. Yes, a good portion of our net worth is due to gains in the overall US stock market, but we (my wife and I) decided to live on less than 25% of our income and invest the remainder over the past 20+ years, buying used cars that we kept for 15+ years, inexpensive clothes and other frugal decisions. Was this good luck or good decision making – I lean towards the latter as even during the recession in 2008, we made decisions that allowed us to persevere and continue to where we are today.
I appreciate your point and humility, but I think that attributing such a large percentage of one’s success OR failure to ‘luck’, does no one any favors.
What percentage should luck be to produce favors the others? Thanks
I don’t believe in something as arbitrary as luck (by the Oxford definition). Those factors over which I have no control (being born a white American male) I do not count as ‘lucky’, but neither do I discount the advantages they have provided me in some aspects of life. There are millions of white American males sitting in prison and dead because of decisions they made, so that advantage alone is no guarantee. Growing up as one of 4 children in a single parent home in a low/mid income household without a male role model, would by some measures put me at a slight disadvantage, or it could simply make me work harder.
Just as YOU chose to take a different path from your rebellious teen period, each and every day we all make dozens (or more) decisions that take us down potentially different paths. In the end, those factors we do control can far outweigh and overcome any innate advantages or disadvantages. No, not 100% of the time, but I believe a significant majority. Yes, sometimes, bad stuff happens to good people – ‘luck’ or simple consequence? Does it matter? Not to me – the only thing that truly matters is how we handle that adversity and what steps we take to overcome it.
If the majority thought that success was mostly luck, would your website (and others like it) be successful? What would happen to all the motivational speakers ;).
Given time, the human spirit is unmatched in what it can achieve and endure.
You are absolutely correct. Luck is a stupid concept because it is absolutely meaningless. You could stay at home all day and claim to be unlucky. I wont expound on the multitude of ways that effort = success because I believe you already did a fine job.
The harder you work, the luckier you become. None of this is luck.You invested in a Chinese Internet stock that did well, I did not. Therefore you’re lucky? What does that make me; unlucky? You invested in overpriced SF property that continued to go up and become more overpriced. I did not. That makes you lucky and me unlucky? You negotiated a nice severance package to pursue your dream career. People negotiate severance packages every day. When I tried to negotiate a severance package I was told the job is no longer being offered. Evidently, I was not savvy at negotiating severance packages. I guess that makes me unlucky. All of this gives me the perfect right to vote for egalitarian politicians who want to tax the heck out of you because that’s exactly how they see the world of free market capitalism…pure luck and therefore you don’t deserve it. As for Obama, he was an ignorant activist who never, ever experienced hard work in the private sector where wealth is produced not by luck but by competent people who know a thing or two about measuring risk and perseverance. Am I lucky because after 35 years of working and saving, my 401k is looking good? Who told me to put money and sacrifice spending on cars and vacations into the 401k? Luck? Try smarts. Folks, do not replace risk taking with luck. Luck has nothing to do with it, other than I was born in the US compared to a 3rd world country. I would have ventured to the US any way. Why? Because I’m ambitious and do not believe in luck. I’m grateful not because I’m lucky but because I’m loved by others. That’s it. End of story.
Dude-why do you think it’s a zero sum game? His luck does not mean or imply you’re unlucky. They are unrelated. Sure- he made some decision that played out well and some that didn’t. What percentage is just luck or timing or risk taking or clever decisions —like the job phone call his VP handed to FS. You can’t deny the facts. What percentages go with what facet, I have no idea. No one does. That’s just life
Peter, did you not read the blog thoroughly? Were you born or migrated to a country with opportunity? A country with no current war or conflict? Did you build the roads, electricity grid, water system, roads, etc yourself?
Did you write the laws and regulations for a capitalistic society to exist? Do you have clean water to drink every day where you don’t have to walk for 4 hours to fetch potable water? Did you build a health system where you can access doctors and medicine easily?
I assume you have eyes, fingers, and a working brain in order to read and type your response. Did you create those yourself? If you say no to any of my questions, then you are indeed lucky. Just like myself.
Well if you call it luck you are the hardest working lucky person there is. If you chose not to take the risk sit on your couch and play video games would you be lucky? NO your hard work paid off. My wives career has had a lot of “luck” in it, meaning opportunities opened up just when we needed them. BUT NONE of those opportunities would have been possible if she did not work her ass off and out perform her peers, being number one in your region give you opportunities that others don’t get and that is not luck.
I don’t know about the reader you lost but I bet I agree with her. You could have stood in the middle of the street and say LUCK HIT ME and you would still be in the middle of the street with the 100 thousand other homes people in CA or you can do what you did and take the chance work your ass of risk everything and reap the rewards.
