Back when I was gambling professionally, it seemed like everyone had an opinion on which casino was rigged. I never really thought that, but I also didn't really think that I was winning as much as I was supposed to. To test this, I recorded every single session I played for over a year. Guess what? I was within a fraction of one percent from where I was supposed to be statistically. I learned that not only were the casinos not rigged, I wasn't very good at mentally aggregating lots of independent events.
I think that in real life, we all have a natural inability or unwillingness to accept that we generally receive what we deserve. Before I get into this, though, I'll say that it definitely isn't true all of the time. I offer the idea here just a useful tool and framework, not to pass judgement. For example, I know people who have lost close family members, people who have been raped, and people who have been affected by other horrible things. I don't think that they deserve those things or earned them in some way. I think they're an unfortunate side effect of the chaos and variance of life, which is otherwise a good thing.
When I was around twenty, I knew for a fact that I would become rich by the age of twenty-five. Twenty five was really old and I knew that I was special, so it made perfect sense to me that I'd be rich by then. I put in a moderate amount of effort, and made moderate progress towards my goal, but didn't really even close. When I turned twenty five, I was at least a little bit surprised that I wasn't a millionaire yet.
I'm still not a millionaire, but I'm not surprised about it anymore. I've seen people work harder than me and work smarter than me and become rich. I've seen the dedication it takes, and I've seen how that compares to what I have typically put in.
I think I've gotten about what I deserve. I've done some interesting things, worked hard some of the time, and have made enough money to support a simple lifestyle that I like a lot. Strange path, but it seems about right to me.
Last year I spent two months getting back into pickup. I knew it would be hard, but in the back of my head I thought, "Hey, I'm a pretty awesome guy and I used to be really good a this. I bet it's going to go really well." It went okay, which is probably what you'd expect when you balance those positive with the negatives of me being rusty, naturally introverted, and in full on hermit-programmer mode.
On a more positive note, I think I do a pretty good job of being positive and treating people well, and when I think of how lucky I am to have such great friends and family, I think that I've again gotten what I deserve.
You can adopt this mindset and think of it in a few different ways. The harsh reality is that if something in your life isn't where you want it to be, it's most likely your fault. We're all dealt a different set of cards, and I think that most of us are old enough now that we've been given a chance to do something with them. So if you were born poor and haven't put in enough effort to make money, I think it's time to stop blaming your upbringing and start taking responsibility. Of course, if you were born poor, are still poor, and don't care, that's totally fine, too. You got what you deserved and you're happy with it.
Some people don't like these sorts of attitudes because they like to imagine that everyone deserves everything, and it's some sort of injustice when they don't get it. I think that's not a realistic outlook, and I don't think it's a healthy outlook. In general, the closer your perception matches reality, the more effective you can be.
I think that this is actually a very empowering attitude. It allows people to overcome their natural weaknesses and take responsibility for improving them. When we stop relying on luck or having someone give us an opportunity, we can create a realistic plan and feel the importance of following through with it. Superstition and hoping gives way to planning and execution.
What about luck, which feels undeserved in one way or another? To meet that amazing girl or to make a ton of money or to have a really long life you WILL need to have good luck. The key is to give yourself as many opportunities to be lucky as possible. We think of luck as some abstract thing, but all it really is is an unlikely event happening.
If you roll a hundred sided die, it would take tremendous luck for it to come up as 97. But if you roll it a couple hundred times, it will probably happen. Finding a girl who's a near-perfect match for you is extremely unlikely, but if you're out there meeting tons of women, in aggregate it becomes pretty likely that you'll meet one. The same is true of making money-- any one enterprise may have the odds stacked against it, but if you relentlessly try to create something of value for other people, you'll one day "get lucky" and make it.
When we look at success stories, even our own mini success stories, it's easy to hone in on the long odds and end the story there. But if you look closer and average in all of the small wins, the small losses, the big wins, and the big losses, more often than not you'll find that people get what they deserve.
