“Oh, aren’t you lucky!”
It’s a seemingly innocuous phrase that most of us use fairly frequently. It’s usually uttered when someone tells you about something they’re doing or have that sounds fabulous and that well, quite frankly, you’d like too.
I’ve been ruminating over it a lot lately, and I’ve decided it’s not a phrase I like very much when used in a certain way. I am so grateful for my life as it is now, and I know I am lucky in some respects… especially when I was in such a bad place due to my breakdown a few years ago. I have an amazing husband, nice house, cute dog and I’ve recently redressed my work life balance to make it work for me. I really am so grateful!
The Collins dictionary defines the adjective of lucky as:
“If you describe an action or experience as lucky, you mean that it was good or successful, and that it happened by chance and not as a result of planning or preparation.”
And therein lies my problem with it.
I started to think about it when I started to tell people that I was reducing my work hours to part time. “Ohhh, well aren’t you the lucky one!” people would say with a faux pout, often with the addition of “I wish I could do that!” I know where they’re coming from; I am extremely fortunate to have been able to manipulate our finances and lifestyle so that I could drop my hours down to part time. But, the whole exchange doesn’t take into account the huge amount of heartache, stress and sacrifices that went into making that decision, nor the events leading up to it. On a superficial level, we aren’t so flush that I was able to drop my hours with no adjustment to our lifestyle – I got rid of my car and we drastically reduced our living expenses with things like food, TV and have halted any work we were going to have done on the house. I am lucky in a sense that I was able to make lifestyle adjustments to accommodate this, as some people would still not be able to afford to reduce their working hours even if they cut down on essentials rather than luxuries… and for that I am truly grateful. It’s something I reflect upon a lot.
But to say I am lucky? It diminishes all of that. It doesn’t take into account the sharp decline in my mental and physical health that led me there, and the fact that I felt like a massive failure when I first came to the decision. It doesn’t recognise the fact that we are struggling with infertility, and this was part of our plan to reduce stress in the hope that it might still happen for us. Because how is anybody else making polite conversation supposed to know this? They’re not! Nobody can know everything about the person they’re speaking to, nor what might trigger them… but I’ve been thinking lately about how we can be more empathetic to people.
I found myself doing it to someone recently. She was telling a group of us that she had been off work for a year and was going back after Christmas, and knowing that she had a small baby and had probably been on maternity leave I blurted out “oh wow, lucky you, I’d love a year off!” and instantly heard myself and regretted it. As it happened, she was off with her small child but only because her child had some health complications they hadn’t anticipated, so she ended up having more time off work than she’d planned for… and she was really terrified of going back and leaving her child. I wanted the ground to swallow me up; I felt SO insensitive and also hypocritical. This has been said to me so many times lately, and I’ve thought to myself “you have no idea about the back story of this” – and here I was doing it to someone else!
People have told me how lucky I am to have my own jewellery business and to be able to work on it from home. Again, I know that I’m fortunate to have the resources to do this… but the word ‘lucky’ seems to sap any semblance of hard work that went into building it. It didn’t just magically appear in my lap one day; I have wanted to run my own business from home for as long as I can remember, and it took a lot of soul searching to figure out what exactly I was good enough at. I can’t really make things with my hands the way other amazing creatives do for their own businesses, and for the longest time I let that hold me back. It was during a Instagram Live with the very lovely Lauren Aston, where I asked her if there was any hope for someone who can’t make stuff to start their own business… and she pointed out that plenty of people have started successful brands buying in other stuff and curating it into a brand. It clicked, and that was the birth of everything. The word ‘lucky’ doesn’t allow for any of that, nor all the hours of research and the money I saved up to set it up. It doesn’t accommodate for the lightbulb moment I had whilst undergoing alternative therapies to relax due to working so hard in my other job, or for the hours of learning I put into the back end email client I use and the spreadsheets I built. Yes, I have a business that I run from home, and that’s dreamy for a lot of people (me included!)… but I worked hard and sacrificed things to make it happen. It still has a lot of growing to do as I can’t pay myself any kind of wage from it yet, but again – that will come with work, not luck.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
This isn’t about me and my annoyance about the word lucky (well, it is a bit isn’t it, but bear with me!) but about how we appreciate what’s behind closed doors for other people. It’s a bit like the old Instagram analogy about a person’s feed being really curated and beautiful and showing a magazine-perfect life, when what really goes on day to day could be a completely different story.