I believe it was the pro golfer, Lee Trevino, who said after a hole in one, “How come it seems like the more I practice, the luckier I get!”
I’ve been reading your blog for years, but lately I’ve just been reading the email digest rather than clicking through. I clicked through to this one specifically because you said someone disagreed enough to stop reading your blog.
Then, as I’m reading, I see that your parents were foreign service officers! I took and passed the exam last year, but didn’t make it all the way to the oral exam. Last time I didn’t have any children. Now I have a two month old daughter and was wondering if she’d resent me for making her move around so much if I got my dream job. But it sounds like, at least as an adult, you count that experience into your success.
I’m going to take the exam again in February. Hopefully someday she’ll count that experience as a lucky break to her success, and I can look back and count this post as one of mine.
What stopped you from taking the oral exam? The 13 years I’ve spent living abroad was some of the most magnificent, eye-opening, and enriching years of my life. Probably the most!
The Qualifications Evaluation Panel. They look at your resume, your personal narratives, and your timed essay from the exam. They rank everyone within their selected track, and then take however many they need from the top of the list. Those people get invited to the oral exam.
This year I’ll be changing tracks to match my work experience better, and tailor my narratives to that.
Gotcha. Good luck! And congrats on passing the written and the little one!
I think I’d love to be a FSO, but I wouldn’t be able to pass the exam :P
I hope that you got it and the sacrifices were in your favor!
No you’re wealth is mostly due to luck of asset inflation caused by the the fed and the luck of where you chose live. Most people work hard for there money and what happened for you could not happen for them, no matter what, despite being smarter and working harder. You are just lucky (so far) on catching bubbles.
I totally agree, hence the content in my post:
* arrived in SF before Web 2.0, couldn’t ended up doing equities in Dallas
* the Fed pumped everything up
It’s largely just luck!
But if as young man decided to rented instead of buy your house, like so many do, you would not have made a million dollars. Your lucky the housing market went up but you also increased you luck by taking a chance. The harder you work the more luck you receive, I am not sure if it was your article but there was one this weekend talking about a fund manager that actually lost money over the last 8 years. He did not get lucky because he was wrong in his thinking he was in the same financial bubble and had more money to invest but he did not benefit from the windfall because he was not as smart as you. Yes you got lucky but give yourself some credit YOU BE A SMART MAN. I just likened your thought process to the lefts mindset that when a white man succeeds it is only because he is white and has nothing to do with what he did. Your not white but the point is the same. Did have some advantages? yes. Could they be over come? yes. Did other people in worse situation make it big? yes Love your writing your my favorite. also I have a brother whom after the 2008 market crash took out most of his investments and never put them back in. Is that bad luck or stupidity? Thank you
I would say your brother had bad luck for not having the courage to stick things through and add more!
You and Resjudicata, the commenter I responded to, will have to battle it out then :)
It was my newsletter who stated a Hussman Fund is down 57% since 2009, but still collected $50 million in fees! WOW!
You are consistent!! Love the article Thank you!!
If anyone feels they do not deserve their money I will gladly take it off your hands. I will bear the burden for you.
Completely disagree but it also depends on your spiritual beliefs. Personally I believe that the outcomes in my life are God’s doing. He empowers my talents, I make choices which lead to outcomes. I do not believe everything is predestined but definitely believe that God has his hand throughout the circumstances in my life. He knows that is going to happen before it does, therefore “luck”to me is only something my Chinese ancestors believe. “Don’t face your feet towards the door when you sleep, Don’t have a phone number with a “4” in it… ask for “8’s.” All superstitions that I don’t believe. Things are going to happen and we can’t control them but we make choices everyday to apply ourselves, to show up, to build relationships or not and those circumstance lead to outcomes the God already knew was going to happen.
Question for “Steve” up there, if you “learned how to invest” and are now in the 1% but you say your “siblings are not”. Curious to now if you’ve tried to educate them so they could help themselves up too? I’m one of 7 siblings. All of us are in the top 5%. She share tools, tips and help each other out even though we all have our own families and some even have grandchildren already.
I have a brother in the top 1% and he never gave one bit of financial advice. He made his money by following the crowd he was associated with, he had little knowledge on his own yet he did not pass any tips or ideas on. So SAD.
On Thanksgiving Day, I’ll say I’m most grateful for:
* My family. They are my foundation. I come from a Chinese American family. My parents emphasized honesty, education, self-sufficiency, closeness with other family members, frugality, and hard work. Now that my folks are gone, I’m so grateful they instilled these values in my siblings and me.
