Was it Fate? Or was it Luck?  Or why do I never get the breaks? 

Fate GoddessWhen I think of fate, I think of India and Hindus.  I think of the book “The Prince and the Pauper”.  I think of Rudyard Kipling’s comment “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Fate to me denotes an unalterable destiny.  Fate can be good for you or it can be bad.  It all depends on whether you are born a King or a frog.

When I think of luck, I think of New York and Americans.  I think of the book “Scarne on Cards”.  I think of the comment by Thomas Jefferson “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  Luck comes to the lucky.  Some of us never seem to get any luck and others win the lottery two and even three times.  Luck can be good or it can be bad for you.  You can die in an accident if you are very unlucky or if you are very lucky the car will just miss you.

Many people would argue that there is a vast difference between fate and luck.  They would argue that the two concepts are very different.  Webster ’Online defines each as follows:

Play Song:  “With a Little Bit of Luck”.  From My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe


1a:  a force that brings good fortune or adversity

1b:  the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual

2:  favoring chance; also :  success <had great luck growing orchids


1:  the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do :  destiny

2a :  an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition, or end

2b :  disasterespecially :  death

3a:  final outcome

3b :  the expected result of normal development

3c:  the circumstances that befall someone or something <did not know the fate of her former classmates

If you look closely, you should notice that the concept of “Will” is in the definition of fate.  It is not in the definition of luck and most of us would not associate will with luck.  But what is will?  Is there someone pulling the strings of fate, but no one pulling the strings of luck?  Why would this be?  Are there different gods for fate than for luck?

Looking at the two definitions, you may also notice that fate is seen as predestination.  It is inevitable and unavoidable.  However, can anyone change their luck?  We all know people who are perpetually unlucky and who seem to be like the character in the old Li’l Abner cartoon that bad luck followed wherever he went.  His name was Joe Btfsplk and he was a perpetual jinx.   Could he have somehow changed his luck?

“We dream to give ourselves hope. To stop dreaming – well, that’s like saying you can never change your fate.”   ― Amy Tan,

goddess of luckWhat gives us good luck or good fate?  The goddess of luck in Greek mythology was Eutykhia who could bring good fortune, success and prosperity.  She was also known as Tyche or the spirit of chance, providence and fate.  There were also the Moirai who were the goddesses of fate that personified the inevitable destiny of man.  In the “Thread of Life” each person was apportioned a lot or part by the Moirai whose job was to spin the threads.  Even the mighty Zeus did not have the power to change the destiny woven by the Moirai.

Thus, it appeared to the Greeks, that the concepts of fate and luck were closely related.  I have long held to a very contradictory opinion about luck.  I believe that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”  Luck is not given by the gods but we give luck to ourselves.  I do agree with the Greeks that the concepts of fate and luck are closely related.  Now this would seem to pose a problem for my conceptual consistency.  If fate is willed by the gods and is thus inescapable and luck is similarly prescribed for us than how can I believe that we can change either our luck or our fate?  Well, to be consistent, I have to believe that we can also change our fate.  And of course, you guessed it; this is where I stand on fate.  Fate is not destiny nor is it inevitable.  Let me give you a few examples of where paupers became princes.

Humphrey Bogart was born to a wealthy family in New York City.  He grew up with privilege and the finer things in life.  However, one thing no one would accuse Bogie of was being good looking.  Given the glamor and good looks associated with most leading men, it would seem that his changes to play a “leading man” were next to zero.  Nevertheless, his onscreen presence and charisma were so magnetic that he became one of the greatest leading men that Hollywood had ever seen.  I could provide examples of dozens of other unglamorous men and women who broke into Hollywood stardom after they had been told to get a “regular” job.

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”   ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The history of US presidents has numerous examples of men who went from poverty to the presidency.

“James Garfield was the youngest of five children born on a poor farm on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, Garfield is perhaps the poorest man ever to have become President. Supporting himself as a part-time teacher, a carpenter, and even a janitor through college, he was an idealistic young man who identified with the antislavery tenets of the new Republican Party.”   http://millercenter.org/president/garfield/essays/biography/1 .

We all know the story of Abraham Lincoln so that does not need repeating.  Several presidents like Thomas Jefferson went the other direction, from relative wealth to poverty.  Thus, proving that with some effort one can go from prince to pauper as well as from pauper to prince.

Corporations are a good source of examples for rages to riches stories.  Li Ka-shing is a Chinese billionaire whose net worth is estimated at 23 billion dollars.  Forbes provides the following background on Li’s rags to riches story:

“Li fled a turbulent China in 1940; settled in Hong Kong. At age 15, after the death of his father, he was forced to leave school to work at a plastics factory.  He later borrowed money to manufacture plastic flowers and eventually grew his Cheung Kong Industries into a conglomerate with stakes in supermarkets, property and cell phones.” 

According to Forbes, two of out every three billionaires in the world today are self-made.  They did not inherit either their money or “good” genes.  Destiny or fate gave them poor hands to start with but they made their own luck.

Presidents, movie stars, billionaires, some of them were born with more assets then others. Some of us are no doubt smarter, stronger and better looking than others, but for every one of those lucky folks given the assets that the rest of us would die for, there are four or five people who also received the same assets and they are now losers.  I use the word losers advisably because “yes” they lost their assets through neglect or complacency.

