If you were a 14-year-old boy or older who was at least 5’3” and had a chest of 34 inches or more, most recruiters would have let you join the army in England during World War One. The recruiters were paid for each person they brought in and many people did not have birth certificates. Most of these boys grew up in depressed economic areas and were sold adventure and a chance to serve king and country. 250,000 ‘teenage Tommies’ aged between 14-18 fought in the war and we all know how many were slaughtered in the mindless trench warfare of competing empires.
We could have been born in Medieval times where life expectancy was somewhere in the 30’s. Or we could have been geishas in the Ming Dynasty or Roman slaves. Rolf Dobelli, co-founder of getAbsract, jokes: “How many of your inborn talents would have been worth much in those environments?” We wouldn’t have been reading “Think and Grow Rich” (published in 1938) if we were in one of the 18 million sent to Stalin’s Gulag camps in the 1940’s.
We almost never stop to think that we’ve won the Ovarian Lottery and how lucky we are to live where we do. We had no control over where and when we were born. We didn’t choose our parents or the values of our community.
Only 6% of the humans ever born are on the planet right now. Not only did we not choose when we were born but we didn’t choose the postcode/zip code of where we were born. Or what schools we went to – certainly not until we were 18.
Warren Buffett asks: “Imagine there are two identical twins in the womb, both equally bright and energetic. And the genie says to them, ‘One of you is going to born in the United States, and one of you is going to be born in Bangladesh. And if you wind up in Bangladesh, you will pay no taxes. What percentage of your income would you bid to be the one born in the United States?”
I try to remember this point when I talk to my accountant.
What’s the real point here? You and I have a lot more to be grateful for than we could ever imagine. And we’ve had plenty of luck.
I admit it’s taken me years to come close to letting this sink in. Years ago, I remember buying a book that made only point: be grateful. I felt rather short changed. How’s that a big deal? I’d ask myself. I liked books with ‘101 secrets to success’ rather than just one.
Year after year I would hear someone enjoying life more than me talking about their gratitude habit and I’d say to myself ‘heard that one before’ – forgetting that knowing isn’t doing. Gratitude is something you have to feel.
Oprah Winfrey is the one who finally got to me on how important it is to have a gratitude practice. Perhaps because I needed to hear the point many, many times. Perhaps because I let it sink over time listening to two of her books just how much she has accomplished from an ovarian lottery much tougher than mine – poverty, loneliness, and sexual abuse – to becoming a billionaire and still has time to read a lot and who contributes so much to so many.
I was struck that each day she wrote down detailed examples of 5 things she was grateful for. And it wasn’t just one of her 101 success secrets. She described it as the most important one of all: a grateful being, having a grateful outlook – noticing what to be thankful for. Could it be that impactful?
On weekdays I get up early and either run or bike. For the first few minutes I repeat over and over: “Thank you, God, thank you”. I borrowed this from Tony Robbins – another billionaire with an abusive childhood who had a worse Ovarian Lottery than me. I used to feel silly because my faith isn’t so deep but I love being in nature. All I can tell you is that after a few minutes, I feel different. More centred and peaceful. And if you only knew how much I’ve loathed running ever since I had a mad cross country teacher (running coach) called Ted Norrish from the age of 11, me feeling anything other than tortured by a run is quite something!
And winning the Ovarian Lottery goes beyond even gratitude. Many people spend too much time boasting about all the remarkable things they do. Yes, I am a massive proponent of taking action, but it’s also worth having a little more context. Your genetical wiring plays quite a role. But you have no control on the many generations who preceded you that contributed to those genes and the things those genes wire you to do innately. Zero. That’s your luck.
Have you ever had a conversation with one of your parents about why you are a certain way? And they have NO IDEA. It never came from them? I know I have. “You’ve always been that way” my mother will say. Ovarian Lottery. Nothing to post on social media.
Your environment, the teachers and role models you never chose – their messages have hardwired your brain to some extent. You had no control over that either.
Your good health? Again, the postcode and healthcare you got is quite a contrast to what you would have had as a child in Mali in 1984. There the size of your arm determined whether the Red Cross could give you a small portion of food or determined whether you were beyond saving from starvation.
And those people who boast in their newsletters about exercising at 5:30am every day? Well, at my school (and I was 11 and a product of my environment) the ‘real’ boys played rugby, my dad had played, and the conditioning we did over the years hardwired me for life – I’ve always wanted to be in good shape. I’ve almost never had to think about it thanks to what that environment gifted to me. Luck. Nothing for me to get smug or superior about.
The moral of the story is clearly that if you don’t currently have a simple practice around gratitude, it will serve you so much. It may take weeks or months for it to sink in, but do it anyway and your mental wiring will change gradually and your life will feel ever better. And you will attract in more of what you want over time too not least because you’re focusing on the right things versus thinking about what you don’t have and don’t like.
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it would be enough.
Meister Eckhart, German theologian and philosopher
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