* My beloved aunt. I think I won the lottery when it comes to aunts. She was a second mom to us. Christmas meant opening up a never-ending pile of gifts from her. Throughout my teen years and into my twenties, we were treated to European vacations and fine dining in the best restaurants. My parents couldn’t afford these things and my dad grumbled that his kids traveled more than he did. But it wasn’t just the fringe benefits that I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for the fact that she loved us and would do anything for us. How many people in life have two extraordinary mothers?
* My health with one caveat. It’s common for people to say they’re grateful for their health. And yes, I’m grateful for mine but I have an invisible handicap that makes life a little more difficult. When you look at me, you’d never guess that I suffer from chronic pain. And yet I do. I guess I’m lucky after years of therapy that I’ve become a resilient person (almost super human in the resilience department, I’m told) and live with physical pain successfully and live happily in spite of it almost every day.
* My career. Boy, did I luck out here. But they say you make your own luck, right? When I was unemployed, I wrote down a wish list of companies I’d like to join. At the top of the list was a one of the largest Internet companies in the world. I ended up talking my way into this company and took a job as a freelancer for a 3-week gig. Well, 3 weeks turned into over 8 years. Working at this company was exhilarating in terms of what I learned, the gargantuan amount of money I made, and the reputation I achieved. Let’s say I never went hungry again.
Sam—Terrific post. Too many times we assume that we deserve all of the good things that have happened to us, the things that have enabled many of us to live truly rich lives. And of course, we always want to believe that it was something special we did, something special and unique in us that enabled success. In my case, I grew up poor, but with educated parents who chose non-profit leadership out of a sense of mission. Their commitment to education certainly pushed this indifferent student through college. Along the way I was lucky to bump into people who gave me opportunities I had in no way earned, and then gave me second chances when I screwed up. I never want to lose the profound gratitude I have for those folks and their faith. Being born in this country (USA) in the second half of the 20th century is, of course, the biggest advantage of all…
thanks again—lovely post.
Growing up poor must be so powerful. Not only to provide motivation to become wealthier, but also to appreciate your wealth progression and take nothing for granted.
One of the reasons why I decided to give over 500 Uber rides was so that I could remind myself of what it takes for many people to hustle at or near minimum wage, every single day. The experience allowed me to appreciate more of what I have, work harder, and treat people with respect.
Here’s the thing about luck. It is really disguised as effort and passion. People who get “lucky breaks” tend to put themselves out there more. You can’t get lucky if you’re not putting yourself out there in a specific field or meeting specific kinds of people. I have had some “lucky breaks” in my given field mostly because I took some risks that others weren’t willing to take, and have focused on creating a daily routine and philosophy towards life while sticking to it. Opportunities only fell on my lap because of previous decisions and interactions that took place prior. Other than inheritances and the lottery, I believe “luck” is more of a sign of consistent effort and passion towards a goal.
Absolutely, luck is the result of hard work, taking the risk and Discipline.
Absolutely. Luck equals preparation met by opportunity. A positive infectious attitude and strong work ethic will win the day 99% of the time.
My favorite quote of all time—- Louis Pasteur— “chance favors a prepared mind”.
It’s funny you wrote this post since this has been on my mind the last few years.
I feel very blessed and am very grateful.
Totally agree Sam that this is a season to be thankful for all the blessings in our lives.
Being born in a stable jurisdiction makes us all so much luckier than rest of the world. Having witnessed sectarian violence growing up; with people getting killed right in front of you is something I could never forget.
Layer on the current technological and medical advances indicate that the average person today leads a better life than even Louis XIV.
Luck as well as opportunities recognized and taken. I am thankful for both the luck to have opportunities in my life and the training and awareness to take opportunities when they became available.
On February 15th 1942, while I was being christened in the UK, my father was escaping from Singapore on one of the last boats out before the surrender. A fortnight ago, in Kranji War Cemetery, I gave thanks to the sacrifice of all those servicemen who did not make it, and to my father who did. And became such a motivation in my life. And to my mother who was an inspiration in those dark days. They encouraged me to study STEM when few girls did, and later to become a science teacher.
I am thankful to my husband of 56 years for his continual support especially when I had a pulmonary embolism in 2017 and nearly died. And for my 3 wonderful children who were there for me. And their supportive spouses. And for my 2 gorgeous, kind, funny, articulate grandsons.