This is about realising that if someone else has something you desire, use it as inspiration. Telling someone ‘oh, aren’t you the lucky one!’ almost always comes from a place of envy. Dig deep when you think about that job, house or opportunity they have and ask yourself – did that really fall into their lap from the hands of the Gods? Or did they, somewhere along the way, take a leap of faith or change something to make that happen? People with high powered jobs and big houses rarely get those from wafting along in cushy jobs… they’re usually the people pulling almost constant all nighters at the office, barely seeing their families and chugging Pepto Bismol to calm their stressed out stomachs.
The worst “lucky” comments I’ve found myself on the receiving end have been the ones about children. How we are so lucky to get lie ins at the weekend, or pop out to the pub or for a meal whenever we fancy… or how we are so lucky that we sleep through the night without interruption. These comments were always said so innocently and totally without malice – because we were so very private about our infertility struggles until recently – but they HURT. The reasons for our popping out to the pub and so on were because back then we didn’t know we would have a problem conceiving, and we were cherishing our time together. We knew that all of that would stop for a while or become difficult once we became parents, so we made a conscious decision to make the most of our time together and having the chance to do those spontaneous things at the weekend. Of course then it became to cheer ourselves up because we would joke about the fact that we didn’t have anything else to do at the weekend, with no child to take to football or the park or be driven mad by on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
At least since our IVF these comments have completely stopped, because people know that being childless right now isn’t by choice for us. It’s obvious that we don’t feel very lucky for all our hours of sleep and afternoon pub trips. It’s easy for someone who doesn’t know our situation to just assume we have put off children to enjoy our time together – and if that were true it would completely change the conversations we’d have with people about what we do with our weekends. On the flip side, I bet there’s a lot of new parents that would give anything to have those afternoons back or a full night’s sleep and don’t feel very lucky either!
It’s all about empathy. When going through a tough, emotionally charged time like either infertility or having a baby, it’s tempting to feel like you’re going through the worst time ever and everybody else has a better life than you. I can say this because I used to be that person. When I went through my breakdown, I got so incredibly jealous of all the people around me that were building their lives; getting married, climbing their career ladders, buying houses etc, whilst I was stuck in the house basically unable to leave or work, and marriage was so far away for us because of how ill I was. I would get really bitter and sad about all the lovely things everyone else seemed to have, and it took a LOT of hard work and introspection to change that negative thought process into a positive one.
Now, if I see someone doing or achieving something I’d like too, I think carefully about what they must have done to get there. I get inspired. I think about what I could change in my life to achieve it too, and then start researching the possibilities… or I might ask them for advice on how they did it. I did this when I set up my business; I’d seen lots of people happily working from their homes with these amazing creative businesses, and my feelings started out as “owww, not fair, I want to do that!” so I quickly started to make notes, read their blogs, ask them questions and learn from them. I genuinely feel really happy for other people when they triumph, even with things that are unreachable for me – and that took SO much work to be able to feel that! Even when people announce pregnancies and there’s a big pang of longing, I feel genuinely so happy for that person.
I don’t want to sound preachy or like I think I’m the shining example of empathy and of not being jealous, but it’s something I’ve been working hard on over the last few years. I definitely have a lot more work to do! Theres a lot of ‘be kind always’ quotes that float around social media, and I think that’s the best thing to sum up this blog post. We are all fighting invisible battles, and plugging away so hard at the things we’re proud of to achieve the things we dream of.
And let’s see if we can maybe change “aren’t you lucky?” to “wow, you worked hard for that!”
What do you feel really proud of that you’ve worked hard to achieve?