Success Is a Lottery – Acknowledging That Fact Will Make the World a Much Kinder and Fairer Place

I’ve just been reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers, if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it, it truly is a fascinating read. But anyway, the point that it makes is that success and failure is all about luck, yes most of the time hard work is needed to go with that luck, after all, you have to take the opportunities that come your way. But luck is very much the defining factor, a person who is given an opportunity at the right time has an edge over everyone else.

That means success is about getting luck and though through hard work you can present yourself with opportunities, if you don’t get luck or worse than that you get hit with bad luck, there is nothing you can do and that is because you have done everything you can do it is just things have not gone your way. I didn’t use to be a believer of this, I used to believe that through talent and hard work no matter what you would endure. But on reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, I no longer believe this because the evidence he presents is simply resounding. Luck truly is the defining factor of success, getting good luck and more importantly avoiding bad luck.

Considering this I wanted to look back through my own life, here’s the reason why, I’m in my 30s and am currently living with my parents. What is your first assumption for what this says about me? Have your opinion? Well let me add this to the equation, I have two degrees, and am an unbelievably hard worker, frequently working seven days a week non-stop, I am dedicated and unrelenting when I have a goal, and yet, I’m in my 30s and I’m living at home with my parents. Focus on that point and that point alone, what does that make you think about me? That assumption is what I used to think about myself but on reading this book it no longer is.

I’m going to show you using my life as an example of how simple strokes of bad luck can massively affect your chances of success. So here we go, let’s start at the beginning. I left school with no education, I’d been bullied and had to drop out. But despite this, I worked very hard and got a job at the Inland Revenue and worked for a year while studying at a local college, and as a result got into university.

I studied finance and investment management – I had always loved the stock markets so it just seemed a good fit. While studying for this degree rather than moving into the halls, I elected to stay at home, my reason for doing this was so that I could use my student loan to start investing in the stock market.

I started writing a blog at the same time documenting my forays into the stock market, talking about the companies that interested me et cetera et cetera. As part of this, I became a contributor on a top investment website, Stockopedia. My writing skills were poor, I had left school with no education so that was unsurprising. Despite this, the combined viewership of my blog along with my articles on Stockopedia over a three-year period was over half a million. The reason for this was obvious, during this period I turned seven thousand pounds of my student loan into fifty thousand pounds, and this was despite the fact that one of the years included 2008 – the year of the biggest financial crisis of the last hundred years. So basically I was very good at picking good companies to invest in.

Anyhow, on the coattails of these successes in 2009 I left university with a first degree, and to top it off I had interviews lined up down London for jobs at top investment companies. One of them had a starting wage of sixty thousand pounds a year.

So here I am at the age of twenty-three, I have fifty thousand pounds in the bank, I’m a writer with over half a million views to my name (and this is before the Internet was even really big, let alone private investing being mainstream), I have interviews lined up down in London for great jobs. To go with this, I am looking for places in London and preparing to move out so that I can begin my career down in London, rather than renting I’m thinking of actually buying because I have enough money should I get one of these jobs to be able to get a mortgage down in London. Add all this together and it would be a fair bet to say that I was in a great position for a twenty-three-year-old school dropout.

Also, it would be a fair bet to say that this sounds like it is going to be one of those classic success stories doesn’t? I wish to now bring you to the present day again because I want to give you more information, I am now in my 30s, and have never moved out of the family home, nor have I ever for over the last decade worked any job other than a freelance job. This means I’ve never been employed properly firstly by an outside employer since before I left uni. What does that make you think about me? That’s what I used to think. But I was wrong to think it.

I don’t want to get to the why just yet, firstly, the question is what went wrong? How does a guy in such a great position at the age of twenty-three, who had overcome so much, find themselves in my position in their 30s? And this is the point of why I’m writing this post because what went wrong is a tale of sheer bad luck. Frequently I look at the last decade and just wonder to myself what the hell happened, how could someone in my position at twenty-three could find themselves in my position in the mid-30s. But the answer is bad luck. There is nothing I could have done to change the outcome. I used to think otherwise but I have finally accepted that truly there is nothing I could have done.