I am grateful for being able to come to the US and teach high school science in California well into my 70s (yes, I loved my job, it was no hardship. Much the reverse, helping youngsters become educated). And now, I have my dream job. For 2 or 3 days a week, I go and substitute in my home elementary school district. I do K through 8. I give thanks for the next generation and their outstanding teachers.
What more remains to be done? My big aim is to work for a better healthcare system. And, while there should be immigration reform, have a fair and equitable system for those who are prepared to work hard here for a better life. And help for all those elderly women who are struggling with poverty, ill health and housing especially after sacrificing so much for their families.
So much left to do, so little time.
Josephine, reading your comment is a gift and an inspiration. Thank you for what you have done and what you are doing!
Thank you so much for your kind words. I continue to be encouraged by people like you.
I have had so much luck/help from those who have loved me.
I am encouraged by the information that Sam imparts on his website, although I will probably pass on leaving money to my descendants as my parents and in-laws did, I still get great ideas.
I wonder if Sam has thought of giving a money management course to local high schoolers. I learned about the power/risk of compound interest from my parents. They also taught me about house ownership when one is settled and with children. But the students I taught did not have Depression era parents and seemed woefully lacking in money skills. And I have seen my female colleagues opt out of 401/403 schemes because they needed the money for their families, not realizing that retirement is soon on us.
“come to the US and teach high school science in California well into my 70”
That’s awesome! As a fellow high school teacher (tennis) for the past three years, I appreciate your sentiment!
So much left to do in so little time indeed. I think we say this more often as we age.
Lucky that my mentor buddy had me listen to malkiel and stay in the mkt through the 87 crisis
An excellent article on humility! Hopefully, this is not an instance in expression of the bipolar tendency in high achievers.
Financial Independence is the detachment from other people money – their money can no longer enslave you.
Financial Freedom is the freedom from money itself – money have very little or no role in the true meaning of your life.
Humility is a REQUIRED VIRTUE to break the Financial Freedom barrier that matches up with your internal ambition.
Besides position at birth, one of the luckiest things to happen to me was to get laid off for a few months in late ’11/early ’12 to have lots of time on my hands to really absorb the teachings of GRS/FS/GRS.
I had just been skating through life like an average person with a good job and a couple months’ savings, but the idea of FI really gave me direction. Seven years later I’m a millionaire. Right idea, right time… grateful for you, Sam!
Right on! I’m grateful for your leadership.
Luck is what happens when opportunity & preparation meet.
I agree, Matthew Brown. Opportunity you cannot control, Preparation you can. For me, a key component of being prepared to achieve my dreams has been PERSEVERANCE. Nowadays a word of choice is “resilience”. In other words, sticking to a vision, finding alternative paths, recovering from failure, not giving up. Luck does the rest.
I know people who have met with luck (such as having parents who support their education, being healthy, even being born in a wealthy family) and have not developed the skills to act upon the opportunities in front of them. Luck, in those cases, went to waste.
Yes, I am grateful for all the luck I have had in my life, but I am also aware of the drive and the perseverance that took me where I am today.
Thanks, Sam, for an inspiring post.
I love your blog and I’m a religious reader.
Your analysis is a humble take but had you sat on your mom’s couch playing video games your whole life, it’s unlikely you’d have experienced any of this “luck”. The vast majority of “luck” you’ve experienced seems to be you putting yourself in the position to capitalize on it. Your level of humility is admirable but your hard work, dedication, and mental fortitude is what got you “lucky”. I’m positive you’ve spent thousands of days of your life working double digit hours. I’m sure you’ve obsessed over work/finance. I’m sure you’ve sacrificed your social life, travel plans, relationships, physical health, and mental health. I’m sure you’ve made sacrifices that 99% of people don’t. That doesn’t sound like luck to me.
As far as your actual luck, you could argue that you’re lucky to have what I’d estimate is a very high IQ, and strong predisposition to character traits like high conscientious and high disagreeableness, traits highly correlated with success that have given you somewhat of a genetic foundation to your success. I’d guess you had one or two good parents as well. And of course, being legally authorized to live and work in the freest most prosperous civilization in the history of the world is likely your biggest blessing of all.
Your humble dismissiveness about your assumable obstinance towards doing whatever it took to improve your financial situation is a bit of a disservice to solving the epidemic of entitled young (and old) Americans plagued with victim mentalities – people who reject their individual autonomy and constantly look for external obstacles (many non-existent) to blame their failures on. I don’t think it does them any good by passing off your very deliberate steps toward financial success as luck, so they can simply excuse their failure to plan, their lack of dedication, and their lack of subsequent success as “bad luck”. You owned and earned your success and I think it’s important to emphasize that to others in order to encourage them to take the necessary action to improve their situation.
