Stop Calling People Lucky (You Have No Idea How They Got To Where They Are)

If you have read any of my non-fictional tales of past financial struggles and child abuse, you already know I am not what any sane person should call lucky. I fought my way to the First World and either myself or my family has paid every last penny for everything we have. No one handed us anything.

Yet, every so often, I run into an American, who after seeing the end results of my uphill battle exclaims:

You’re so lucky!

As a Third Worlder with a background like mine, few things in life irritate me more than a First Worlder telling me I’m lucky. It grates a nerve that spews venom every time I hear it. Sometimes, I manage to keep my thoughts to myself. Other times, my response is not quite as pleasant as they anticipated.

I understand that a lot of people believe they are somehow doing us a favour or commending us when they say this. Most of us do not think of it this way. Let me give you a handful of a million reasons why this is so insulting.

1. Your Privilege Is Showing

When people talk of privilege in America, there tends to be a strong focus on White privilege or patriarchal privilege for men. Little do many Americans of colour realize that to Third Worlders, even they are also privileged.

Being born and/or raised in the First World is a privilege, regardless of what social stratum you occupy in your society. There is a wealth of opportunities for people to take advantage of and the government does more for its people in the First World than even well-intentioned governments can afford to do abroad.

According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. For this and other reasons, Haiti and its neighbors (the third-closest being Jamaica) earned the reputation of being a “shit-hole” country. Imagine going to Haiti and telling someone who survived on a meal a day, lived in a shack and had no running water, that they were lucky because they completed college when you did not.

On a scale of one to ten, how badly do you think that person might want to smack you for speaking from a place of privilege to tell them they are “lucky” for all they suffered because they achieved one thing you did not?

When we bring that degree with us to foreign countries with better opportunities and achieve great things, and you say, “Oh my! You’re so lucky!” and we think of all we suffered in Jamaica, Nigeria, India or wherever we’re from, you don’t want to know the thoughts that are going through our heads.

2. It Undermines Hard Work

According to, 34% of U.S.-born residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. When I was in university, my human resources lecturer shocked us all when she told us that only 1% to 3% of Jamaicans had achieved the same.

The Jamaican Gleaner reports that 15% of our workforce at home has tertiary-level education. Note that this includes foreigners as well as people who attended trade schools. Jamaica has also suffered immensely from a “brain drain” where people like me, move overseas with our degrees to seek better opportunities.

Many people may look at those figures and believe that surely, the 1-to-3-percenters with an actual bachelor’s degree or higher must be lucky. If you truly believe that, you have no idea how college or university works in the Third World.

When I was in college, I lived on $200 per month between 2006 to 2008, and in university, between 2008 and 2012, that increased to $520 per month. I lived in the ‘hood for my first semester, because I didn’t know Kingston and had picked the wrong town to move to. I also almost dropped out in my third year because Mom lost her job and could no longer afford it. Thankfully, an aunt and my stepdad chipped in. It was a stressful year.

My situation was not unique. Many of us learned to do more with less so that we could complete our degrees and move on to a better life. I lived through a year-long drought with no regular running water for almost my entire freshman year, which led to a skin condition that I will have for the rest of my life. I washed all my clothes by hand for four years, had no water heater, and lived through the 2010 Civil Unrest in the middle of my second-year university exams.

In my first year of college, there was also a string of kidnappings involving young women at my rival university. Problem is, I had to walk past that school every day to take a cab to my own. No one went missing from my campus because we have one of the best security systems in the West Indies, and also, as a tech campus, our students were mostly men and they were very protective of the female population.

So, when foreigners tell us how lucky we are to have completed our degrees, or worse, that so many of us graduated debt free in a country where it is sometimes damn near impossible for young people to get credit … like I said, you don’t want to know what we’re thinking.

3. It Overshadows the Problem

Here’s the truth. No matter where you live in the world, immigrants will come to your country and do better than you. When I lived in Jamaica, foreigners came to my country, mostly from America and Europe, took the best jobs and had choice words for us on why locals weren’t doing as well.

Do you want to know how I ended up quitting my job and moving overseas? I listened. I listened to every critique they gave. While they did not always have a good grasp on why we could not afford to do certain things or did not show an interest in the things that would help us to advance, they were nonetheless spot on with the whats.

I didn’t tell anyone to go back to their country then if they didn’t like Jamaica, or that it was disrespectful to criticise us. Instead, I implemented changes to correct the critiques that did affect me and recognised the complacencies that had seeped into me as a local.

When I moved to America, I found myself in exactly the same place as the expats back home—minus their big bank accounts. I could pinpoint opportunity after opportunity and it was glaringly obvious to me why so many Americans were living above their means, falling behind their peers and failing to meet their personal expectations. Subsequently, in the past four years in America, I have achieved more than I did in 25 years in Jamaica, and have surpassed other 29-year-olds here on a fraction on their annual salary.