To explain in my final year at uni when everything was going brilliant, something which at the time seemed the most innocuous of things, ended up having a truly devastating and long-lasting effect. I used to do martial arts, and one session the main instructor could not attend, and so he left in charge his second – a person who had not yet led a single class alone, so this was his first solo lead class, something which would prove to be an important factor in what went wrong in my life.

I will call the guy Jeb. Jeb, wanting to do things a little bit differently, decided that as a way of warming up we would jog across the hall. We never do this, and the main instructor is not a fan of it. But he wanted to give it a go because he thought it was a good way of warming up. And it’s not a big deal, jogging across the hall.

Except a chain of events made it a big deal for me. We start jogging back and forth across the hall, all is good, but then on the final leg Jeb says: “Whoever reaches the other side first doesn’t have to do squats.” Every one of us then starts running as fast as we can, I’m ahead but just as I’m nearing the end of the hall a person who was watching from the side lines shouts: “Keep going, David, you’re gonna win!” I turned my head for a split second, but in doing so I misjudge how close I am to the end, because of this there is no chance I can stop in time and so in a desperate attempt to limit the impact I jump, and, putting my hands before me, hit into the wall. My hands literally take the full impact and I bounce back.

At this point the damage is not likely severe, but I do not know there is any damage at all and so I continue the martial arts session which involves wrist locks. A person is trying a wrist lock on my right wrist, but it isn’t working, the instructor comes over, but he also can’t work out why it isn’t working – his inexperience is now showing. But then he does work it out and tells the person doing the wrist lock to try this. It works but he is using his full strength. He quickly leaves go but the damage is done. My life is now changed forever. Without the wall impact it is likely that the wrist lock wouldn’t have done any severe damage, but added to it, it did. But I still don’t know it.

The next morning I wake up with swellings in my right wrist, ganglions they are called. I go to the doctor, who sends me to the specialist, and it is discovered that I had a complete tear of the scapholunate ligament – a millimetre in size ligament but an unbelievably important ligament for the function and stability of your hand and wrist.

Fortunately my left wrist, though it is hurt, there is no ligament damage. But regardless I have a big problem because without full use of my hands I am extremely limited in what I can do. Because of that everything I worked for is now in jeopardy, including my degree which I have not yet finished. Because of this I pretty much end the blog, and stop with the stock markets, and instead do everything I can to try to finish my dissertation – and let me tell you trying to use a keyboard and mouse when you have problems with your hands and wrists is not a fun experience.

But despite this somehow manage to not only complete my degree but get a first. But then to rub salt into the wound, I can’t attend the interviews because the full extent of my injuries are now starting to become clear – I now have surgery to remove the ganglions scheduled, and my rehab schedule is simply too far out to make it even worthwhile attending the interviews (can’t start a job when you can’t properly use your hands, at least not the jobs I was going for).

To cut a very long story short it took me three years to rehab my wrists, by that point I was already doing another degree, I’d also virtually lost all the money I had because you know when you can’t work you can’t exactly make money. I then had two years where I was relatively injury-free, and I used those two years to both complete my degree and get myself back into a decent position.

At the end of those two years, I was 28 and was preparing to get my career back on track, I worked for about six months and built up enough money so that I could go to London.

Except guess what. Just as I was getting ready to go, my right wrist flared up again. And guess what, because that one flared up my left wrist got strained and so now I’m in a position where to rehab my wrists I have to stop pretty much everything and focus on rehab. It took me about eight months to get better, by which time the majority of the money I’d saved up was spent, and so I had to start again. So now I’m months away from turning thirty and yet having to start again from scratch financially so that I can build up enough money to move down to London and try to start my career.

Not want to quit, I just got on with it. I’d been working as a freelance photographer for the last few years and a friend of mine suggested that we open a studio. It seemed a good idea, I could build up some money through the studio and then finally get things back on track and move down to London and get my career started.

