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Friday, December 6, 2019 09:26:38 PM
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Just Your Luck

Fortune Matters Much More To Acknowledge

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Marty Nemko :
Speaking to Harvard's 2019 graduating seniors, dean Rakesh Khurana asserted that Harvard grads don't deserve their success. Rather, they are the benefits of privilege, of luck.
My reflexive reaction was to disagree. After all, I'm pretty successful despite coming from poverty, living in a Bronx tenement, as the child of Holocaust survivors who suffered the unimaginable and who spoke virtually no English, had no education, no money, and no family-only the scars of the Holocaust tortures.
But on reflection, Khurana may be right. Research is finding that ever more of who we are is affected by our genes. Sure, environment matters-but unless you have the luck to have been born with genes predisposing you to intelligence, impulse control, drive, physical and mental health, etc., all the education, and compensatory programs probably won't get you into, let alone out of, a prestigious college.
After you're born, luck continues to matter, for example, who happens to live next door: a kindly mentor or a violent coke addict.
Now you enter school: How often did you get fine and well-matched teachers versus those who made you feel bad about yourself. That often happened to me. Teachers so often scolded me and gave me bad grades in "Conduct" because I couldn't sit still. Today, they likely would have labeled me "hyperactive" and put me on Ritalin.
Then there is the luck of whether you're conventionally attractive. Alas, homo sapiens are a visual species, so pretty people get a huge edge merely because of chance.
When you flipped through the encyclopedia, perhaps you encountered nothing that sparked a flame within you. Or you happened on, say, the psychology entry, which spawned a lifetime fascination and a rewarding career.
Walking in the crosswalk, you safely reached the other side while the next child got run over when the driver, for just a moment, glanced at the cell phone.
You came of age when college was affordable to many. Or you came of age when college forces you to assume a mountain of debt, and thanks to the powerful college lobby, student debt is one of the only forms of debt that cannot be discharged even in bankruptcy.
In your college dorm, lo there was the romantic partner of your dreams and s/he just happened to be available and fell for you. Or despite your best efforts, you've had no luck in love.
You came of age, as I did, when a house was affordable to many. Now the same house is affordable only by the wealthy or to someone trading up-a likely house of cards.
You became an employee of a company that hit it big and your stock options are worth zillions. Or you became an employee of a start-up that looked equally promising yet went belly-up.
You worked for a boss who wants you stuck in your current position because it makes his or her life easier. Or you worked for a boss who was happy to facilitate your advancement.
You stayed healthy until at age 95, when you died in your sleep. Or at age 35, you died after a long, painful battle with cancer.
Many people claim most of the credit for their success and are too quick to denigrate the unsuccessful. But a fair-minded person recognizes and is grateful for the large role played by luck.
(Marty Nemko, Ph.D., is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, California, and the author of 10 books).

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