Saturday, December 9, 2006

What's luck got to do with it?

"you make your own luck"

"the harder I work, the luckier I get"

"except for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all"

After posting about Casey Serin, I spent most of the night thinking about the role of luck in my life and whether I should believe in it at all. All of the successful people I have met have outwardly stated that they believe their success is due to hard work, persistence, good organization, etc. Few seem to think that they were just lucky. On the other hand, nearly every poor person I have known (between having rental property for 10 years and trying to recruit people into Amway for an equivalent length of time, I met literally hundreds and hundreds) blames his or her lack of success on bad luck.

My wife is from mainland China and it seems that the Chinese have a strong belief in luck. She seems to think she always has bad luck. She grew up during the cultural revolution was very poor and remembers not having much food to eat, standing in line long hours to get an egg or some meat. (Even today in the US she goes to great lengths to make sure she doesn't leave the slightest trace of raw egg in a mixing bowl.) Her first husband abandoned her when their daughter was born and she was left alone in the Northwest province of China a thousand miles from her family. So she sent her baby home to her mom and lived alone, studying long hours to get an accounting certificate. She finally got her certificate and found a job on Hainan Island in the South China sea. But the bank was corrupt and went out of business. So she found a new job in a large city only a 10 hour trip away from her parents. She somehow managed to buy a house, marry a budding entrepreneur and pay off the house completely in few years. But the entrepreneur cheated on her and left her, taking his share of the business (worth a lot of money) without giving her anything. Still, through her frugality she had saved enough to buy a house for her parents and pay for it in cash. So she owns two homes in China completely paid for worth nearly 2 million yuan - a hefty sum for an average person in China.

A few years ago she decided she wanted to emigrate to America and found a man to marry (me!). But it was her bad luck to find someone who wasn't rich. After all, all the other Chinese women she know had married rich Americans! So has my wife had "bad luck" all her life as she claims? On the one hand she represents some one who sets goals (although she doesn't write them down) and diligently works towards them and inevitably achieves them. But she seems to focus on all the bad breaks she thinks she has gotten.

What about me? My outward demeanor is always optimistic. I was always telling the people I sponsored in Amway one of the first two quotes above. I have constantly tried to sell my wives that with a just a little more time we are going to be successful at _____ (fill in the blank- real estate, Amway, commodity futures, stocks, etc.). Initially in all my ventures I believed I really would be successful. But as they flopped I most often blamed (internally) my bad luck. Even today I feel that I have the worst sense of timing. I moved all my 401k savings into stocks in late 1999, I bought real estate in the 1980's just before the market crashed. E-gad - I am getting into real estate now again after it has peaked!

During my time in Amway I read hundred's of books, listened to thousands of tapes and heard hundred's of successful business people speak (both from inside and outside of Amway). They all espoused a thinking process similar to Steve Pavlina. Basically, our thoughts are like magnets and we can literally "Think and Grow Rich". Steve Pavlina has an experiment he is running to try to attract $1million. Can success be this easy? It is both inspiring and frustrating to read about how easy it is for others to make a lot of money such as this college student. I also know very personally my sister-in-law's success has a lot to do with extreme hard work. Her business is one of the fastest growing firms in Philadelphia and she is well on her way to riches. But she thinks luck has nothing to do with her success.

I remember when I first saw the Amway marketing plan. I was absolutely convinced that I would be a millionaire in 2 years. I felt certain that anyone would have to be an idiot to turn down the idea. The first two months I sponsored every one I talked with. I believe that they bought into my belief. One night I had an awful realization that I was going to be responsible for hundreds of people when I became successful, I would have to deal with so much money, etc. and I literally became scared. Doubt started to creep into my thought pattern and I started to have trouble sponsoring. That doubt has stayed with me in every venture since that time.

So is it luck or hard work that generates success? Or is it a combination? Or is it just my mental thought pattern that attracts or repulses wealth? I just do not know the answer and am really not sure that successful people know what made them successful. Just like when the news media interviews someone over 100 years old and asks their secret to long life. It's all anecdotal evidence and means nothing. More women and whiskey or more vegetables? Who knows really?

So I am jumping into real estate again. Just hoping really that this time I will figure it out. What's luck got to do with it? (apologies to Tina Turner) I hope nothing at all, really.

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