One of the newsletters I have subscribed to for a few years is published by Bob Bly, a highly successful copywriter and a prolific publisher of books and articles on writing, information publishing and marketing. (affiliate link)
He is not afraid of expressing his thoughts and often has an opinion different to most.
In his latest newsletter, he takes the positive thinking movement to task for promoting the idea that luck has nothing to do with how we experience our journey through life. That our success or failure is entirely in our own hands.
Bob quotes Epictetus and others with originating the idea that “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you handle it”. That is almost exactly the same belief that I have posted on the header of this website.
Bob makes a compelling case for believing that: “It’s what happens to you AND how you handle it.” That some of the things that happen to us over our lifetimes are beyond our control. Bad luck does happen to good people. So those factors will have a huge effect on the course of our lives. How we handle them will be equally important, we may or may not have the resources to deal with them effectively.
Over the long-term, a life time, I accept that luck or lack of it, poor choices, accidents of timing and fate do have a major impact on our lives. But in the short-term, particularly during and after periods of adversity or major challenges, what we do about it decides our future and our happiness. We have the option to accept the consequences of events and do something about it. We can choose to survive and thrive or remain in victim mode and blame bad luck.
After a major disruption, political or economic, some people make choices that quickly get them back on track to rebuild their lives. They are back to their old level of income and happiness within a few years. Others, faced with the identical situation, never recover, financially or emotionally.
History is full of examples of both in varying degrees.
Of the thousands of farmers who lost everything in the farm invasions in Zimbabwe, some have been highly successful in new countries with new businesses, others are relying on families and welfare to survive. Some died prematurely due to physical and emotional injuries from the trauma. Most of us survivors are spread along the continuum between the two extremes.
The recession of 2008 provides further examples, some lost their jobs and started businesses or other careers where they became more successful than before, others remained under or unemployed and are unlikely ever to see their former income levels again.
How big a part does luck play in our lives?
I believe that most of our success or failure in life is due to the choices we make. Decisions about what we do, what we do not do and how we respond to what happens to us.Very often the consequences of our choices and decisions do not become apparent until years later.
For example, in 2000, when the farm invasions started in Zimbabwe, a few farmers abandoned their farms and left believing that there was no hope and that all our farms and many lives, would eventually be lost. The majority of us thought they were being negative, we vowed to resist the illegal occupations to the bitter end, while hoping that good sense, logic and respect for the law would prevail. As the situation got worse, we vainly hoped that those moral crusaders in the UN, UK and USA would intervene. Those of us who stood on our principles and stayed until we were physically removed from our farms or killed, eventually left with far less than some of those who left 3 years earlier. They were correct in their forecast, of over 5000 commercial farmers in 2000, there are only 330 still operating.
The illegal farm invasions were something that we could not control. The choices of how to handle them were. With hindsight, those that left early made the better choices. Perhaps they did from a material point of view, but for me, the moral victory was more important. I would not have been able to sleep at night if I had surrendered or compromised my values by co-operating with the enemy.
It could be argued that the decision I made to return to Zimbabwe years earlier from South Africa, then to sell my business and invest in the farm were a series of bad choices that led to the situation I found myself in. With hindsight, Canada might not have been the best choice to build a new life. It is easy after the event, to look back and identify milestones in our lives that marked forks in the road, where we took the wrong path.
Bob Bly’s point that some things that happen to us are out of our control means that those random events, good or bad are going to happen. We can influence the chances of them happening to us by choosing how and where we live, how we look after our health and our security, how we earn an income and how we spend or invest it. But we cannot guarantee that bad things will not happen to us.
If we accept that those random events will affect people differently and that we have no control over the prospect or severity of them, then our future will be determined by how we handle them, what we do about it.
An uncontrollable event may seriously affect us, but from then on, it’s what we do about it that counts, that determines the next stage of our journey through life.
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