Photo is a Congo power figure which I saw on Nick Gray's Hack the Met Tour. You may also notice that other than the guard in the corner, there are no other people in the Museum...
Hey Tynan. Nice post! However, I must say I disagree with your opinion, and I think this kind of mindset can be quite dangerous. Basically, it comes down to a typical American world view that "you are poor because you chose to be poor". And I think that this is quite dangerous to take such an attitude.
I think luck in life has more to do than with most things, although of course hard work helps too. Have you ever listened to Michael Lewis's Princeton graduation ceremony lecture? Or the documentary "Inside job"? You know, it's kind of like the bond trader back in the early 1980s who basically had to have a night job on the side to make enough money to feed his family. Next thing he knows there's a large amount of capital flowing into the U.S. and into the bond and stock market, and the guy, without putting any additional amount of work, ends up earning 7 figures a year. Of course, he'll think he's really smart and that he deserves this.
I think in life there are so many examples where people do not deserve what they have (or what they don't have). Life is unfair. I think this sums it all up. It's not because you work hard that you'll become rich. I think this is an extremely simplified worldview. Some people are not born as smart as others. Some people's parents couldn't afford to send them to good schools. Some people were born in third-world countries. Others were born in illiterate families right in the middle of the wealthiest country on earth, the U.S. Some others have families to care for and to support. Some just don't even know how to better themselves. They only know what they've been exposed to, which can be mediocrity or passiveness, etc.
I understand your view that "you can make your own luck". But really, if you're in any of the situations I've listed above, it's not like you can roll the dice a couple hundred times. The dice was rolled once when you were born, and that follows you for a long time.
I really do not think it's fair to say that people deserve what they came to be. In a very limited amount of situations, that may be true. Of course you can't always blame others for your problems, and that's another very dangerous mindset of course. But in the end, luck really plays a big part on your fortune and on your life, and you can't always make your own luck.
In any case, to make your own luck you have to be aware that you can make your own luck, and that's already a lucky thing to have this awareness. We always hear stories of successful people who worked very hard and who hit the jackpot. We don't hear the 1000x more common story of the person who worked his ass off for so long but never made it. Or the guy who made it but who never worked his ass off.
Completely agree. It is often said that those who work (labor) the hardest make the least. There is a huge slave underclass of people on Earth who grow/raise our food, maintain our infrastructure, create our consumer products, etc... who work hard all day and earn practically nothing. Many of these people cannot roll the die even once as you say since they may be in situations of slavery / tyranny / no other options / et al... If we had conscious choice before being born would anyone consciously choose to be one of these people?
How would we rectify this situation? Should the entire world have one flash revolution and start giving everyone 'exactly what they deserve' - exactly what they put in for value? Should we try to expand world resources to make malleable matter from nothing / redistribute resources to the point in which even the underclass have a comfortable life? Just in the US anyway the whole notion of 'redistribution' has trolled a number of people - and rightfully so - as it does not solve the original problem but just shifts money from one arena to another without any regard of 'do they really deserve this'.
I guess in the fairest manifestation of our world everyone would get exactly what they put in. How exactly would we gauge what is of value though since value is a relative phenomenon that fluctuates with time/whim and taste? Some are obvious such as survival/commodities but what about abstract things like art or entertainment?
Anyway I wander off again. At the moment we only know now that luck plays a huge part in your starting position in life and that position plays a huge part in your future potential. If you're a child mining blood diamonds in africa with another kid holding an AK barrel to your head continually chances are you won't be creating a startup and making money / adding value anytime soon.
