Is Your Success Due To Hard Work Or Luck?

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Let’s watch a TED talk today. Have you watched this talk from social psychologist Paul Piff – Does money make you mean? Their research team conducted various experiments to see how wealthy people behave. I’m very curious about the role of luck in life. Let’s see what they did in the Monopoly experiment.

Winning in Monopoly

I’m sure everyone played Monopoly at least a few times when they were young. It’s one of the most well-known board games in the world. Even I played the game as a kid in Thailand. I never liked Monopoly much, though. Someone always cheated and the game would finish with a fight. I also remember the game taking way too long and I’d lose interest after a while. In contrast, RB40Jr (our son) loves Monopoly.

Paul Piff ran a very interesting Monopoly study with hundreds of people at UC Berkley.  First, they determine a “rich” and a “poor” player with a coin toss before starting the game. The “rich” player had more starting money, rolled more dice, and received double $$ as they pass GO. The game was rigged so the “rich” player can’t lose.

The result was quite interesting. The rich players consumed more (pretzels), became louder, more assertive, more confident, and yes, more full of themselves. When the game was over, the rich players attributed their success to their skill and talent. They felt they deserved to win because they played well. Largely forgotten was the coin toss at the beginning to determine who would get the advantage in the game. I’m sure the loser didn’t forget that coin toss, though.

Wow, that’s an interesting result. As a successful early retiree, I feel like I’m doing very well in the game of life. I attributed this to hard work, perseverance, entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to try something new. I didn’t think luck has anything to do with it until recently. Now, I realize luck is a huge factor. I’m extremely lucky that I have a supportive family and a good education. I also feel incredibly lucky that I live in the good old U.S. of A. Unlike many of our readers, I wasn’t born here. My parents immigrated to the US when I was 12 and that made a huge difference in our lives.

Sure, it was difficult in the beginning as immigrants, but we worked hard and improved our lives over the years. I have no idea where I’d be if we stayed in Thailand. Most of my cousins there are college educated, but there are not many good employment opportunities. Most jobs don’t pay enough for them to buy their own home and many of them still live with their parents. That’s the norm over there, though. One cousin kept changing majors and she is having a difficult time finding a good career. Some started their own businesses and they are doing okay. Everyone is making do, but I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am – a stay-at-home dad/blogger in the US.

Start with a good hand

Now that I think about it more, I realize I started out with a lot of advantages.

  • My parents were college educated and they valued education highly.
  • My parents were middle-class city folks in Thailand when most of the population worked in agriculture.
  • We lived a modest lifestyle when I was a kid and it became habitual.
  • My dad was entrepreneurial and he was never afraid to extend himself and try something new.
  • My parents were intelligent. Thanks to genetics, I did pretty well in school. My brothers are way smarter than me, though.
  • I’m very lucky that I married the right person. Mrs. RB40 is frugal, smart, supportive, and reliable. She is a team player.
  • I’m a lucky optimist. Is this genetic? I don’t know, but I’m glad I see the best things in life.

Anyway, I know many of us believe we make our own luck, but is that really the case? In the personal finance blogosphere, we have to believe that hard work makes a difference. If you think it’s all down to blind luck or faith, then there really isn’t much to blog about.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”


Yes, I completely agree. I’m also sure that wealthy folks have much more opportunities and they are more prepared to take advantage of them. Poor folks have to spend a lot of time and effort just to make ends meet. They have fewer opportunities and they can’t take advantage of them. In the end, we probably shouldn’t dwell on whether we got the good flip of the coin. We just have to play the hand we’re dealt and work hard to be more successful. Of course, keep an eye open for those opportunities and be ready to take advantage of them.

What do you think? Are you successful and is it due to your hard work and dedication? Did you start out with a good hand in this game of life?

Passive income is the key to early retirement. These days, I’m investing in commercial properties with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the United States. It’s been working so well that I’m planning to sell our rental condo so I can invest more. Sign up for a free account and go check them out!

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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