An acquaintance baked a cake, and implored us to take extra slices. So I did, to be nice. And she thanks me by commenting that I was really lucky that I didn’t have to struggle with my weight. Bear in mind, that I’ve known this woman for a year. She has no reason to know if I’ve struggled with my weight. She really pressed me to admit my luck. (Which I didn’t do. I just moved away).
But it bothered me. I’ve noticed other people making similar assumptions. People keep telling me I’m so lucky for things that I work really hard at (but they don’t tell me I’m lucky for things that are equally difficult or are just plain luck).
Life Isn’t Totally Fair or Totally Unfair
When I was younger, I believed that life could be completely arbitrary. Some people could eat very little and still be overweight and others could eat a lot and stay thin. Over time though, I noticed that time and habits very often caught up with them. Yes, life was still unfair that one person could put more effort into looking the same way as someone else, but, to paraphrase Ted Mosby of How I Met Your Mother, if you really want something, and are honest with yourself, the universe will give it to you. (This is obviously for more mundane things like getting married, not pie-in-the-sky requests like winning the lottery.
Luck could determine where you started and whether you had to put in more or less work than the average person. But my friends who had a few frappucinos a day would gain weight and those that were meticulous on their diet eventually lost weight. It evened out in the end.
What’s Wrong With Believing in Fate?
In a way, it makes me feel ….lucky.. that so many people think that my life is filled with luck. They tend to be wrong on what exactly I do that requires luck. There’s a certain bias that artistic/lingual endeavors are more luck/talent based than hard work. No one’s ever told me that working as a lawyer is lucky, even though there was a lot of luck involved in that. No, people think luck is required for artistic endeavors because there’s a little less respect for them.
The other part that annoys me is that this perspective keeps more people from trying artistic/lingual endeavors or getting in better shape. To be honest, I didn’t necessarily know this either. For some time, I didn’t realize that people actually worked for their muscles. Now that I lift weights, I understand how much work it takes to get muscle definition. (People also have told me I’m lucky to have toned arms). I’m happy that I’ve discovered the secret – and the secret is daily work.
It’s Not Talent….It’s Patience
A number of people have told me that I’m lucky to be able to play the piano. They didn’t have the talent, they say. When they tell me how long they played, usually haphazard effort for a few weeks or months, I think, well that’s not enough time to see if you’re talented.
Some people physically cannot play the piano. People without hands, for instance. (But you don’t need both hands to play). The vast majority of people, don’t quit for lack of ability but they quit before they learn. In my piano studio, some students were regarded as less talented. Non-musicians would never know though. Until you become competent, it’s impossible to know if you have any talent. It’s like judging whether someone’s a good basketball player when all they’ve learned is dribbling. You don’t even begin to measure talent until someone knows how to play the game. I know someone will say, yeah, but talent matters at the tippy top levels. Sure, it does. But we’re not talking about becoming professional classical pianists. That’s like saying, one shouldn’t learn to play basketball if one isn’t tall enough to make it to the NBA. (Tell that to Muggsy Bogues). Every single person is an amateur at something. And that’s amazing and wonderful. We should all develop skills and learn new things that set our hearts on fire.
Many non-musicians seem to think that everyone who plays the piano just sits at a piano one day and perfect piano comes out. Yes, there are piano prodigies but prodigies practice eight hours a day. (Lang Lang stated he practiced six hours a day as a 5-year old). That means many prodigies who are “lucky” to be talented put more effort at the piano in one week than most people who have “no talent” put in their whole life.
There are so many free resources to teach you how to play and to even mimic a piano – it’s never been easier or cheaper to learn an instrument. The main difference between learning and not is dedicating time and effort.
It’s Not Luck….It’s Work
People tell me I’m lucky to speak other languages. It’s true I grew up in a bilingual household, but my parents’ language is a struggle for me to speak because it’s so easy for me to speak English with them. A few weekends ago, I spent 48 hours with non-English speaking relatives, and it was a full immersion program.
Every language I’ve learned, including my parents’ native language, has taken continued concerted effort. I’ve taken courses, read books, memorized vocabulary and grammar, watched TV shows, listened to music, read news articles, and worked regularly with tutors.
I converse with people whenever I’m in a different country or in a restaurant with target language staff. I put myself out there over and over again, stumbling, failing, making tons of mistakes, and correcting them. Most people aren’t willing to do that.