When they tell me how lucky I am, I challenge them by presenting them with my formula. In 100% of these instances, when they learned how I had gotten to where I had, the responses were negative. No one was willing to lose sleep, move outside the city, share property with family members, give up having their own car, or living on half their paycheck, to be where I was.

“How is that I’m lucky then, if you wouldn’t do it?” I would ask them.

“You’re right,” they would eventually decide. “You’re not lucky. You’re nuts and one day all that work is going to catch up with you. But, at my age, I should have X, Y and Z by now.”

“If you’re not willing to do what other people will not, then you cannot have what other people do not,” I would reply, which almost always ticked them off.

Here’s some hard-to-swallow truth. Every American I know who is losing sleep, did move outside the city, shares a home with family members, decided to delay owning their own car and/or live on a portion of their paycheck are living lives as fulfilled as, or even more fulfilled than, my own. This holds true regardless of their original nationality, race or the economic class they were born into.

Most times when people throw the word lucky at me, it is bitter. But, there are some instances when people mean it is a genuine compliment. However, I have to argue semantics on when you can and cannot use the word luck—a lesson that most Jamaicans already know and follow naturally.

Luck implies that something happened by chance. If I never buy a lottery ticket in my life, then buy one and win? I’m lucky. When a Dodge Charger made me swerve out of my lane and I swerve back just in time before a truck flew by me? That was lucky. Meeting the love of my life? Super lucky!

Luck, however, is not the result of hard work and sacrifice.

When a parent lives in someone else’s garage to cut costs and ensure their child graduates college debt free, they are not lucky. When an entrepreneur works three jobs to build their business from the ground up, they are not lucky. When a millennial lives on half their paycheck for four years to pay off their student loan debts and then takes a month off from work to travel through Asia, they are not lucky.

Why? Because none of those things happened by chance. They happened because people were willing to make sacrifices to make it happen—and all the rest of us are welcome to do the same.

Alexis Chateau Blog Logo

Find Me On:

48 thoughts on “Stop Calling People Lucky (You Have No Idea How They Got To Where They Are)

  1. Oh yes, as one of those third world people who just finished college, I’m waiting on the foolishness to start myself… lucky is the least. You know how Jamaicans stay 🤣 “stuck up, gwaan like she better than people” etc. etc. But so it go. ✌🏽

    1. LoL we also do say, “If you wah good, you nose haffi run”. Hopefully more people remember that, rather than assume it came to you by chance.

  2. Hi there Alexis, I think you have a really interesting and high quality blog – and I just wanted to let you know that I have nominated you for a ‘Sunshine Blogger Award’ 😊🏆🔆

    I hope you’ll be willing to participate – follow this link to see all the nominees and hot to take part:

    If the link doesn’t work – just click on the ‘Sunshine Blogger Award’ post in my blog homepage (Cherryl’s Blog) for all the details.

    Best wishes, Cherryl x

    1. Thanks, Cherryl. I really appreciate it. 🙂

      Sorry for the late reply. I never received a notification for this. Just found it while cleaning up my comments. I think WP might have flagged it because of the link. It does that sometimes.

      1. Thank you, Ruth! You can if you like. My Facebook page is @AlexisChateauWrites 🙃 once added, it will come up as just Alexis Chateau.

  3. We are the lucky ones Alexis. Lucky that you had such determination, some loving and caring family and friends to help and encourage you. We are lucky that so many immigrants enrich our countries and our lives. It is a great pity that so many people fail to acknowledge the fact.

    1. Glad you feel that way, but I don’t think a lot of Americans view our contributions as lucky for them. We’re a threat. It’s like I said in the article. Immigrants tend to do better wherever they go and wherever they are from. Not all of them, but enough to turn heads and cock eyebrows.

      1. Very true! Can’t believe I missed this comment as well.

  4. I have always subscribed to the old adage “Luck is the meeting place of preparation and opportunity.” May you always work hard to prepare and on some days pair that with the chance to use that preparation. There is nothing terrible about a little luck in this context.

    1. I have heard that saying before. It’s a First World ideology, so trying to project that onto a Third Worlder where we have limited opportunities no matter how prepared we are, is precisely the point of this article. That statement comes from a place of privilege and is tone deaf to the realities of people living overseas.

      1. I’ve read your post three times. I admire and follow your blog. It is true that as an old white male I have experienced and gained from privilege and acknowledge that. I have also worked with colleagues from a number of other wonderful nations, including Haiti and India and Brazil who have succeeded in the states. Each of them have struggled and achieved by exactly the formula I described. They worked hard to be ready to profit when opportunities presented themselves, both in their home cultures and here. I am not trying to project anything. I respect your hard work and sacrifice and success. Sorry you were somehow insulted. Best of “luck” in your continuing success. Do not take umbrage but wear your efforts with pride.