But then something happened, my friend was in a relationship at the time, and his girlfriend got the opportunity to do a Ph.D. at a university in another city and basically gave him an ultimatum, either you come with me or we break up. He went with her and so now I was having to run a studio which was built for two people by myself.

But then guess what, my right wrist flares up again. Because that flares up my left wrist gets strained, now I’m trying to manage a studio by myself with limited use of both of my hands. Inevitably it does not end well and I end up with -£25 in the bank and my wrists the worst they’ve been in years.

Now I’m really feeling in a desperate position, I’m now in my early 30s, more than flat broke, still living at home with my parents, and yet again I’m stuck with a long period of rehab ahead of me. But again, I’m not a quitter so I just take it on the chin and get to it, and I take up something called matched betting, which is a form of arbitrage gambling. I won’t go into detail but it sounds much riskier than it is. Anyhow, I realised that doing this would not hinder my rehab mainly because I could do it whenever I wanted – in truth, I saw it as a way of aiding my rehab, the hand activity from doing it I used as a form of exercise.

And everything went well. Within a year I’d gone from having -£25 pounds to having thirty grand in the bank, and I was fully rehabbed, literally everything was going great, better than it had ever gone, and finally I was going to move to London and get my life back on track…

Except it didn’t work out that way. Because guess what, just as I was looking at places in London and jobs, my right wrist flared up again. I managed to keep going despite this and keep everything on track, but my right wrist was not getting better this time at all, none of the rehab methods of old were working. It was not getting worse, but it was not getting better. So I went to the doctor… A smart move?

You would think so, and the vast vast majority of the time it would have been a smart move, except something went wrong, repeated mistakes were made, all small in themselves, but when added together they compounded into catastrophe. And as a result of the mistakes in both diagnosis and guidance from the doctors and physios, I ended up losing the complete use of my hands for over six months – and it happened during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

To explain, I went to the doctor and she correctly decided that the best course of action was to refer me to the specialist. Except she screwed up the referral and I ended up being seen by a relatively inexperienced physio. At this point things could still be rectified, however, the inexperienced physio did not understand the gravity of the problems I had with my wrist, and so misdiagnosed the problem, and gave advice that was destined to only end one way – my right wrist deteriorating, and my left wrist becoming strained.

That is exactly what happened. On the return appointment the problem could still have been rectified, a severe outcome still avoided, because at this point the left wrist was merely strained, the ligament was not torn. But then the inexperienced physio made a second mistake, rather than refer me to the clinical specialist, he simply told me to continue doing the exercises, and to increase activity including going to the gym. Without going into detail he misdiagnosed the situation completely, again – but then of course he did, he was inexperienced and should not have been seeing someone with the history that I had.

I followed the advice and end up tearing the ligament in my left wrist – in truth the advice he unwittingly gave me was tantamount to telling a person with a severely twisted knee, who had a history of twisting their knee, that doing squats was the way to get it better.

But again, I should never have been seen by him. But now I have been, and the damage has been done, but I don’t know that the damage has been done, no one does, despite the fact that the symptoms are clear mistakes are made, and it will take a further year for it to be discovered that I have torn the ligament in my left wrist.

To explain, in the next appointment I was seen by a different physio, who again misdiagnosed the problem completely and did not refer me to the clinical specialist, it was only in the follow-up appointment that he finally did so. So now we have a run of four clear mistakes, mistakes which on their own could have been rectified, but when combined led to severe consequences.

And the mistakes did not stop there. I was sent to the specialist but he had been called away and so I was seen by a registrar, and the registrar failed to identify the gravity of the problem with the left wrist, and so did not arrange for an MRI scan on it. I asked about having an MRI scan and about being seen by the specialist himself or by someone higher up to discuss this matter. But she went away and spoke to the specialist himself and confirmed that he agreed with her. Right wrist only. So an opportunity to identify the torn ligament was missed because the specialist was unavailable – he had been called away, and so could not see me in person.

And what is interesting, the registrar got the symptoms wrong for my left wrist in the notes, which means in all probability when she relayed the information I had given in the appointment to the specialist, she in all probability relayed them incorrectly. So another mistake was made. A small one but grave all the same, when added to the others it becomes even graver.