It’s Not Genetics . . . . It’s Restraint
When people see me eat, they often remark at how lucky I am to be able to eat and stay thin. As I’ve written before, I follow a controversial one meal a day (“OMAD“) diet. Most Americans eat to surplus for 21 meals a week. Some of the meals might have some healthy elements but when you’re eating that many calories, it’s hard to lose weight even if you exercise a lot.
When people see me eating a really big meal, they think I have the same diet as them, but somehow maintain my figure. But I eat so much less than most people, that when I eat, I don’t count calories. Whatever I eat or however much I eat, I’m still hundreds of calories behind each day.
Asians do tend to age well. But recently I saw some Asian friends from school and …they have not aged that well. That’s when it dawned on me that Asians can delay their aging, but genetics don’t trump everything. Most Asians I know sleep well, eat at home, exercise, and don’t drink or smoke. While they probably age better than many others who live similar lifestyles, they look incredible next to people who drink often, party hard, and don’t sleep.
When people see me drinking or feasting, people think this is my norm. But what you look like, what your body looks like, is mostly determined by what you do every day, not what you do once in awhile. Don’t be fooled; some people are lucky but, by the time you’re 40, your choices definitely show.
It’s Not the Lottery, It’s Margin
I heard my pastor give a sermon about living life with margin. He implored us to rest instead of working to burn out. Instead of spending to our outer limits, he said it was good to have some savings. Instead of pushing everything to the last minute, try budgeting extra time. It seems really obvious, but it’s not that easy to implement in practice.
People often see the highlight reel, they see the big trips, the big decisions, and think that everyone is overextended. MANY people in America ARE overextended. But that doesn’t mean you have to be too. I hate living overextended. I would rather live with some margin. That means I don’t stress if something financial comes up out of the ordinary. For instance, I’ve had extensive car repairs in the past few months (I drive a 25-year car after all). It means some nights I eat more because I’ve been living on a calorie deficit.
Living with margin means you can plan for the future and better weather the present.
Being Bad At Something is Ok Too
I know this post sounds a bit braggy but I really am a huge proponent of sticking it out even at things one isn’t good at. For instance, I “learned to swim” in my 30s. And by “learned to swim” I really mean, I can swim a few strokes in a controlled environment. I would most certainly drown in a stressful situation. And I swim weekly. Or I practice. Whatever you want to call it. It’s a little bit better than flailing, but I can’t make it to the end of the pool without stopping. Am I talented? This is a ridiculous question – I’m an adult woman swimming at an elementary level.
And yet I swim because I love it. Sometimes I run because I feel like my body needs it, even though I’m very slow and complain a lot. There’s that saying that, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. That may be true. But sometimes things are worth doing poorly because you enjoy it, you’re improving, and you don’t care what other people think. (To be honest though, I’m just waiting for someone to comment on my swimming. Fortunately, no one has yet.)
What This Means For You
Personally, I would love for people to learn a second language, play an instrument, and be a healthy weight. I would also love for people to realize what it takes to achieve these things. It might lead to better understanding of what many immigrants go through to learn English. It might also help give a little more seriousness to artistic or athletic careers. After all, no one ever says, I wish I could have learned chemistry but I never had the talent. It’s understood that academia requires practice and grit. Most things do.
The truth is that any of these goals, which many people purport to have, are attainable. The internet is filled with little tricks that people use – so it’s definitely true that people believe that some people might just have secret tricks and tips. And even if you learn no tricks, sometimes it’s worth trying and failing at things. It’s better than closing off whole pathways before you even try, or closing whole pathways because you aren’t good at the beginning. Maybe you get better, maybe you never do. It can still be worthwhile.
I think your life becomes so much richer once you figure out how small a role talent and luck plays in people’s lives. For sure, ability and luck has something to do with where you start and where you end up. But where other people start and where other people end up has no impact on where YOU end up. There’s no reason you can’t speak passably in your nonnative language, why you can’t play a few tunes on an instrument, why you can’t lose a few pounds, save a few bucks, or take a few steps toward whatever dream you want to achieve.
My next goals are learning Italian and Portuguese, playing the guitar and violin and jazz piano. I’m starting from scratch, but I know it requires a lot of work and discipline. And I’m all for it.