This is a follow up to last week’s – You Don’t Have to Be the Best to Win Big in Life. In that post, I suggested that anyone can be successful by following a few guiding principles. One of these principles is to be lucky. Hmmm… You might be skeptical, but being lucky will really help you out in life. But, isn’t luck just random chance? How can you be lucky in life? I’m sure you know people who have a charmed life. Whatever they do seems to turn out right. On the other hand, there are unlucky people who keep running into random obstacles and constantly screw up their lives. Well, being lucky isn’t just random chance. Those lucky people are doing something right and today, we’ll see if we can do the same. Please take my poll at the end of this post!
I’m one lucky guy
I don’t want to brag, but I’m one of those lucky people. It’s been 5 years since I retired early from my engineering career and I love my life. My early retirement lifestyle is almost ideal. Our net worth doubled since I retired early. I’m a good husband to my lovely wife and a good dad to our crazy kid. We live in a great neighborhood with good schools, quiet streets, and have an awesome view of the Willamette River and Mt. Hood. It’s almost unbelievable to think about the string of lucky incidents that led me here.
I had a pretty humble beginning, though. I was born in Bangkok and grew up in Chiang Mai, a city in the northern part of Thailand. My first huge lucky break was that my parents were college graduates. That’s pretty amazing considering how few universities were in Thailand 50 years ago. My dad was one of the few kids from Chiang Mai to attend a university in Bangkok. My mom was one of the few women who got a Master’s degree in those days. They weren’t elite members of society either. My dad was penniless and he hustled his way through college. My mom’s family was better off, but she studied hard and was a good student. Having college educated parents meant I had more opportunities than the average Thai child. That’s a huge advantage in a poor country like Thailand of 43 years ago.
Strings of lucky breaks
I’ll summarize my lucky breaks in life and go through a few of them in detail a bit later.
- My parent immigrated to the United States, a country with a lot more opportunities than Thailand.
- This concept is getting more foreign today. I graduated from college with a Masters degree with no debt. That MS was earned in one year instead of the usual two.
- I got a well paying job right out of college and had steady income for 16 years.
- I married Mrs. RB40. She is frugal, smarter, more ambitious, more organized, calmer, and looks way better than I do. We make a great team, but I won the jackpot with this one.
- I retired early and I’m living a fantastic life as a blogger/SAHD.
- We had a kid at the perfect time. If our kid had been born earlier, I would have been stuck in a routine that couldn’t change until he graduated from high school. He was born just at the right time for me to transition out of my full time job.
- I’m relatively healthy for a 43 year old American guy. I have a minor genetic disorder, a mild form of mitochondrial disease. My triglycerides are also a bit high, but it’s under control with medication. I think I’m pretty healthy compared to many Americans my age. I did 19 pull ups earlier this year and that was my best yet.
- Our 6 day trip to Hawaii cost just $600 and we had a great time. Our flights and hotel were almost free and we got upgraded to a penthouse room for no extra charge. We ate many delicious meals that didn’t cost too much at all. It was a fantastic trip for very little money.
Are all these lucky breaks random chances? Some of them may feel like random chances, but many of them are the result of small choices made over many years.
Luck isn’t random chance
Tell me if this is random. RB40Jr used to find coins almost every time we went outside. He refused to ride in a stroller when he was 18 months old and he walked everywhere with me and Mrs. RB40. On most of these walks, he’d find coins on the ground, in the parking meter machines, MAX ticket machines, and in various fountains around town. It was a game for him and he loved finding coins. Was it lucky that he found money everywhere he went? He must have found more than $60 over the years.
Unfortunately, he rarely finds coins now that he’s 6 years old. Maybe it’s because he’s further away from the ground, his attention is elsewhere, and he is less lucky. No, finding those coins weren’t really luck. He found those coins because he was looking for them. Now he is preoccupied with other stuff and he’s focused on reaching his destination. He doesn’t look around for the coins as much and he rarely find them anymore. Being lucky is really keeping your eyes open for opportunities.
Some of my lucky breaks were purely random. Being born to college educated parents in a country full of uneducated farmers was pure lucky chance. You couldn’t do much to influence your luck when you’re a kid. Okay, that’s not quite true. My dad became an orphan when he was 5 years old and went to live with his uncle. At the time, the education requirement in Thailand was for kids to finish 4th grade. When my dad finished 4th grade, his uncle wanted him to quit school and work at his business. The uncle told him he wouldn’t get lunch if he insisted on going to school. It’s simple – no work, no lunch money. My dad loved going to school so he decided to continue even without lunch. He doesn’t talk about his youth much so I don’t know all the details, but somehow he graduated with very good grades and got into a university in Bangkok. That’s pretty crazy, right? See, you can influence your luck even when you’re young.
Anyway, our family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 12 years old. That was another big lucky break for me. There are so many more opportunities here for people who work hard. However, there was some behind the scene machinations there too. My dad came to the US first to see how he’d do here. He was thinking about going back to Thailand until his kids (me and my brothers) wrote him a letter asking him to bring us all to the US. If we hadn’t offered our full support and encouragement, I’d have grow up in Thailand and you’d probably wouldn’t ever hear of me.
Lucky with money
I’ve been very lucky with money too. I got a well paying job right out of college and had stable income for 16 years. There is no doubt luck was an element, but there has got to be more to it than that. I got an MS in electrical and computer engineering in 1996. That’s right before the dot com boom. It was the perfect time to be in computer engineering. My alma mater had a 5 year BS/MS program and I was lucky enough to get into the program. The MS gave me a little edge and helped me get early promotions. I was in the right field at the right time.