Thanks for all the great content!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I probably have a very average IQ based on my standardized test scores. But I think it’s because I’m aware I am average in intelligence that I need to put more effort to do better.
30% effort is still a lot we can do to improve our situation.
Here is my grateful story for what its worth.
Lucky to have strong parents.
Lucky to be able to move to San Francisco in the 70s and be an open gay man.
Lucky to survive the AIDS crisis while all my friends died.
Lucky to be a lateral hire at Goldman Sachs in the mid 80s, for 15 years.
Lucky to survive HEP C.
Lucky to still be here old and retired but interested in life.
I am gratefully to be so lucky.
Sounds like a life well-lived Steve. I’m glad you found a place of community in SF in the 1970s. I truly love San Francisco due to its inclusiveness and diversity. I would love to raise my kids here or Hawaii.
I think this post also shows that you are infused with one of the key traits for success that you didn’t mention. Gratitude. Many children of immigrants would use that as an excuse for not succeeding but in spite of the racism you have experienced you often express gratitude for the incredible toughness it instilled in you. And you view your Asian heritage as an asset which you back up with statistics. As a long time reader I can’t think of a single time when you haven’t turned what most people would see as adversity around and viewed it for what it gave to you!
Thank you Steve. I think when we face setbacks and survive, we just naturally develop a more positive attitude.
The folks who I’ve met who have this “I shouldn’t be here” mentality are often the most grateful.
I know I shouldn’t be here b/c I fooked things up really badly in high school. However, as a 42 year old now and HS teacher, I think I would be more forgiving of me. It’s a time to make mistakes and learn.
What a perfect post for Thanksgiving! Love hearing your stories and experiences and how things unfolded. I also believe luck is a part of success while also having the wisdom, knowledge and drive to take advantage of lucky opportunities and circumstances that present themselves. Two people could be put into the same lucky circumstances but have very different outcomes depending on their attitudes and actions.
I feel I was lucky to be born to parents who valued the importance of paying bills on time even though they were bad with money. They worked hard and never gave up even though they didn’t make much. Those circumstances taught me a lot of things and gave me a lot of motivation to become financially independent and stand on my own feet. I’m also thankful my grandmother had the means to keep my parents afloat during tough times so we never fell into poverty.
I’m also super thankful and lucky to have become financially independent after college and building my career and have a family of my own now. <3
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Not sure if it was a slip or not (if it was, please delete this comment), but you mentioned bringing up the “kiddos” (plural) to the vacation property. I know you’ve mentioned wanting multiple children in the past, but I hadn’t seen that a second was here or on the way. If so, that’s definitely something to be thankful for. Congrats!
Thanks! I’m always hopeful when it comes to kids :) They are the best. I wish I started 5 years younger. No matter, my plan is to now live 5 years longer than I should.
Sam- Well said. While I agree with you that it does take some “luck” along the way to garner success it also takes factors beyond luck to be included in the equation. Outside of being born to your parents- that is your luck but couldn’t have happened any other way, it’s biologically impossible. Your actions and reactions need to be considered and I would argue influence outcomes more so than luck. Give yourself some credit my man! Luck and/or circumstance may have placed you in the above situations and environments but YOU took the actions which led to the outcomes. I too had a similar scenario play out in my youth which could have really been detrimental to my path. I was a hyper child, always active and didn’t pay much attention to rules or authority. I wasn’t a really bad kid but I know my parents had concerns regarding how I would “end up.” After graduating college with a hospitality management degree and a mediocre output I searched like most to find my place. I landed in south Florida in an entry level outside sales job selling paper supplies for Quill. I lasted half a day. I then took a job with a company called Compass who ran commissary facilities for prisons. My role- to develop a training curriculum for inmates in work release on how to become cooks/chefs. Now picture me a 22 year old fresh out of college with 25 inmates in a halfway house providing 10′ chef knives spending 6-7 hours a day with no prior teaching or formal culinary experience. Crazy! But what I learned was that I could create trust and following- this would prove to be a useful skill in my life. After 3 hurricanes in 2 months I was done with south Florida and moved back to NJ- relieved to have left the environment I was in, although I was proud of those men- that wasn’t a long term place for me. I felt defeated but picked myself up and got to work looking for a job. I landed at a small software company where we created inventory control software and online ordering for colleges and universities who didn’t outsource to Aramark. It was here where I developed a strong technical aptitude and the ability to translate coders methodology into laymen’s terms and vice versa. Another skill which would suite me later in life. While there I really took to the sales side of the work we were doing. Unfortunately the CEO & COO were leading those efforts and as a 12 person business upward mobility wasn’t going to really be an option. I left and landed at a POS software company as a sales rep selling to restaurants and retailers. I made an impact and produced never before seen results. I knew the restaurant business having worked in the industry since 14 years old at places like McDonalds to Jersey Mikes all the way into fine dining in college to pay for living/life. After 5 years and the option to take the business over, I knew I wanted to expand beyond just the hospitality industry but was making six figures and being told I was crazy for thinking of leaving. Then something terrible happened. I was out late with friends and was arrested for driving drunk. My life was effectively over. Without a license I could not be effective in my current role and had terminated a sales rep for the same issue 8 months earlier. I had to act and fast. I began an extensive search in Philadelphia and NYC and quickly found my track record of production was a high commodity. I landed in NYC and 10 years later find myself married, earning north of $1M+ , owning rental real estate properties and have a multi-million net worth. You could say I might be the luckiest person in the world, those who know my story certainly do but I don’t think it has anything to do with luck. I truly believe in power determination and not being afraid of failure but embracing it. Life will throw so many things at you and people will create situations that may not be desirable but the actions taken and the will to overcome obstacles are greater than any force in the universe. It’s true, if you put your mind to something nothing can stop you. Not even “bad luck.”
