I was reflecting recently, with a great deal of gratitude, about the number of ways in which I have gotten lucky in my life. Now I've occasionally been unlucky, and certainly hard work and smart decisions have helped along the way, as there are few branchpoints in your life where you have zero input at all. But there's no doubt I've been lucky too, and I'm grateful for that good fortune whether provided through sheer luck or through the smart decisions and hard work of others such as my spouse, parents, and ancestors. Without further ado, for St. Patrick's Day, here are 9 ways in which luck has contributed to my financial success.
# 1 Born in the United States of America
Say what you want about this country, and there is an awful lot to be said after some of the recent Republican primary debates, there is still nowhere else I'd rather be born. There is a ridiculous amount of wealth and opportunity here even for the poorest among us. As MMM is fond of saying, we live in an “exploding volcano of wastefulness.” The fact that for a couple of hundred bucks I can rocket through the air in a chair at 30,000 feet while calling upon the world's resources on a device the size of a pack of cards is simply amazing. The fact that there are enough calories available that half of us can be obese is amazing. The fact that the biggest military risk we face is from a group of zealots whose primary weapons are swords and suicide bomb vests, that we fight with F-35s, drones, aircraft carriers, and SEALS, is amazing.
# 2 Grew Up In an Intact Family
My parents were middle class by any definition of the term. My father was an engineer and my mom stayed at home to raise us. They weren't perfect by any means, but they stayed together, put clothes on our backs, put food in our bellies, and not only made sure we went to school, but let us know they expected good things out of us when we went there. I saw a 17 year old patient in the ED the other night whose parents were at home. Mom was passed out, dad was too intoxicated to come in with her. Last night it was a 16 year old with no legal guardian. Mom's dead. Dad cannot be contacted. The “aunt” she lives with (sometimes) isn't really an aunt and is not her legal guardian. Her family gave her cigarettes and her “friends” give her hard drugs. DCFS won't come get her. (The person on call thought I had attitude because I asked him “Isn't this what you guys do? Isn't this your job?”) There is no way I would have ever been in an ED without one of my parents. They worked hard so their kids could have a better life. Just as their parents had worked hard so THEIR kids would have had a better life. And so on and so forth. Who knows how many generations that hard work and desire to see something better for their kids went back.
# 3 Raised In a Religion That Emphasized Specific Values
Religious doctrines aside, I was raised in a religion where I was taught to value hard work, education, self-reliance, thrift, debt aversion, honesty, charity towards others, saving, and investing. There is no doubt those teachings have had a profound influence on my life, for which I am grateful. Unfortunately, it also teaches that “where much is given, much will be required.” Those who have extra time, money, and energy are supposed to use it to improve the lives of others.
# 4 I'm Healthy
I don't really have health problems. Never really had anything significant and certainly nothing chronic. Some of that is a result of choices I have made and continue to make, but there is a certain percentage of it that is just darn good luck. Think of all the terrible diseases that don't come from lifestyle choices. There are entire specialties where lifestyle has little to do with the onset of their disease (Rheum, Neuro, Immunology, Genetics, Pediatrics, lots of GI etc.) I could not be anywhere near as economically productive if I was struggling with some of the chronic diseases that many of our patients have.
# 5 My Wife and Kids are Healthy
To make matters even better, my spouse and kids are also all healthy. Our biggest worry when we decided to have a fourth child was whether we could handle having a child with significant health problems. With my wife getting older, and with a background in teaching special needs children, we figured we were due for sure. But you know what, we got lucky. Another healthy kid. Did we do everything we could to ensure that? Of course, but you know as well as I do how much of that is luck. Spending time taking care of an ill spouse or child has an incredible drag on your economic productivity–not only the cost of care, but also the time and energy required to provide it.
# 6 I've Got a Supportive Spouse
People often ask me, “How do you do it? You're practicing medicine full-time, you're running WCI, you're a successful investor, and you seem to still have time to get out to play.” Well, there's one very clear reason. My wife takes care of all the other stuff. Seriously. All of it. Yes, I do the dishes. Yes, I do most of the financial stuff. Yes, I mow the lawn. Sometimes I take care of the kids for a while. But in reality, who are we trying to kid? She's working as many hours as I am, just on different stuff. Many people are held back, not just economically but also in their hopes and dreams, by their spouse or partner or the lack thereof. Yes, much of that decision to marry her was in my hands, but there's a certain amount of luck there too. As awesome as I thought she was when I married her, I had no idea. For example, I took a shower last night before heading in for a night shift. By the time I was done, there was water dripping into the kitchen. By the time I woke up this morning (just in time to head up to the resort for 3 hours of snowboarding before dinner and heading back to work) she had already diagnosed the problem, removed the corroded, leaking pipe from behind the wall, and had plans to replace it. She's awesome and I feel like the luckiest man in the world to have a wife who is so supportive of me and feels no need to have a more traditional career to feel fulfilled.
# 7 I'm Not Stupid
One fun thing about Emergency Medicine is I really get a chance to see how “the other half” lives and I get to interact with people who are very different from me. Some of these folks are, to be completely frank, stupid, dumb, slow, a few fries short of a happy meal, not the sharpest tool in the shed, uneducated, ignorant, or whatever you want to call it. It's not politically correct, but it is nonetheless true. I have a quick mind and I'm grateful for it. Doing well in school and especially on standardized tests was never all that hard for me. I realized as I applied to colleges that the cost of the education compared to the value I was getting mattered. I know I can teach myself an awful lot of things and that gives me the confidence to compete in the world and know I'll do just fine. Are there people smarter than me? Absolutely. But on a percentage basis, there aren't a lot of them. Huge advantage, and most of you have the same exact advantage.
# 8 Professional Luck
The most competitive aspect of the medical training process, at least for non-dermatologists, is getting into medical school. It wasn't until I was on the admissions committee that I realized how lucky I had been. Our school easily had three very qualified applicants for every spot we had, and some people were so incredible that I felt like giving them my spot! Obviously that isn't all luck, but it is definitely a numbers game-apply to a bunch because even very qualified people get turned down. Likewise, when it came time to choose a specialty, I was lucky enough that the specialty I love has a lot of sweet financial characteristics to it-short training period, high pay, very high hourly pay, ability to cut back, more ability to control number of hours worked and when those hours are worked than any other specialty etc. In fact, in many ways, these are the “golden years” for emergency medicine. Although becoming harder and harder each year, you can still own your job in emergency medicine. Emergency docs have never been so in demand and paid so well. It faces challenges like every specialty (primarily the effects of the corporate practice of medicine) but compared to many specialties and professions, we're super lucky and at the rate EDs and ED visits are growing, that isn't going to change any time soon.
# 9 My First Business Was Successful
Entrepreneurs know that most businesses fail. The secret is to fail early and often and with as little money as possible because you only have to strike gold once. My first real entrepreneurial venture took off. I obviously stacked the odds in my favor by hard work, avoiding any debt, and having a real job that could pay the bills while waiting for it to take off, but the fact that I was interested in a niche that monetized well and that I was the first one into is somewhat lucky.
The harder I work, the luckier I get, but to dismiss the role of luck in my economic success would be foolhardy. Now let's see if I can do something good with what I've been given.
What do you think? In what ways have you gotten lucky in life? Do you feel an obligation to your family, society, and the world because of it? What are you doing because of that obligation? Comment below!
Image credit: SatyrTN Via Wikimedia CC-BY-SA 3.0