Making Your Own Misfortune

by Jonathan Deutsch

“Make your own luck” is a great philosophy to have on the world. It emphasizes a forest-scoped perspective for being at the right time and places conducive to exciting new opportunities.

I’ve recently considered the less optimistic flip-side. If you said, “accidents happen,” a counter would be, “not if you are careful.” In other words, don’t make your own misfortune.

Unnecessarily increasing the probability of an accident invites bad luck. Perhaps it is weaving through traffic instead of staying put in your lane. Next thing you know, you’ve collided with a car in your blind spot. Or it could be leaving a hot kitchen stove unattended; the apartment is burning down.

In poker, when you’ve been getting terrible cards all night it becomes easy to convince yourself that a mediocre hand is worth playing. But this too is making your own misfortune. Others will be playing better hands and once you’ve hit middle set it is painful to let it go. But you’ll lose, and it is all because you put yourself in a situation where there was a difficult choice, and then chose wrongly. Put yourself in situations with easy choices.

This doesn’t mean being risk adverse, but making sure your priorities are straight. Is it worth increasing the chance of death to get to a party 5 minutes quicker? The principle applies to issues aside from safety as well.

When programming, you could have an easy performance win by multi-threading a critical section. But down the road you’ll be inviting dead locks and race conditions when another engineer begins working on the project and doesn’t have their head fully around the codebase.

It may be an art to understand complexity tradeoffs, or perhaps it just takes experience. But it could simply require reflection – how might you be making your own misfortune?