I saved and invested diligently for 16 years and left my engineering career behind in 2012. Against all expectations, our net worth kept increasing and it has doubled since I retired from the rat race. I’m very lucky that Mrs. RB40 continues to work and Retire by 40 is making some income so we can continue to save and look for new investing opportunities.
Again, it wasn’t all luck. I was reading a lot of personal finance blogs in 2010 and the site name, Retire by 40, popped into my head one day. I didn’t hesitate and started blogging right away. 2010 was a good time to start blogging because there were only a few early retirement sites on the internet. I got in relatively early and had a head start. I think it is a lot harder to stand out now because there are so many excellent personal finance blogs. Was it luck that I started blogging in 2010 or did my gut recognize an opportunity and seized it?
Lucky with love
Oh, this one is really tricky. I married way above myself. Mrs. RB40 is smart, frugal, ambitious, beautiful, and she is the perfect partner for me. We love each other very much and we have a great son. That’s a lot of luck because half of all marriages end in divorce. The odds are even longer considering we met each other in college and she went off to Peace Corps for 3 years after she graduated. Everyone we knew didn’t think it was going to work out. People grow and change a ton at that age and 3 years is a very long time when you’re 22.
But finding the love of my life wasn’t complete random chance either. Let me tell you how we met. I was a junior in college and I started a Thai student club. I wanted to meet some students from similar backgrounds and the college had a little money in the budget for that kind of thing. Hey, why not get a few dollars back from all that tuition I was paying? Our inaugural meeting was at Girvetz Hall and the power went out before anyone showed up. I figured that no one would be there, so I didn’t show up either, but Mrs. RB40 got a hold of my phone number somehow and called me back to hold the meeting. Oh boy, was she mad that I wasn’t there. Anyway, she took over as president the next year and made it a much better club than I ever could. We started dating each other soon after.
The Peace Corps years were tough. I don’t even want to talk about it. We both wanted to explore our options. It was a miracle we got back together and made it work. Our relationship hasn’t always been smooth, but we understand and support each other completely now. We’re both very lucky to have each other.
How to be lucky in life
Sorry, this one got a little personal and a little long, but I hope you enjoy it. My point is that being lucky isn’t just random chance. A lot of it depends on your actions too. Here are some ways to become luckier in life.
- Keep an eyes open for chance opportunities. Lucky people excel in creating, recognizing, and taking advantage of chance opportunities. The world is full of opportunities. Lucky people seize them and unlucky people let opportunities pass on by.
- Hard work = more opportunities. Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck. I’ve found that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” I agree 100%. Hard work creates more opportunities. My dad could have given up on school, become a laborer, and have hot lunches every day, but he persisted. That’s a hard choice for a kid to make. Hard work might not pay off right away, but it builds up like karma.
- Don’t get stuck in a routine. This is an interesting one I found in my research for this article. If you get stuck in a routine, you’ll exhaust the possible opportunities because you’re doing the same thing every day. Try something new and you might find new possibilities. Maybe this is why I’m planning to join Toastmasters this year. It will be a huge break from my normal routine and who knows, there might be some opportunities there.
- Learn new things every day. I love reading and learning new things. Getting exposed to new ideas will help you dream up more opportunities. If I hadn’t been reading personal finance blogs in 2008 and 2009, I wouldn’t have started blogging in 2010. Learning new things is a great way to keep life interesting.
- Trust your instincts. This is another tip that I found in my research. Your intuition excels at pattern recognition and it is designed to help you. My gut told me I need to quit engineering and get out of the rat race. Logically, it didn’t make sense. I was making good money and I could have gotten another job elsewhere. It was right and I am much happier today than when I was an engineer. Your gut is right 95% of the time and everyone should pay attention to it. I don’t want to trivialize the Las Vegas shooting, but there is an example there too. One guy’s gut said he heard gunfire, but his brain said it was fireworks. I’d trust my gut and run as fast as I can. Sometime you don’t want to over analyze it. Your gut works best when you need to make a snap decision.
- Believe you’re lucky. Being lucky is a self fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you’re lucky, you will be lucky. It works, trust me.
- Don’t sweat the bad stuff. Of course, I’m not lucky all the time. I’ve had plenty of bad luck too, like the time I was on my way to visit not-yet-Mrs. RB40 and totaled my car. She had to come and pick me up. However, I usually forget about the bad luck very quickly. You have got to look at the upside in life. I walked away with no injury from that car crash and it could have been a lot worse. Thank your lucky stars even if you had an unlucky incident because it could always be worse.
Choose to be lucky
Before we end today, I encourage you to choose to be lucky. Here is an example. Warren Buffett believes he is very lucky because he was born a Caucasian male in the United States. White nationalists believe they are being discriminated against and they are mad that they didn’t get the job they applied for. Who do you think is luckier in life? Yes, Warren Buffett had some advantages, but the country hasn’t changed that much. The alt-right people are picking the wrong narrative and success won’t be easy for them.
Okay, what about you? Are you lucky in life?
Don’t believe that being lucky is just random chance. A lot of it is influenced by you. If you’re unlucky, you can turn it around. Just do more research on the subject because there is a ton of stuff on the internet. There is even a class that will teach you to be lucky. (Maybe I should make a course about this. Do I hear opportunity calling?)
Alright, let me know what you think. Are you lucky in life? Most of you are probably just as lucky or luckier than I am.
PS. On Wednesday, I went to the city hall to buy some guest parking permits and they gave me an unexpected one month free parking sticker. Score! That’s not all, I also got $100 public transit fast pass and a year of bike sharing. All for free, woohoo! My luck came through once again. 😉
Richard Wiseman did a research on lucky people. This is a short paper to read and it’s pretty interesting. The Luck Factor.
Image credit: VIKTOR HANACEK