As unpopular as it is sometimes I think certain people are meant to be screwed. This goes back to my whole belief in karma and reincarnation in which if you don't believe in either this whole argument will fall apart. Assuming multiple lives/experiences are true though then one can see a framework in which one may be rich one life and poor the next to receive the total life experience. Maybe the scales are all balanced in the end and they just look imbalanced from our little slice of consciousness. Just as Tynan introduced his post by observing whether his gambling was within average statistical norms over the long term can we say that over the long term as a human race that we've somehow balanced the scales? If one could track the multitude of lives one has experienced on Earth and summed them up over the long term would they actually balance out to periods of abundance/poverty for experiencing? Maybe we'd need psychics to help us with that one but all I know is without looking further up the chain our world is just bad and somehow internally for some reason I just don't believe our world is inherently like that (especially accounting for the fact that most if not all people are born with an innate sense of justice/fairness as rgcrockett mentioned).
Yes and no. My father was friends with a really wealthy guy who told me "life is not fair, and if you worry about it being fair you will give yourself a nervous breakdown. Just worry about improving yourself"...
I probably spent more time playing basketball in High School than Kobe Bryant, do I deserve to not be in the NBA?
This post got me thinking about a party I was invited to on Catalina Island. I had done some carved panels for in a gorgeous yacht, and the owner, a fantastically wealthy guy, invited me out for a spin to his "little place" on the island. This was my first time in a roomful of people who's average incomes were on the order of millions per month.
I was not impressed by the young people however. What a bunch of self-entitled snobs! It was horrid. To my rich friend, I said, "Man, I feel like the gardener who's just crashed the party!"
He laughed and patted my back, saying, "Tell me about it, brother!"
In my—not—so humble opinion, those young ones deserved to be chain to an oar in a galley until they died.
So on the face of it, "Everyone getting what they deserve" is absurd.
But seizing on something one disagrees with and sniping at it is no way to conduct a discussion. I read a little deeper. I applied the modulus, "How is that true? How is that not true?" I asked, "What is Tynan really saying here?"
First, nowhere are you suggesting that there is a great puppeteer in the sky making it all come out "right" in the end. OK. So far so good. In fact, if I've read this right, using your poker example, there are certain natural laws at work, say, laws of average, and laws of persistence on a given course that DO work in favor of getting fair recompense.
OK! Progress! I agree with that totally. Like good old Thomas J. said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." (Or a reasonable facsimile thereof)
So I get that is the mindset you propose. True that.
Of course there are terrible and rampant injustices in wealth distribution. Most of the exploited do not have the knowledge they need to escape their poverty, and the exploiters like it that way and work to ensure the persistence of systems that keep it that way. Surely, no objective observer cannot fail to see this?As always, thank you for your challenging and thought provoking observations.
I empathize - or I strive to empathize consciously with the truth of how hard and unfair life is. If any of our situations were reversed and I found myself on the lower polarity I am almost sure I would perform at the level of depression or worse. I don't have much of a shell or tolerance for hardship. With that for the short term of one human life it is obvious to see that life is unfair and the world is run by a neutral or non-existent hand as there is no 'justice' as people term it.
Since there is no fairness/justice in the course of one human experience then - could it be safe to say that our attachment to a notion of 'fariness' and 'justice' can only do us a disservice in the end? Those core beliefs run counter to what most have experienced in life thus far: the world is unfair and not all who do evil are brought to justice in the end. Would we be more effective in improving our lot if we stopped wasting energy on 'boo-hoo life is so unfair and injust' and our mass demonstrations and started using that energy to chip away at what we can change in hopes of carving out support mechanisms to scale the mountain of life? I'm not saying we give up trying to make our world more fair and just - but for starters maybe just accept that what we got is what we got - and it ain't pretty! Energy is a directed resource and time is a limited resource. It would seem like the optimal course of action is not to spend time/energy brooding on unfairness (which wastes time and disperses energy) but to spend both of those forces on self improvement (which directs energy into a singular point[=power] and makes good use of time).
