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About the only thing separating us is luck


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About James

I have lived a lot of years and the more years I have lived, the fewer answers i have found. I hope that by engaging here we can discover some answers together.


For most of us, a cancer diagnosis is largely luck of the draw -- and a reminder to live fully each day.

I was watching a news report recently about an oncologist who spends much of her time giving patients and their families bad news, before helping them through a very challenging period in their lives.

Live every day like you mean it .

Live every day like you mean it ... while telling those dear to you that you love them. Picture: Shutterstock

She was an amazing human being -- with the heart, compassion and strength many of us can only aspire to.

I was moved by her work and her words.

I was especially struck by her saying that when she meets with cancer patients and their families, she is constantly reminded that ''the only thing that separates you and me is luck''.

Read more from James St James: What are the soundtracks to your life?

In other words, the patient had the bad luck of contracting cancer, the family had the bad luck of having to support their loved one, and the medical practitioner had the good luck of having to do neither.

Certainly, there are predictors of cancer, including family genetics. There are also things we can do to avoid getting many cancers, such as not smoking, eating too much meat or drinking too much. But for most, a cancer diagnosis is largely luck of the draw.

Some of us are lucky and don’t get it, others are less lucky and have to endure unpleasant treatments, and there are those who are downright unlucky and endure an unpleasant death.

The same is true of so many other things in life.

We can drive safely, but be unlucky enough to get hit by a drink driver. We can swim in the ocean and be one of the freakishly few people attacked by a shark. We can be flying home from a holiday and have our plane shot out of the air by an errant warrior. We can be walking along and find ourselves sucked into the earth during a sudden earthquake. Bad luck can take many forms.

My consideration of this issue has led me to two observations.

Firstly, we should put less energy into trying to control every aspect of our future and a great deal more effort into living each day, while making the most of what luck we have.

Secondly, luck can be good and bad. Just as our demise or hardships in life are often the outcome of bad luck, so our successes and good fortune are often the result of good luck.

We cannot prevent bad luck. We need to accept it for what it is -- often unexplainable, always undesirable and an unavoidable fact of life.

We live in uncertain times, in a uncertain society, on an uncertain planet in an uncertain universe. In recent years, a number of meteors have come close that could have caused huge destruction to our planet. And there's nothing that can be done about it, beyond perhaps predicting the timing.

This is why it is wise to focus on living each and every day as if it is your last.

It bothers me a great deal when some wealthy businessman or woman suggests that they make their own luck -- taking full and complete credit for their success.

While some people are good at capitalising on luck when it occurs, no one makes their own luck. Anyone who says they do is delusional and far too full of themselves. They had nothing to do with the luck that delivered their genetic make-up or intelligence, for example. They had nothing to do with the country, state or time in history they were born into. They had nothing to do with choosing the parents that educated them, taught them values, inspired them and loved them.

These successful business people, while often leveraging, had nothing to do with the economic conditions, the potential match between their abilities and world demand, the opportunities they stumble over by accident, ore the vein of gold found when weekend metal detecting.

They certainly have little to do with how many limbs they have, how many eyes they have, how good their hearing is and the capacity of their senses. Inheriting money is 100 percent luck and nothing more.

Warren Buffet, when asked about the secret to his great wealth, once cited three factors. The lottery of the womb, compound interest and living long enough to benefit from compound interest. Warren Buffet has not become the richest man in the world because of luck, but he certainly has the humility and intellectual strength to recognise the role of it in his success.

I am also annoyed when business people put their success down to hard work.

I agree that it is very difficult to build a great fortune or a great business without it. But hard work is not enough without a bit of luck -- and there are coal miners who work 12 hours a day for all of their working lives, underground and in appalling conditions, and never get rich. They work harder than most and accumulate less.

Luck is not the whole story. But it is a big part of the equation of most lives.

For most of us, all that separates us is luck.

I hope this year brings you the very best of luck. 

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