    2. have heard that saying before. It’s a First World ideology, so trying to project that onto a Third Worlder where we have limited opportunities no matter how prepared we are

      That’s an American ideology and it’s incredibly naive. It states that success only comes to those who take the opportunities, as though hard work is a guarantee of success.

      I come from a working class background. I’ve seen people work 2 jobs or long hours or both and still struggle to put food on the table, eventually going to an early grave working hard while having nothing to show for it at the end of their lives.

      1. Some people will say you’re supposed to “work smart” not “work hard” and that that’s the difference. There is some truth to that, but opportunities make all the difference.

        I could sleep through life in America and still make 3 times what I did in Jamaica without trying. People underestimate the availability of resources and opportunities. When people migrate, it’s to seek opportunities that are either not at home or that they don’t have the resources to take advantage of.

        Also, I take the correction that it’s an American rather than First World ideology. I’ve never heard that said by my Aussie and Euro friends. The advice I’ve always received from Europeans and Aussies was to downsize and live a more minimalist life as best as possible, so that even when there aren’t enormous opportunities available, you can still thrive through the famine that punctuates the feasts of freelance/entrepreneur life.

      2. Indeed. I don’t want a big house. I’m happy with our 2-bed flat although I would like a place with a garden.

        I don’t want to work myself to the bone for ever increasing larger houses, bigger cars and more expensive holidays. I think your generation and younger (you’re late 20s right?) are seeing the struggles their parents went through, being miserable chasing the dream, and not wanting any part of it.

  5. Been there, done that. “Oh you’re a self-employed writer? How lucky!” Well…

    I had to go through two years of trying and failing to get work I was qualified to do in a struggling economy between 2009-2011.

    Then to be hit with the bombshell of divorce, incurring more debt on existing debt as I tried to get established, living with family when pushing 40 as I didn’t yet have clients or income. then selling my car and cutting back on entertainment and social life, a time where going out on a date and spending £5 (about $8 USD) on a coffee and cake was considered a the height of frivolous expense and indulgent luxury.

    To THEN after a year of a tiny income, to be able to use my qualifications in an environmental science to land writing work for an environmental resource site, a qualification that landed me with £12k (about $18k) worth of credit card debt and no relevant work to show for it in the five years leading up to that point.

    Aside from all that, I am really lucky to run my own business 😀

    1. This is precisely why I don’t call anyone lucky, unless something happened by chance. Only then, does it make any sense at all.

      I’m sorry to hear you went through all that, but it seems like you’ve come a long way since then. 🤗

  6. There is no substitute for hard work and being an immigrant has never been easy. I was told once in my face by a temp jealous of my full-time position that she didn’t understand why companies employed foreigners when so many natives were unemployed. The answer is simple: the natives don’t want those jobs and I worked hard to qualify. We have a saying in Spanish that translates as “He who wants does more than he who can”.

    1. Indeed. I always say to such people that a “foreigner” cannot steal a job from somebody who isn’t qualified to do it, if they’re not applying for it, and a job they wouldn’t do even if offered.

      1. Here, it’s mostly them not WANTING to do it, more than them being qualified. That is a problem too though. Every university campus I’ve ever been on, most of the students are Asian, European, West Indian and African. Americans seem to jump ship after a bachelor’s degree more often compared to other students here.

    2. The English translation of the Jamaican equivalent of that is, “If you want good things, you’ll have a runny nose.” Basically means, you’ll have to suffer for a better life.

      Here in America, immigrants primarily take jobs Americans don’t want, especially night jobs, weekend jobs, and jobs in the service industry. I used to work a full 40 hours on the weekend, with 2 graveyard shifts: Friday night to early Monday morning then do my business during the week.

      1. That’s exactly it: often immigrants end up doing the jobs natives don’t want, like harvesting crops or cleaning public places. I once had a boss who told me that without foreign labour, the hospitals in England wouldn’t get cleaned.

      2. Your boss is right. One year, Georgia decided to implement a law allowing police officers to stop anyone and ask for their paperwork. Mexicans fled the state. That year, the peach farms and chicken factories suffered immensely. They tried everything to attract workers, even offered it to incarcerated people. No one wanted it, and those who did, did a terrible job in comparison. The peach harvest that year was especially bad. Farmers said fruits rotted on the trees because Americans couldn’t pick them fast enough. They had to repeal the ruling and then the Mexicans moved back.

      3. That is a very sad story indeed, but I’m glad they saw the error of their ways. Eventually, everyone everywhere will have to accept the fact that immigrants are essential to the economy and prosperity of every country. It is like Grapes of Wrath in a way.

Chat to me nuh!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.