And they don’t end there. In the follow-up appointment, another mistake was made. The specialist was again unavailable because he’d been called to an emergency, so I was seen by someone else, a middle doctor. Perfectly qualified but he failed to identify the left wrist problem and made a mistake. He planned to refer me to a specialist amongst the physio team but made a mistake and referred me to be seen by the wrong person. Yes, that happened again. Extremely unlucky.

What further compounded the problem was that it was only upon attending the next appointment that I realised the mistake with the referral had been made. But before the problem could be rectified, coronavirus hit, and the world went into lockdown. During this period I lost the complete use of both my hands for a period of six months, and it was only when things started opening up again that it was discovered that I had a torn ligament in my left wrist now to go the torn ligament in my right wrist.

And because it had taken so long to identify this fact, my left wrist which had been my good wrist, was now worse and will always be worse than my right wrist which was originally my bad wrist.

Here is the thing, name one thing that I could have done differently at any point to bring about a different outcome. It was all simply bad luck, no person intended to make a mistake and to get a run of so many people making small mistakes is just plain unlucky, but it happened, and they were made, and I paid the price. I could have done nothing different, every move I made was the right move and yet the outcome is what it is.

I bring you back to the statement I made at the beginning, I am in my 30s and I’m still living at home with my parents. Does this story change your opinion about that situation?

Something that I have learned very much the hard way, in fact I would say that it has been brutally taught to me, is that success is not just about skill, it is not just about hard work, it is not just about talent, it is about luck. Some people get good luck some people get bad luck, some people get a lot of good luck, some people get a lot of bad luck. Unfortunately I have been the former.

And I wish to be clear here, you absolutely can make your own good luck, the harder you work, the more opportunities you will give yourself. And the more opportunities you give yourself the greater the odds are that you will get a stroke of good luck. But the one thing that you cannot stop, that you cannot do anything about, is bad luck. It just happens and there isn’t anything you can do about it.

In my life I’ve had much good luck, for example, I’ve been blessed with a home environment in which I’m able to try to rehab the injuries I have. Because let’s be straight here with the injuries I’ve had and the struggles I’ve had without a stable home environment, from the moment I became injured I would have been screwed big style. So I am lucky that I have parents who I can fall back upon. I’m lucky to have the NHS, even though they screwed up with me, they are still the ones who are aiding me with my rehab to try to get my life back on track. I’m lucky to live in an era where you can still use a computer even though you can’t use your hands. And I am lucky in many other ways. And I have made a lot of that luck myself through hard work.

But what is unlucky is that I suffered what at the time felt like a minor injury, and yet for the last decade or more have been blighted by it. What is unlucky is that due to a chain of mistakes the people who were supposed to be helping me to get better, ended up making me worse. What is unlucky is that before the problem could be rectified, coronavirus hit. The point I’m making is that in life shit happens, and the way we should judge people is not by the situation they find themselves in, but how they respond to being in those situations.

There are many people out there who have got similar stories to me, and I’m not talking about similar to my story per se, I’m talking about similar to my story in principle, so there are many people out there who are hard-working, talented, highly-skilled, highly motivated, and yet because of bad luck and/or simply because of a lack of opportunity find themselves at the bottom of the ladder fighting and scraping just to make ends meet and survive. Yet if they had not had that bad luck, or had been given an opportunity, they could have been the ones at the top. Literally more often than not the only difference between a person at the top and a person at the bottom, is the person at the top got opportunities and good luck, while the person at the bottom did not.

And yes, the people at the top will have skills and abilities that the people at the bottom do not, but the odds are if the people at the bottom had been given the opportunity to get those skills and abilities they would have been just as good as the person at the top. Maybe even better. That cleaning lady you see working in the toilets, given the right opportunity she could have been the next Marie Curie, that guy you see working in McDonald’s, given the right opportunities he could have been Einstein. That guy who can’t get a job and lives at home with his parents, given the right opportunities he could have been the next Churchill.

