I live a privileged life, even if I don’t own many houses or leather-bound books. It’s privileged because I am able to do and experience what many can’t. I’ll give you an example:
I was recently eating an over-priced but still delicious salad on the steps of the New York Public Library while wearing a nice suit, having just finished a great meeting with a client, and about to board a plane back to my wonderful family. There’s obviously a lot to be grateful for in that sentence, but it is deeper than that for me. I grew up in rural Mexico, and often dreamed of one day visiting New York City and witnessing the big lights, the buzz, the pizza (the eternal fat kid). Now I get to visit it regularly along with other places, with a purpose: my craft. But that’s not what this story is about.
In front of me were two couples, each had their little ones sleeping in a baby carrier, talking in Spanish. They seemed worn out, not just from the day but from the many days and years leading up to it. We all know the feeling; that stretched, feverish feeling when you’re not sure when or if things will get better. I noticed them because I thought I knew one of them, the older woman looked like my tia back home. They started arguing over whether they should go home since they didn’t have enough for lunch for everyone. This is when I realized how crazy of a scene this was.
At that moment I realized the truth we were both living but in different ways. We hadn’t fully earned our place in that scene. My hard work, education, and the network I’ve build has probably my success, sure, but it’s not the most important factor, not by a mile. My success is an accident because my birth was also an accident. I was an accident because my dad decided to take a work trip to the US, and my mom wanted to tag along. She was about the burst, but figured she had a couple more weeks. She didn’t, and I was lucky enough to be born in Wattsonville, CA. Because of that I was a US citizen and had been given a gift countless friends and family members have literally risked their lives to get.
I didn’t earn any of that, yet my whole life has been shaped by that flip of luck. If my mom would’ve chosen differently, or if my dad would’ve taken the trip a week before, or if mini-me had decided to take a few more days to cook, I would not be eating my lunch in the city I grew up idolizing and have a wonderful family waiting for me back home.
Why does any of that matter? Because we all have to realize that a good part of what we have and have achieved is largely due to luck. It is due to something we can’t control, and a force our talent, wealth, or connections can’t influence.
We should think about this and be humbled. We should also think about this and look at people who are not doing as well as we are and wonder, What unfortunate luck struck them? It could’ve been me. Because indeed it could’ve been. Luck doesn’t discriminate–and luck doesn’t care. Today’s good hand could’ve be tomorrow’s challenge.
Rather than think about this and get depressed and go into a nihilistic spiral, I want all of us to simply appreciate what we have even more because it very easily could not have happened. And I want us to also empathize with people who are not where they’d like to be because it might’ve had nothing to do with their work ethic or character, but just a matter of pure, fickle luck. The world has a big humility and empathy gap right now. That gap is alive and well because I don’t think many consider luck and so all the praise or blame are piled on the individual.
That scene in NY was a blaring reminder I am actually not that awesome, at least not entirely out of my own doing, and they were probably struggling with challenges that one day might fall on me. So the most humane thing to do is be grateful with what I have and be kind with what they lack. That will make any trip home that much sweeter.