It may very well just be my personal opinion but I believe great strides can be made once people put away the idea that life has to be fair and just. So much suffering has come from people expecting fairness and justice just to be disappointed in the end as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. What if we accepted as truth that our world is flawed - a sandbox for learning about pain and disproportion? On the flip side of that only on our world can you experience the notion of being on top and squashing others below your heel just on the basis of who they are. After all in order for someone to win someone has to lose. It's by definition - the nature of rank and comparison. I imagine many worlds beyond our realm - beyond our comprehension - that are infinitely more fair and just than ours. Any one of us can probably think up a society and method of distribution that is better than our current one. If this is so then there must be a reason why our world is the way it is despite our best intentions.
http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/42-ways-to-kill-hitler/ That site claims to have documented 40 attempts at Hitler's life. Surely for someone who has caused so much suffering the ether(s) that take governance of our world would let even 1 of 40 thru. Yet he lived thru all of them and got 'lucky' countless times. Almost as if the ether wanted him to carry out his plot.
ultra-personal thought (new age-ish warning): Life is karmically balanced over many lifetimes of the same soul. Some events are premeditated to happen regardless to achieve specific results or payback past karma on this planet. There is justice and fairness but from a frame of reference beyond one human existence. A casino owner thinks slots are the greatest thing in the world until someone hits the big one. A slot player thinks casinos are the most evil thing in the world until they hit that one big jackpot. A human life may not span to see either of those events happen given the long term probabilities slot machines are calculated/certified on. Things seem to make sense when looked at from a higher vantage point.
To that thoughtfully extended response, I would suggest one thing, just as food for thought.
Is justice innate in human nature? Philosophers have made this a point of contention for millennia. But here is a simple piece of evidence. Take two little tiny babies. Give one a piece of candy. Watch what the other baby does. (He or she will not like that one bit!)
Conclusion: Justice is innate in our natures. We would not be upset by imbalances were it not so.
Empirically and intuitively true. We're all alike in that regard despite racial/ethnic/national/belief differences etc... Now we need to square the circle of our times. How do we treat everyone fairly and equally in a world of limited resource?
Yeah, there's the rub. To keep a little optimism, it is not necessarily true that resources are limited. We have choices. We can make more efficient use of less; we can discover an develop new; and we can be like the first baby, the one with the candy, who decides to share. Not all societies are selfish. It is evidently learned behavior.
The 'Just World' Fallacy is a known psychological bias. See this post:
"There are anecdotal accounts of people seeing the prisoners of concentration camps for the first time and assuming they must have been terrible criminals. The first place the mind goes is the place where the world is just."
Totally disagree here, buddy. You can't draw parallels from a statistically deterministic game of hold'em to life and expect your findings from the former to stand true in the latter! Like you said, life is chaotic, it doesn't follow any rules, meaning it most definitely does not acribe to a principle of justly allotting its spoils by giving people "what they deserve". You can't seriously look at people who are less fortunate than you today, who were presented with similar opportunities to you initially, and simply say that they deserve what they got because they didn't do what you did. You can't do that because it's impossible to find people who are different from you for no good reason; if they're worse than you it's only because they faced stronger challenges or received less aid than you did. That everyone gets what they deserve is a very ungrateful, egotistic, and falsely self-righteous assertion to make.
I think you can. Life is deterministic with variance, as is hold'em.
Anyway, as I thought I made clear in the post, but apparently didn't, the point isn't to look down on others-- it's to equate your results with your effort.
I'm thinking there may be a misunderstanding here somewhere. Life is not controllable but it can be influenced. Going back to Poker on TV you can have a 99% chance to win a hand and still lose. You are right that life is chaotic and any remote possibility is always a possibility. Over many poker hands though you will win 99% of the hands you have a 99% chance to win on (converging ever closer to 99% as you approach infinite hands). This is why you always see the same poker players in the top tier year after year after year. Surely they are reaping the benefits of making optimal choices over time and not just being lucky. Is it statistically possible for a select group of 10-20 people to place top rank in a game of chance year after year? Even in home poker games the wheat mostly rises to the top eventually over the chaff (given you play enough games of sufficient length - none of these start at 20 blinds to oblivion games which are truly random). Playing poker was stereotypically the realm of the desperate or the outlaw/desperado/can't hold a job etc... - thus if this still holds true then stereotypically a lot of these people were actually born with/given less than the average person but still found their own niche to make money. The whole 'hold em' craze back in the early 2000's was spurned largely by the dream that average joe's (many in college) could play a simple card game and make millions.