Out there right now there are thousands of people, millions of people, who could have been greater than every person who is at the top right now, and the only reason they are not is because they were never given the opportunity to be.

Literally, every person in whatever situation they are in, are in it because that is what life has thrown at them. A person working in a minimum wage job could be working that job not because they don’t have the talent to be a great leader or innovator or whatever, but because they never got given the opportunities to go down that path, never got given the opportunity to learn the skills needed to go down that path. The people at the top more often do have something the people at the bottom do not, and that is better training, and that better training has been attained through an opportunity that was given to them that was not given to others. Any person who tells you a different story, is simply telling you a lie.

There is greatness inside everyone, and yes there are some who will always be greater than others if given the same opportunities, but the fact is so few these days are given those opportunities that it’s an absolute given that there are people out there who are greater than all those at the top right now, they just never got the chance to be. Even in history, Einstein is the smartest along with Newton, but are they? No, they are the smartest of those who were given the opportunity to prove their smarts, but how many even today get that opportunity, get that opportunity to prove just what they have to give?

Life is all about a chain reaction, if you are in a chain reaction that provides endless opportunities and have the luck of avoiding anything that stops you from taking those opportunities, then you have something that the vast majority of people will never get. And that’s why you will be successful, not because of your talent, not because of your hard work, they are important of course but there are many people out there who are just as talented and hard-working, just they have not been given an opportunity and you have. And that’s the only difference between the people at the top and the people at the bottom. Maybe one day in the future things will be different, but we are a long way away from that in the present world.

Accepting this and ceasing from judging people based on their life position, in my view would go a long way towards making the world a much better and more inclusive place. Because we would realise that the only thing separating the vast majority of people at the bottom from the vast majority of people at the top, is that the people at the top got an opportunity that the people at the bottom did not.

Don’t get me wrong, the people at the top had to take their opportunities and should be applauded for taking it, I take nothing away from their successes, but the majority of the people at the bottom if given the same opportunities would have done the same. And that’s something that all of us should never forget. Right now, the people at the top can make no claim to be the best, because how can they when so few are given the opportunities to challenge them? All they can make a claim to be is the best amongst those who have been given the opportunity to be the best.

If you have a thousand people, and you pick out at random ten and give them an opportunity, give them vast amounts of training, how can you claim that they are the best when you didn’t give the other nine hundred ninety people the same chance?

The world is full of hard-working intelligent people, but only those who get the luck of the draw win the lottery and make it to the top. But just because they win the lottery doesn’t mean they have any greater ability than the people at the bottom. Which means there is no top and bottom. There are just people, and some people get lucky, and some people don’t. And that’s life. And no person should be judged to be a lesser person just because they didn’t get lucky, or worse because they got unlucky.

So next time you see a person, whether still living with their parents, whether working as a cleaner, whether working as a sex worker, whatever, the next time you see any person who we as a society deem to be not successful, think about how if they had been given a chance, or maybe had not been unlucky some way in life, maybe they would have been greater than any person who has ever come before. And maybe you could have been too if you’d been given the chance and had had the luck of the draw.

And then think about how you have no way of knowing their story and why they are in the situation they are in and not super successful in life. And then instead of judging them to be a lesser being, think again. Because odds are they ain’t. Odds are they just got a bad hand. And no one should be judged for that.

Kindness and understanding makes for a better world. And only once we start showing kindness and understanding as to why some people are in one place and others are in another, can we start creating a better world where people do get a fair and equal chance to truly show their worth. That starts by stopping judging people at the bottom to be lesser than people at the top. They may not have the same level of skills, but given the chance to attain those skills, they may have done a better job with them.

Or better yet think of it like this, a person working as a cleaner based on the opportunities that they have been given in their life, may be more successful than a billionaire because that billionaire, if they had been given the same opportunities as the cleaner, may have been less successful than the cleaner, and the cleaner if they had been given the same opportunities as the billionaire, may have been more successful than the billionaire.

That’s all from me, thanks for reading!

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