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Jesus said:  “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” –  Matthew 25:29 – HOW UNFAIR!  But Jesus was not being unfair; he was expressing a truth of life.  Perhaps it could be rephrased as “Use it or lose it.”  You are smart, then find a way to use your brains.  You are strong, then find a way to use your athletic abilities.  You have musical abilities, then work hard and learn an instrument.  Don’t spend years waiting for the Goddess of Luck or the Goddess of Fate to shine on you.  You will find that they shine brighter on those who make their own luck.  The luckier get luckier and the unlucky will have even less luck.

lucky sevensWhen I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, we used to have a phrase to describe the lucky few who we thought were somehow the chosen ones.  We said “they got the breaks.”  We threw this phrase around quite haphazardly as though it alone was enough to explain why they were up there and we were down here.  Why they got the millions and all we got were pennies.  Why they were rich, beautiful and successful and we were poor, struggling and losers.  It was quite simple:  “They got the breaks.”  Our destiny was cast.  We did not get the breaks.  That was easy to see and easy to understand.  What could we do?  Here is the reason that Robin Hood is so popular.

Thomas Hahn, professor of English at the University of Rochester, and author of numerous essays and books on Robin Hood, says the character’s popularity has long represented people’s frustrations with life in capitalist society.

“Robin Hood’s appeal arises from primal desires for justice and equity,” he says. “And though medieval in origins, this is a fantasy broad and deep enough to possess the imaginations of people in almost all times and places.”

We wanted justice.  We wanted equity.  We wanted their luck and their fate.  They got the breaks and we wanted them.  Actually, we wanted their money and status and to heck with justice and equity.  We wanted the things that money would bring and would have taken them if there were no laws against it.  Poor Robin Hood, hounded by the Sheriff of Nottingham and he was really just trying to distribute some of the breaks to the hoi polloi.

As the song goes in My Fair Lady, we wanted to have it all and not really work for it.  With a little bit of luck, or so the song says, you can have it all and never have to work. That was our true dream.  Riches, fame and fortune and never have to work a day, an hour or even a minute in our lives.  That is the ultimate break.   Alas and alack, we were brought up on a fantasy that still seems quite prevalent among a large group of people.

It took some of us many years of our lives to learn the real truth that as Thomas Jefferson so wisely said “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  If we had only learned and heeded this truth many years earlier, we could have changed our fate and gone on to achieve a good deal more with our lives.  Some of us would still be alive and not dead on drug overdoses.  Some of us would not be in jail and living on the fringe of society.  Some of us would be upstanding respectable members of society and not living on handouts and pittances.  The bad fate and bad luck that many of my friends and I caught was not fixed in the stars but unfortunately fixed in our minds.   We did not get the breaks so what could we do?

Time for Questions:

How has your luck been lately?  Do the Fates tend to shy on or away from you?  Are you waiting for luck or making your own luck?  What if you were lucky, how would your life be different?  Have you had more good or bad luck in your life? Why?  What if you could change your luck, would you work harder for better luck?  What do you think controls your fate?

Life is just beginning.

Here are some resources for changing your luck and perhaps your destiny.  Let me know if any work for you.  J



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Merrilyn
    Apr 23, 2014 @ 00:31:44

    I am where I’m supposed to be. Why? I may never know or know today but down the road I might know why or maybe never until I die. I have said many times over that I am where I’m supposed to be. I knew my mother needed me so I came here for her but little did I know this would open a spot for our daughter to have a quiet place to study and become a nurse after working about 15 years in banking. Now she is helping others. So, we figure it was fate that made this all happen. It was fate that made me free of working, just waiting for a job to come through but was happening slowly. I kept wondering why is this being help up. Why do I keep missing spots cause of this hold….I felt I just wasn’t lucky as others…then fate showed my why. I could go on and on with this sinero but I won’t. Just had tell you that. I am usually lucky at the casino around my wedding anniversary. It was fate we met and we have been lucky enough to have been together all these years….46 years this Sunday. Now that is luck or is it fate???? Hummmm now I’m confused.



    • johnpersico
      Apr 30, 2014 @ 22:47:20

      Merrilyn, Forty six years of marriage is hard work, commitment and loyalty. No luck in this at all. If you took care of yourselves health wise that improves longevity and we are now bordering on the “average” life spans so I don’t see that as luck or fate either. There is a lot less “luck” out there then most people want to believe. I do agree there is luck and fate but too many people are dependent on these ideas rather than making their own destiny.



  2. narayank991
    Apr 24, 2014 @ 09:20:18

    Hi Dr. Persico ,

    Your entire premise is to disprove that success is linked with fate or luck ; why ?

    These are two entirely different concepts ; people who believe in luck or fate do not necessarily link them with success ; it is the American predisposition to do so !

    The hindu does not necessarily ascribe fate as the reason for failure or success. Nor does believing in fate prevent us from working hard towards possible success.

    If we delink the two , surely fate and luck do exist , otherwise how do you explain those who win the jackpot , or those who survive disasters ?



    • johnpersico
      Apr 30, 2014 @ 22:42:58

      Thank you, I appreciate your clarification. It always helps to have someone more knowledgeable on a particular subject give their opinion. I am afraid I suffer the same biases or lack of knowledge towards Hinduism that many Americans have. However, my bias towards making one’s own lack is strictly my own. Too many people are waiting for luck to happen. Perhaps it will but I will invest my money in stocks and not a lottery ticket. Like I used to tell my mother “Give me your dollar and at the end of the year, I will have a dollar and seven cents earned for you.” My mother of course rather buy a lottery ticket. She never won a penny in her entire life.



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