It’s one of those glib statements that demands interrogation.
I regard myself as lucky. But I’m lucky in a general sense, not in the sense of winning life's jackpot. I do live in the Cotswolds, but not in a manor house in the area favoured by Tory grandees. You won’t find my 'lovely home' splashed across the pages of a glossy Life Style mag. I don’t hobnob with celebrities. There isn’t a Porsche in my garage, designer shoes in my wardrobe, nor do I holiday in the Caribbean. But even as a child I was aware that I was more fortunate than many. My best friend at primary school was a poor little waif whose father had TB, who lived on the council estate and who didn't pass the 11+. I’ve no idea what happened to her, but if she transcended her background and the sink school she went on to, then she is a stronger, more determined and resilient character than I am.
I am lucky that I grew up in a secure and supportive middle-class family. I’m lucky because I’m intelligent, healthy and articulate. I'm lucky because I'm obstinate and persistent, and continued to pursue my dreams when other, less bloody-minded individuals, may well have given up. I may be a bit obsessive compulsive but I am inherently cautious, and definitely don’t have an addictive personality. It has always been easy for me to avoid the temptations of drugs or gambling because I've never been desperate and not needed the escape from reality these activities offer. But my resistance is nothing to do with strength of character - neither has the slightest appeal.
If I seem to have made the right choices in life, is it by design or is it accidental? How much personal credit can I take for the good fortune which has insulated me and my family from the harsher and more desolate outposts of life?
I used to attend a Friday morning life-drawing class. Two of the male members of this relatively small group were millionaires. A strange coincidence, but think about it. A middle-aged man who has made his millions is able to indulge his pass-times during most people’s working week. We were a sociable group, had a lot of fun and laughs together, and usually went to lunch en-masse afterwards. Inevitably, during this period in my life, the “You make your own luck” remark was made (probably more than once) by one or other of these men. And of course, it was solemnly agreed with by his fellow success-story.
I may have raised my eyebrows but I didn’t argue. I’m not sure I ever really knew what either of these chaps did to make their money, and I certainly couldn't challenge the claim that they had put in a lot of hard graft, had never stopped planning and scheming, had followed up every opportunity, and were alert to every half-chance as it floated within reach. I believed them, but is it the whole story?
However much we might like to believe it, we are not born equal. Life is not a level playing field. Our personalities are not self-created. We are not all extrovert, confident, able to sell ourselves. And anyone who claims - often with an air of self-satisfied complacency - full responsibility for their good fortune is deluding himself. It's tantamount to saying - “You losers! You didn’t pull your socks up like I did. You were wilfully blind to the many chances life offers equally to everyone. It’s your own fault you’re not a multimillionaire like me!”
For every one person who has made it, whatever *it* is, there are ninety-nine who worked just as hard but for whom the door didn't open at the right moment. Whose letters or emails arrived at the wrong desk. Who maybe encountered the right person but at an inconvenient moment. Who became tongue-tied when trying to explain their big ideas. Whose life tripped them up.
Here I include an excerpt from my book LIFE CLASS. It contains a reflection from one of the main characters, Dominic, on the statement I find so contentious.