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…