What a journey! Thanks for sharing.
I do give myself credit: 30% credit!
If I started giving myself more credit, I’m sure I wouldn’t try as hard. That would set a bad example for my son. I also fear a big ego.
I have a lot of respect for you after reading this writting of yours. You are down to earth and tend not to sugar coat things.
I disagree with your rating of your intelligents. I believe that you are very smart and a lot smarter than most of your reader, followers, and yes even me. Maybe not book learning, but what we call common sense.
When I read newsletter I get upset and mad that the writers exaggerate investment potentials. They should not be believed or taken serious. Yet, I would separate you from that crowd and I will take your advise seriously.
Keep doing what you are doing and know that people like me respect you and support you holdheartly.
Thank you for your honesty,
Thank you for sharing. I am so proud of you! Lock is the result of determination, grit and hard work.
Thanks for continuing to post. I always look forward to reading new entries. As a fellow W&M alum, I love the shout outs to your undergraduate institution.
I’ve had a ton of good luck in my life too. Although, I’d trade every instance of it and every penny I have to help my son. He’s 10 y/o and battling bone cancer for the second time. Cherish your family’s health.
Have a great Thanksgiving and thank you for Financial Samurai!
Will, I am sending you and your son my love and energy.
Please send me an update when he is in remission!
Hey Sam, fantastic post. I’ve been reading your posts over the years and this one has particularly resonated with me as I’ve tackled with it throughout my adult life. I too feel extremely fortunate to have landed a desirable trading job at a bulge bracket despite a less than mediocre academic existence. Somehow I managed to be in the right place at the right time. Initially landing an internship by playing pickup basketball with the CEO of a smaller firm that got my foot in the door. What I’ve realized is there’s always an element of luck but that will only bring you so far. It’s up to you to put in the hard work after that to keep going. After landing that internship I made sure I was the first one in every morning and tried to be as useful as possible which landed me a job offer. I then kept my mouth shut and worked as hard as I could for years and that (of course mixed with another batch of luck) allowed me to hold on to my seat throughout the financial crisis and the turmoil afterward, which we all know wasn’t pretty. It was definitely lucky circumstances that allowed me to leave my job at the age of 34 as well but that, of course, included a lot of hard work saving up and being sensible. Particularly in the last couple years of the grind, I read your blog religiously and was inspired. So thank you for that. I’ve since left the industry and was inspired to start my own blog as well. Thanks again for the inspiration and all the hard work you’ve put in, along with your luck! :)
Sam…. you make a few good points, but Obama had a completely socialist attitude with that comment….
Here is my scenario to discuss about luck…
I grew up with Tennessee in the 1970s. I have 1 brother and 1 sister. My sister died 20 years ago to an alcohol problem. My brother is a liar, cheater and drug user. I decided to raise my personal standards and expectations unlike them and I now am a multi-millionaire who has a wonderful family of my own. I simply chose to have a great life and that is exactly what happen. My siblings went a different direction in life. I do not believe luck was a factor involved.
Perhaps it was seeing your siblings go down a difficult path that locally encouraged you to choose a better one?
We’re all around the same age, so that wasn’t really the reason. The real reason was meeting my wife and wanting to love and care for her and provide for my children. There was no luck in this situation. Of course I was lucky to have been born in the USA versus the rest of the world, but relatively speaking, compared to my siblings, I wasn’t any luckier than they were. I just made good decisions time after time and an awesome life is the result!