I can't find the exact quote but I believe there is no such thing as luck really. Luck is the result of making optimal choices and decisions throughout time. You cannot control life but your thoughts and actions influence the forces that be to create more opportunities for luck. Before I learned basic blackjack strategy I thought I was just unlucky and the house always won 75% of the time due to overly rigged rules. After learning the rules though I found myself assembling hands which were deemed lucky by other participants. Hitting a 16 vs a dealer 7 up card and getting 20-21 made me look 'lucky'. In the end though on wizardofodds I think he calculates the advantage of that play to be only 1% or half a % over standing 16 vs dealer 7 up. I cannot control the outcome of every blackjack hand, and when I hit 16 vs 7 I lose about half the time as expected, but over the long run I will fare better half a % or 1% off someone who doesn't do this. Many life choices have very narrow returns - but some life choices are low risk and high reward (ie approaching girls). Don't depend on "luck". Make your own luck - play optimally.
Life is a long term proposition. If we only lived for exactly one day then died I'd believe no one got what they deserve. I fully understand that some paths and lives are harder - much harder - incomprehensibly harder than others. I understand some may have no choices as to where they life should go. I consider myself lucky to have what I have given the full spectrum of human experiences out there right now. We could all be running and gunning child soldiers in Africa at the moment - death likely around every corner - but yet here we are. In any event though at the very least if we lost everything we have our thoughts and we can choose how we respond to events. I don't think anyone can take our perception of reality, our belief, away from us. If you can't control anything but your own beliefs - why not believe in the best to optimize your 'luck' over believing in the worst? Optimists in the end get a lot more 'luckier' breaks than pessimists.
I'm not saying it's easy - but if belief is all you got - why not make the play? I've heard stories in poker of people coming back from very small stacks (though I haven't experienced this personally).
Corollary to this post: If you don't have what you want right now it's because you didn't want it enough.
On the other hand, extreme outliers are mostly governed by chance - billionaires, top athletes, top authors, musicians. Of course hard work is necessary, but it is also not sufficient. You must be good AND lucky.
So back in January, I wrote out my 7 goals for the year. It's been two months, so let's see how I'm doing :
1. Become FULLY polyphasic
I'm close on this one. Many days I go perfectly, sometimes if I have nothing to do I oversleep and then skip some naps during the day. I'm actually pretty satisfied with that, as I'm only sleeping 2.5-4.5 hours per night, I'm never tired, and can always count on being awake early and staying up late. I'll keep pressing to be more consistent, but I'm satisfied with where I am.
I hear people talk about luck a lot. Straightup - luck doesn't exist.
If you believe in luck, then you believe either: (1) some people consistently defy probability, or, (2) some things aren't a result of cause and effect.
Life is a series of probability. Every day, there's a chance that a given set of things will happen. If you want to have a successful life, expose yourself to as much high-upside low-downside probability as you can. Any given thing you do might not work out, but if you expose yourself to high-upside low-downside, good things will happen. Read books, reach out to people, try to get projects working, keep trying to write and build things, keep learning new skills, keep treating people well.
If you want to fail at life, expose yourself to high-downside no-upside probability. This is short term gain at long term expense type stuff. Cigarettes. Unsecured debt for consumption. Most TV.
You'll keep getting "lucky" if you keep exposing yourself to things with upside and limited downside. If you get an amazing job or contract that you had a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting, were you lucky? No, especially not if you applied and pitched 1,000 other places. If you say, "Ok, I'm going to keep trying to get what I want until I do" you'll get it, as long as it's a positive sum game you're playing.