Many moons ago, I moved back to the U.S. after a few years in Argentina. In a way, my timing could not have been worse: I returned at the height of the Great Recession. My friends didn’t tiptoe around the fact that the U.S. was riddled with bad luck. Lost jobs, dated iPhones, and fewer visits to favorite restaurants were not uncommon. On the other hand, some people seemed to be doing just fine.
That’s when I became interested in the idea of luck. What is luck? Why were some people emerging from the recession unscathed, while the lives of others were turned upside down?
Unfortunately, everything I read about luck left me wanting. I’m not a gambler, I don’t play cards, I don’t sell stocks or care deeply about finance, and I wasn’t about to start watching baseball. Those are the infinitely measurable areas of life that we can calculate: the times when absolutely everything stays the same except for one variable. We can know exactly what someone’s batting average is and if he’s having a bad streak, but the trials in daily life aren’t so simple. Because we’re not doing the exact same thing over and over again, we can’t immediately tell if somebody is unlucky, untalented, unskilled, or if an external factor (the economy, the weather) is to blame.