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Luck and the Self Made Man

By the standards of the society that I live in I've "succeeded" at making a life for myself. Before I go further with this, I want to assure you that this is not going to be an egotistical post about myself; far from it. So back to the "succeeded" part. This statement must be taken with a grain of salt for it depends upon the specific time frame that I'm focusing on. There have been many and will be many periods in my life in which I will feel that I have not "succeeded".

Our ideas of what success means differs from one person to the next with no one person owning the right answer. Here's my idea of success. I have a mental illness and most of the time it doesn't interfere with my life. I have a full time job that allows me to provide for my family. Our bills are paid, the house is warm in the winter, we never worry about having enough food or water, we are able to purchase material needs and wants. We don't have to worry about our safety, whether it's at home or when we are out and about.

What has allowed me to "succeed"? I can assure you that it was not simply determination and hard work. Life is complex and we must remember to frame our life circumstances within the myriad of factors that have a profound influence on effecting where we find ourself in life. I am very lucky to have the mom and dad that I do, but let's for a minute imagine that I had grown up in a home with parents that weren't nice to me or perhaps a single parent household in which my mom or dad wanted nothing to do with me. Could that have had an impact on who I'd become and what I thought of myself? When I went off to college and was diagnosed with OCD, had it not been for my parent's health insurance I wouldn't have received the level of treatment that I did and the medication that I needed. Would the absence of this have changed the trajectory of where my life would go? How different would my life be today if I had been abused?

The bigger, rhetorical question is do I really have that much control over the situations that I've described? Of course not. I do have control over how I react to them but then this too is a learned skill that is taught to us by people that care about us and want us to live a happy and content life.

I am lucky to have the family and extended family that I do, to have peace with my mental illness, to have a job that pays me enough to get by on, to have grown up in a loving and caring home so that I too would learn to pass that on to my son as he grows up.

So much of life is purely luck but we like to overlook this fact and think that we are self made. Determination and hard work are important but they are not what make or break you. There's much more at play and we are much more dependent upon our environment, each other, and life circumstances than we are often willing to admit.

The next time someone tells you that someone is in such a rough spot in life because they didn't work hard enough, weren't motivated, or didn't put in the effort; please take the time to question if this alone determined where they find them self at in life at this moment.

Sympathy's easy. You have sympathy for starving children swatting at flies on the late-night commercials. Sympathy is easy because it comes from a position of power. Empathy is getting down on your knees and looking someone else in the eye and realizing you could be them, and that all that separates you is luck.
-Dennis Lehane


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