In the modern world, we’re always wishing others “good luck”. Especially in Asian cultures, where superstitions run deep. When I was born, I was given the nickname “unlucky child” because of my untimely birth. Not only was I premature by a month (making me weaker and more sickly than other children), I was told that my birth was the cause of my parent’s divorce (this was a lie, but I didn’t know it until I was an adult). “You are bad luck,” my grandmother would say. But is bad luck or being “unlucky” always a bad thing?
In recent years, there has been a growing movement in positive psychology. Look no further than Instagram for your daily dose of inspirational, uplifting affirmations and mantras. But as someone who came into this world already facing many adversities, I have come to value the negativity and misfortunes that are intrinsic to our daily lives.
It took me a while to come to this point; I did not always feel this way. Like so many others, I wanted an “easy”, “lucky” and comfortable life filled with rainbows and butterflies and all things good.
But in looking back at my life, I realised that the struggles and brokenness were the very things that gave me strength. They have also made me immensely grateful and utterly happy for the positive and good things in my life.
Consider if your diet only consisted of sugary foods and drinks, and you vehemently avoided all things bitter, unsavoury, or bland. You might then be adapted to require extreme levels of sweetness in order to be satisfied or satiated. As Brene Brown wrote in Daring Greatly, “Numb the dark and you numb the light.”
My Favourite Graduation Speech is Not Uplifting, But Very Authentic
This is an excerpt from a graduation speech given by US Chief Justice John Roberts. I like its authenticity. But it’s not very uplifting at all.
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.
And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”
Far from the usually fluffy graduation rhetoric, Roberts reminds us not to diminish the value of our misfortunes and challenges. But to use them not just as lessons, but as set-points to revise our expectations and conditions for what makes us truly happy.
I grew up with the belief that I was “unlucky”. But as an adult looking back on my life, I can say the opposite. I was very lucky; I was lucky to have been born at all (not all preemies make it), and born in a developed nation. And although there were many adversities growing up with a single mum who also treated me like I was “unlucky”, I count myself blessed to have had just enough light to navigate through the darkness.
If we really think about our lives, there are so many ways in which things could have easily been worse. And in many ways, we are lucky that they weren’t. The trick is to take these challenges and benefit from them. As the Persian poet, Rumi, once said,
The wound is the place where the light enters you.”