Chance Favors The Prepared Mind

“Chance Favors The Prepared Mind”

Those are the words of Louis Pastuer. My old university had them engraved on one of the science buildings (shown in the image).

Last night BF and I were talking about his friend Rich*. Rich, according to BF, is one of those guys who always has “crazy bad luck”.

Now, I’m a scientist, I don’t necessarily “believe” in luck. I don’t think that people are inherently lucky or unlucky. I think, just like Pasteur says, that chance will favor those who are prepared.

But, BF says, “Rich was driving down the highway when his drivetrain broke and his car flipped over and totaled the car! How unlucky is that? The drivetrain breaking while driving?”

Me: “Well, did Rich properly maintain his car? Did he make sure that he got all the recommended services done on his car?”

BF: “No, knowing Rich it was probably an old rusty beater.”

Me: “Then that isn’t Rich being unlucky. That is Rich being unprepared and chance catching up with him.”

See, I don’t necessarily believe in luck or chance, I do think randomness exists. However, I do believe that we can favor good luck or bad luck with our actions.

For instance, I’ve always felt that I was exceptionally “lucky”. When in school if ever I had more than I thought I could handle something would happen in one of my classes to help ease the burden. If ever I have had a financial emergency I’ve managed to be able to handle it on my own (and with a little help of Visa ;) ).  The only unluckiness I’ve had in life is my mom and brother both passing away from cancer at early ages (42 and 22, respectively). But those aren’t events that I had any control over to begin with.

I believe that the reason I have been so blessed in the area of “luck” and “chance” is that I’ve always tried to be prepared (yes, I’m stealing from the boy scouts here).

I always kept up with my classwork so that overwhelming times were few and far between. I’ve been able to handle financial independence since I was 19 years old (the year my mom died) because I had been prepared by my mom before that how to balance a check book (if only she’d taught me better about the pitfalls of debt!). I was “lucky” enough to get a full ride scholarship to college because I prepared myself by working exceptionally hard in high school and being active in a ton of extracurricular clubs and activities. There hasn’t been any “luck” to me being as successful as I was in graduate school (10 publications, a national fellowship and an award for the best graduate student the year I defended) or in my post-doc (3 more publications and an NIH fellowship). It wasn’t luck, it was work. It was preparedness. I didn’t sit and wait for chance to bring good fortune to me – I prepared myself for my success.

So what about BF’s friend Rich? Is he really unlucky? Or has he just forgotten to prepare himself for the future by making the investments he needs to now? If he’d bought a better car or put the money in to proper maintanence of his car – would his car have flipped like it did? Maybe. Maybe chance had it that day that someone’s drivetrain should break and their car should flip and Richjust happened to be the unfortunate recipient of fate’s bad luck. Or perhaps chance disfavored Rich in that moment because Rich didn’t put in the necessary time and money in to preparing himself against a disaster.

What do you think? Are you properly preparing yourself to be on the favorable or unfavorable side of chance?

*Names changed to protect the unlucky.

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4 Responses to Chance Favors The Prepared Mind

  1. I love this! I may just use it ;)

  2. psychsarah says:

    I tend to be scientifically minded too, so I don’t put much stock in fate or luck, but I do think some people get the short end of the stick, through no fault of their own. Some would call them unlucky. I would agree to some extent that being prepared can prevent some chaos (which is why I save, plan ahead, etc.), but sometimes these things just give us the illusion of control, like we can prevent uncontrollable stuff if we just plan ahead. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. There are thingd you can’t prepare for, like fatal or chronic illnesses/disabilities, car accidents that are not your fault, etc. I’ve worked with many people in these situations and inevitably people ask what they did to deserve X or why it’s happening to them. The short (and wholly unsatisfactory) answer is “life ain’t fair”.

    • SS4BC says:

      Oh indeed some things aren’t fair and they’re generally random or genetic. Like I said, my only “bad luck” has been all my family from childhood dying at young ages. It is true, those truly random events are terrible and no one deserves to have them happen to them.

      And sometimes even those most prepared for life can’t avoid random fate. My chemistry prof in college who was in a car accident that killed his wife and two children but left him alive. The marathon runner/running coach at my school diagnosed with brain cancer. These are terrible, horrific turns of chance. And not at all preventable.

      I’m more referring to those people who are chronically “unlucky’ because they always lose their job, their bills can’t get paid, their wife took the kids, their car won’t start anymore, etc, etc. This unluckiness stems from unpreparedness, not random chance.

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