“You’re so lucky to live in Italy!”
“You’re so lucky to be living your dream!”
These and similar statements land in my inbox a few times a month. I know what the writer means, but I also hope they understand that luck is a small portion of what got me here — and that if they’re sitting around waiting for the Magic Unicorn of Luck to pick them up and ride off into the Sunset of Dreams, well, I hope they packed a lunch.
Luck — good and bad — plays a role in all of our lives.
I know I am lucky — ridiculously, amazingly, fantastically lucky. And I’m ever so grateful. I’m lucky to be alive. I’m lucky to be healthy. I’m lucky to have been born into a family that loved and cared for me, and in a place where I didn’t have to fight the odds just to survive infancy. I’m also lucky that I was born with a decent amount of intelligence and natural tenacity.
All of those things, I would say, make me one of the luckiest people on the planet. I had nothing to do with any of those circumstances, and I’m lucky they all went in my favor.
Has everything gone perfectly in my life? Please. We all have bad luck too, but more than that, we all have challenges and struggles and disappointments and just shitty times. But none of those things are what defines us.
How we handle good as well as bad luck is who we are.
If we’re willing to learn, how we deal with both booming and tough times can teach us a lot of what we need to know about ourselves. This knowledge comes in handy in many situations, but especially when we’re faced with hard decisions and potentially life-changing opportunities. Because even if you have the best opportunities always falling into your lap, luck is never going to be what pushes you forward.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ~ Seneca
To make the most of an opportunity, indeed even to see an opportunity for what it is, you have to be prepared. You must do the work to put yourself in the mindset that makes you ready to jump when you “luck” shines upon you, when you see that sliver of light, that tiny bit of hope, that opportunity you’ve been waiting for, which, incidentally, sometimes comes cleverly disguised as the exact opposite of what you had been waiting for. Luck has a strange sense of humor.
What happens at that point is called choice.
No matter our relative luck levels, no matter how dire our emotional, financial, work, or other situations, that choice, that free will — that’s what makes us human. The ability to step back, look at our lives, and decide what to do next is so very precious, but sometimes we don’t notice an opportunity for what it is because it’s up to us to really, truly make it one. And that can’t happen if we’re not ready or prepared to do that. Circumstances sometimes limit our choices, but even not choosing — being a chronic non-decider who just lets things happen around them — is a choice.
Tough decisions, the ones that tend to yield the most rewards, are called “tough” for a reason.
So how do we get prepared? Well-informed decisions and smart choices are built on a lifetime of getting to know who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, what makes you anxious — and you don’t learn that kind of stuff in Unicorn Valley.
In Hamlet, Polonius told his son Laertes, “To thine own self be true.” Timeless advice, and the only way to know thine own self is to put yourself out there, try new experiences, and make a lot of mistakes. Through trial and error, you learn what works for you and what doesn’t, where you want to be (not only physically), and an amazing amount of other knowledge about yourself that you never even knew you didn’t know.
And as a reward for all that hard work:
Your journey to self-awareness is not only enlightening along the way, it can make tough choices down the line easier.
Easier to make, that is. Not necessarily easier to carry through. After that initial choice, you see, comes the all-important follow-through, and that consists of tiny choices every single day to continue on the path you’ve chosen. And now we’re getting to the nitty gritty, Thoreau’s “suck[ing] the marrow out of life.”
Eight years ago, I decided to create my own opportunity by moving to Italy. No one popped up with a job offer here that would have made that decision a tiny bit easier. Knowing myself and what I wanted to accomplish over the next few years, I decided to ditch the chance to make big bucks in Big Law and follow my passion for writing while fully immersing myself in a foreign language and culture without knowing more than a few words of Italian. I wanted a deeper connection with a place I was being so strongly pulled toward, the land of my ancestors. And I knew I’d only be in my mid-twenties with no major attachments once, so I went for it.
Boom! Choice made.
And believe me when I tell you that was the easiest part of this whole thing.
So what actually keeps me here, keeps me motivated and pushing forward every single day to live deliberately, to live the life I want to live, on my own terms? That’s not luck, and it’s not even the original choice to move here. Heck, I could always move back.
I’m still here because of a series of small choices made each and every day.
Some days the choices are easier than others — like times when P and I are enjoying our campagna we’ve worked hard to build together. I might even call that a no-brainer. Or when I see my writing career making great strides with each passing year. Definitely motivating.
But then come Facebook messages about my nephew’s football games and my niece’s basketball games back in the States. Doubts creep in, and the reality of missing out on their everyday lives weighs heavily on my heart. Is this *really* where I’m supposed to be right now?
Hey, no one ever promised living life on my own terms would be easy, and sadly, no magic unicorns have shown up to guide me. But getting to know yourself and making conscious, informed choices on how to live your life, your one and only life, each step at a time, based on what you know to be true? I don’t know of any better way to move toward that Sunset of Dreams, which, by the way, is a moving target if you’re doing things right.
Indeed, the learning process, realizing things about yourself, looking at situations from different angles, dreaming up of new ideas, goals, and adventures — those never end if you don’t let them. How lucky are we?!