“The real reason was meeting my wife…”. That is the luck Sam was focusing on. You were lucky to meet a wonderful wife and soul mate. Current statistics on marriage and divorce will show you that you are among the lucky ones.
No. I went out and made it happen. I could’ve sat around and complained that all women do is divorce for the money and all that, but I didn’t. I chose to find someone special.
Going through your list reminded me of mine. A list that I keep to this day. I share my story with people when I can because it genuinely makes me happy and more appreciative of life when I tell it.
– Luck. Instead of going to Rutgers where more than 90% of all my close friends went, I went to a different school. I have no idea why I did it. In fact, I only felt remorse during freshman year when I couldn’t hang around with my buddies. However, doing it enabled me to become independent and also gave me the opportunity to not only broaden my social circle, but meet a professor who really believed in me. I also met a girl on campus that changed my life forever :)
– Luck. I did poorly in college but I somehow landed an internship at a firm that had no business in using someone like me. When my internship was over, the boss called me in and said he appreciated my “honesty” while I was there and said he would write me a letter or recommendation if I needed one. That blew me away because it was so unexpected. I didn’t even remember being deliberately honest (in fact, a lot of times I thought I was being an a-hole). But as luck would have it, he understood people like me who were more analytical / less emotional. He saw a trait and saw it as my strength which really boosted my confidence at work.
– Luck. To graduate, I needed to pass this class that I absolutely hated. I failed the first two exams by a score where even if I aced the third, it wouldn’t have given me a passing grade. The professor however gave me a D-. Just enough for me to get my 3 credits to get my college diploma. Just enough for me to have the ability to apply for jobs one year before the financial meltdown happened. I still don’t know why she didn’t fail me because I deserved a F in that class. Who knows how my career would have turned out if I had to enroll in a summer class and missed the opportunity to land my first job…
– Luck. One year into my job, the financial crisis came and it blew everyone out the water. It became common to see someone in the morning, only to see them gone by lunch. I was afraid to answer when the phone rang because I thought it would be coming from HR, but somehow I ended up surviving the bloodbath. Out of my team of 10 or so, 4 remained. I was one of the lucky ones that still had a job.
I could go on and on about personal things (not related to my career), but yeah…I’m definitely thankful.
Btw, have you seen the movie ‘Match Point’? It’s a very interesting movie that focuses on the importance of luck.
Your poor grade reminded me of my poor grade in Japanese 101 class. I thought I would be able to breeze on by, but instead, I got my first D ever!
I never watch the movie. I’ll check it out. Thanks
I agree that the majority of whatever success I’ve achieved can be attributed to luck. Being born when I did, in America, in NYC, to good parents who set me up for success outweigh it all.
Another 20% guts. I’ve had to make a few pivotal decisions that required me to go against my conservative nature, which worked out tremendously.
20% hard work/perseverance. Self-explanatory.
“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
My take? We are presented with opportunities or events constantly that could be classified as lucky; however, it is the work we put in prior to or after that either allows us or inhibits us from taking advantage of the opportunity.
In the span of a 3-minute phone call in 2007 a relative mentioned a potential job at the company she worked at–the opportunity.
The opportunity existed because I was back in California since I had just voluntarily pulled myself out of a PhD program 3 weeks prior; I was qualified for the opportunity due to the years I spent as a teen on the computer learning Graphic and Web Design software suites; and I have spent the last 12 years working crazy hours and putting in everything I can.
Literally years of preparation, hard work and numerous decisions along the way allowed me to take advantage of the lucky opportunity. The lucky part? A mere 30 seconds. The work part? 20-years plus and a couple life-altering decisions.
Totally hear what you’re saying FS and it’s understandable, but with that being said, I look around and see my siblings who all grew up in the exact same household with the same parents as me, and because I decided to take action to learn about wealth, I am now a top 1%er and they are not. So I see what you mean and I have definitely caught some lucky breaks, but I decided to learn about money and that was the key differentiator for myself. My hometown friends all could have taken similiar actions, but they never did, and that is completely okay.
Steve, I also look at my siblings when this comes up. I know I have been fortunate in many ways, so let me get that out of the way; but I have always worked harder and gained the trust of those around me. I am one of 7 kids (near the bottom), and by far the wealthiest. We had well-educated parents who worked as a staff lawyer and a substitute teacher—so good educational role models, but never big earners, and the “rich culture” of 7 kids meant never having any extra money. So they literally never saved for our college, but that was ok because we all went to great in-state college. Six of the 7 went to the same one, I included. One died at age 45 of alcoholism, having never used his great head for numbers for anything other than enchanting strangers in bars with sports knowledge (he was great fun to be around). Otherwise, we all made our way coming from the same house, the same high school, and the same college. Why did I excel at school and work?
