Skill, Luck, and Trauma:

Life’s Balancing Act


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So often we attribute our successes to skill and other people’s success to luck, but we attribute our losses or failures to luck, and the failures of others to lack of skill or lack of effort.

People who have healthy resiliency and lives filled with a balance of losses and successes aren’t internally impacted by these thoughts. However, someone struggling to cope with their life can feel even less able to change their focus to one of resourcefulness and gratitude.

I’d like to define skill and luck so we can dig into this conversation a little bit better. Skill is the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance. Whereas luck could result in different outcomes based on chance.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Pexels.com

It takes a certain amount of skill to play an instrument or build a house, but whether or not your house floods is luck (good or bad).

The amount of money a person has doesn’t determine whether they view themselves as having over all good or bad luck. How a person responds to life is a greater predictor of their happiness and satisfaction over all and thus whether they define themselves as having good or bad luck.

How We Talk About Skill and Luck Matters

Recently a friend and I were talking about budgets and finance. The conversation shifted to talking about how the conversation around money needs to change because some people don’t have the same resources to be able to save for the future.

For instance a family living below the poverty line doesn’t have the luxury of putting money aside to save up for a rainy day while also feeding their family. They’re already using the food bank and already making do with far less than others.

This is so true. It’s very true. As my friend pointed out, the dialogue often turns to someone saying, “If you’d only work harder, you’d get there.”

This dialogue can be very helpful to the right person. To a resourceful person. However to someone struggling day after day, this dialogue only serves to hold them in place.

This dialogue assumes that a lack of skill and a lack of effort got a person to where they are and also assumes the person isn’t trying to change their situation. This mindset can immobilize a person so not only are they unable to change their situation, but they’re also likely to pass the same type of thinking onto their children.

Often a person in this situation is working a lot more than someone in a much better financial situation. Often times people who are in these situations work multiple jobs, ending each evening stressed, exhausted, and unable to even imagine a different life.

In our conversation about The 4 Fears of Procrastination, you might recall one of the fears was the fear of dreaming. A person living in a state of high stress, working multiple jobs, exhausted, and still trying to create a life for themselves and their family often finds themselves in the fear of dreaming state.

The dialogue needs to revolve around solutions and problem solving. It’s a matter of, “what’s happened to you?” and “What might change this situation to make it easier/better?”vs “What’s wrong with you?”

Even if a person’s actions directly result in them losing their job, their home, etc it does not mean they intended that to happen, it also doesn’t mean they are less worthy than any other person on the planet. A person’s skill can only take them so far, then luck needs to carry them the rest of the way. However, mindset (resiliency, resourcefulness, and gratitude) determines how much a person enjoys the life ride they’re on.

Luck and Trauma

For this article I’m using the term bad luck to refer to adverse life events that risk a person’s life, family, or home. I’m not talking about not winning prizes or not getting the car in the colour you wanted. I’m using the term bad luck to reflect events that could be traumatic. This term is more broad than some professionals define trauma, but I believe the way a person perceives events is a large indicator of their experience of traumatic events.

In other words it’s entirely possible that what one person experiences as traumatic is not traumatic for other people. So I’m maintaining a broader definition.

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I’m using the term trauma to reflect a situation a person experiences that they’re unable to cope with, which then results in a traumatic response.

When a person experiences repeated bad luck, they can lose their coping abilities. If their bad luck began in childhood, they may have never developed healthy coping techniques to begin with. When a person has poorly developed coping mechanisms, then bad luck is more likely to result in developing traumatic reactions to the different life events that happen.

Poverty and Trauma

The majority of the population has experienced trauma. Trauma can be caused by an overwhelmingly negative event that causes a lasting impact on the person’s mental and emotional state. However, not all trauma’s created equal. What one person may find traumatic, another wouldn’t even blink about.

As an example: When women give birth some of them experience a lot of trauma surrounding the birth experience, but others don’t. Even when two different women both experience the same basic cascade of events, they don’t both experience the same emotional response after delivery.

But a person that experiences something that could be traumatic now, may not feel traumatized by it until later, when they become overwhelmed, stressed, and immobilized in life.

Today’s bad luck becomes tomorrows trauma.

Sarah Langner

The lower a person’s socio-economic situation, the more likely they are to experience the effects of trauma. Someone living in poverty is more likely to experience events that could be perceived as traumatic, but they’re also more likely to experience trauma from events than those from higher socio-economic status. They’re also less likely to have resources to help them recover. Often it feels impossible for someone from lower social-economic backgrounds to make the changes necessary to improve their life experience.

working mom

The cycle of stress and bad luck makes it harder to notice opportunities to cope or change your situation. It feels like bad luck that you’re stuck where you are, it’s impossible to see a way out. You feel powerless and view those with more than you as having better luck. It’s easy to say, “Oh they were lucky to get to where they are. They had parents that had money, and they went to a good school.” It’s a lot harder to notice the work that actually took place within that luck when you see how hard you’re working day after day, but you don’t see the promised result of hard work.

This spiral of comparative thinking can lead to decreased resiliency and resourcefulness, and a lower experience of gratitude. Which in turn leads to an increased likelihood of bad luck which leads to a greater chance a person will experience traumatic effects from those events.

Luck and Trauma

When a person spends enough time feeling powerless, then stress, anxiety, and even symptoms of trauma creep in.

Trauma is more about our reaction to events rather than actual events. Certain situations are more likely to lead to a traumatic reaction, but not everyone reacts to the same degree.