It’s true I had high test scores, but I also always did the work to do well in school. I didn’t really take many vacations, even when my family did, through college and law school, to study. (We never took “spring break” vacations as a kid, so I just thought only rich kids did that, and never really considered it, or missed it.) I won scholarships and a free government-sponsored) month foreign study trip that kept me trying new things and student loans basically covered my school. I rose to head of a second-tier law journal in law school, but learned lots of management skills there. I took a job at a newly-formed law firm and worked longer than all 9 of my classmates, getting larger raises along the way. Then I moved to a big firm with a further spinoff, where I spent hundreds of hours free on the side helping to mentor (and do free work for) a young client who then moved and gave me new assignments directly. (That first firm I left went into a tailspin, and the few who stayed there just never prospered.) I’m not handsome or tall or especially charming, just to be clear, but I work hard and people sense that I’m honest and analytical. I only found a wife late, at 39, after that trajectory was in place, so I’m afraid I cannot credit her with spurring that.
I was motivated by growing up around prosperous people, and knowing that my family never had financial stability. I got the sense of financial stress as I got old enough (high school and college), and I wanted to have the stability of economic success. I always had in the back of my head (working out, going to sleep, walking to work) where I was financially, where I would be at year-end, 5 years out, 10 years out, 65. I guess most of my 20s and 30s were a grind, but I had plenty of fun on the side. By 40, I had big new assignments of my own, and at 44 I joined a new firm where I would be paid a full owner’s entrepreneurial profit share on the revenue I brought in. So from age 44 to 54, I generated great projects, from people I had cultivated over 20 years, and made great money ($450k-$1.1M) for about 8 years. (The big firm I left overreached On expansion and has since gone bankrupt. Good timing, but their decisions forced me to calculate analytically that I needed to move to an independent firm. Not really luck.). So was there luck in leapfrogging from lilypad to lilypad? I mean, only I made just those moves, and of the ten who started with me out of law school, I’m the only one who thrived financially. It doesn’t make me a better person, but I just don’t think my professional success is due to any more than hard work, risk of moving to new jobs at the right moment, and projecting an earnest, analytical honesty to clients.
So work hard,be honest and be yourself (for me that means analytical nerd with a faked confidence that eventually wasn’t fake any more…) when selling, take risks, and luck will find you.
I’d say it’s 50/50 nature vs nurture, good luck/chance vs one’s life decisions. Speaking of the College of William and Mary, my wife and kids literally just drove by it yesterday as we are vacationing in Williamsburg VA for the week. Beautiful area and scenery!
Happy Thanksgiving to your family and you, and keep visualizing the positive luck and vibes!
I think “Luck” might have a lot to do with it but I also think you did a lot of preparation and planning. That is the thing that I feel you are doing. It takes time and work then being there at the right time. You looked for opportunities first and kept your eyes open for those situations. Many people fail to realize that.
Congratulations Sam on your success. A lot of people have opportunities land before them but don’t take advantage so it is more than just lucky breaks that account for your success.
I definitely think #15 (your wife) is the best example of the bunch. Choose the wrong person (like I did) and your life takes a turn for the worst no matter how much money you make.
I was lucky to be born as a son of a physician, inheriting intelligence and living in a great lifestyle growing up. That was the main reason I chose to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor myself.
Amazing success with financial samurai. Achieving over a million page views a month is absolutely mind boggling (especially when I know how hard it is to get eyeballs on a website since I blog as well). Without marketing or major SEO protocols it just goes to show you that good information will eventually gain traction. I doubt my site will even hit 1% of those numbers (which would still be a huge success for me) but so far I enjoy writing and interacting with readers so I will continue trudging forward.
Just as I was graduating from college, there was an executive survey that was published, asking them the most important factors in their success. I don’t recall the exact number, but luck rated highest, overwhelmingly. In some commentary on the survey, it came to light that the participants’ citing luck didn’t mean they thought they were undeserving; rather, it was that they knew many other people who could have had their success but didn’t. It really struck a cord with me that this group of driven people would be so self-aware as to acknowledge that.
Fortune favors the prepared. Having a lucky break is one thing, but you still have to have the skill, courage, and energy to take advantage of it. As you cited in many of your examples Same, that small edge makes a lot of difference.