When a person is faced with repeated stress and also feels powerless to change their situation, they’re more likely to develop signs of trauma. In other words, if a person lives below the poverty line under regular stress, and they believe there’s nothing they can do to change their situation, then they’re more likely to develop signs of trauma. *The trauma isn’t their living situation, the trauma is often something else, but the repeated stress and inability to act certainly play a role in triggering the reaction.

Most people know the term ‘fight-or-flight’, but there’s another component to that system. There’s also freeze. In both fight or flight we’re doing something to save our skin, but in freeze we’re immobilized, unable to do anything to help ourselves.

When the dialogue turns to luck, we inadvertently tell others or ourselves that we’re stuck and there’s nothing we can do to change that. We freeze.

Learning To Make Our Own Luck

When we talk about luck and wealth, it might feel like someone else got where they were going based off of luck. It allows us the opportunity to dream big dreams of the day we’ll be lucky too. Of course not everyone believes they’ll be lucky, and not everyone will be lucky. These beliefs can leave a person in a perfect cesspit of immobility, stress, anxiety, and, all too often, trauma.

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Before life hits the point of being traumatic, it’s possible to make changes to improve your resiliency and also provide opportunities to improve your life situation. The daily practice of gratitude helps a person see the positive aspects of their life which improves over all life satisfaction.

Even though it’s harder for someone with fewer resources (either internal or external) to shift their luck and the course of their life, it is possible. Most of the time someone in this situation benefits from programs that promote and support resourcefulness, resiliency, and decision making.

Resourcefulness and resiliency refer to ones ability to see ways to overcome and recover from difficulties.

Often an inability to make decisions or to act upon our decisions creates what appears to be bad luck, over and over again. When a person develops stronger life assessment and decision making skills, it opens up a greater capacity to be resourceful and resilient. And brings better luck.

Han Solo famously said, “Never tell me the odds.” He said it right before he took action and got them out of one tight spot or another. Did luck have something to do with it?

Ways To Improve Resourcefulness and Resiliency

  1. Recognize What You Need

    The easiest way to find a solution is to recognize what a solution looks like. If you need more money, the solution may be short term, or long-term. The solution may be another job, but if you only have so much spare time, that’s not likely in the best interest of you or your family. Getting a raise may be a solution, unless you’re already earning top income for where you work.

    The more you explore the situation, the more likely you are to find a solution that works.

  2. Recall a Similar Problem

    Think back to a time you or someone you know has faced a similar problem. Compare the ways the two situations are similar. Look back to how the problem was solved (ask your friend if it was their problem vs your own). Consider the ways you can use that information to make your current situation better than it is.

  3. What Could Be Even Better

    In any situation it’s helpful to look at what’s working and what isn’t. If this same situation occurred again, what would you do differently? It may not change your current situation, but it facilitates a resourceful attitude that makes future situations easier to deal with.

  4. Ask For Help

    So often we get caught up in the idea that we need to do things alone that we forget that humans are social creatures. We all do better when we lean on others and when we let others lean on us.

    So often we know someone who’s already worked through a problem similar to our own. Even if they didn’t find a successful outcome, that information can be useful to help find a different solution.

    There is often someone or some resource available to help before a situation becomes completely overwhelming. The earlier you ask for and receive help, the easier it is to move on.

  5. Use Technology

    If all else fails, google an answer to your problem. You can often refine your search to your specific area. For instance let’s say you lose your job and can’t pay your mortgage, a quick google search brings up several suggestions to help give you breathing room until you can find a new job.

    You can also use google to search for solutions to prevent problems from happening. A quick google search of ‘how to protect your job…” fills in several possible reasons and comes up with several hits.

  6. Try a Few Different Solutions at Once

    It’s not always possible to tell which idea will be the most successful. So it’s helpful to try a few things at once. For instance, if you needed more money, looking for a new, better paying job may be a good idea, but if you also sell some unused items you have, and offer your skills for a fee you’re more likely to find a solution that’ll bring you what you need when you need it.

  7. Be Creative

    Over all being resourceful is about being creative. The more creative your thinking, the easier you can find unique ways to solve problems.

  8. Practice Gratitude

    Having gratitude means we acknowledge the good parts of our lives more than the parts we’re worried about. This may be as simple as being thankful for your partner or being thankful for the roof over your head vs worrying that you’ll lose your home.

Luck, Trauma, and Skills are Related

Our start in life is a matter of luck. Our parents social and economic situation dictates how well they’re able to cope with life, which in turn determines how well we’ll cope with life. This start determines how likely life itself is going to be traumatic. But the space between difficult and traumatic offers many opportunities to develop and use skills that can change the direction your life leads.

In the space between difficult and traumatic, it’s possible to improve resiliency. The skills that support resiliency and resourcefulness also translate to other life areas. People who use these skills are often happier, and over all more successful at coping with life than those who don’t.

Whether we can change our life station or not based on hard work is up for debate, but we can change our outlook. A positive, grateful, outlook on life allows us to feel like we have good luck and a good life. Is that enough?




6 Comments

Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing

Reply

Thanks for letting me know you stopped by 😊

Reply

Definitely some deep food for thought. Thank you for the perspective. We often need to look through other’s eyes instead of just our own.

Reply

Thank you so much for stopping by. I really appreciate knowing that my post encouraged thought about a subject. I’d love to hear what some of your thoughts might be so we can deepen the conversation.

Reply

Thought provoking article. It is so true that it is vital that we learn and teach our children resiliency. It is not so much about the money we have in the bank but the ability to learn, problem solve and overcome that can be the richest gift we have. And as opportunity allows we should share this with those who desire to listen!

Reply

Thank you for stopping and sharing your thoughts!

Teaching our children resiliency is so important, and a big part of that is making sure we maintain and support our own resiliency.

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