In his acclaimed book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell illustrated how time of birth can predict a life of good luck and success. This is an example of how it can work the other way.
We have all said something like “so and so has all the luck”. This person probably had something good happen around the time we said it. Nobody is persistently lucky – just because. And a lot of what could be called luck may be the result of hard work and persistence. But bad luck can persist for a person because of things beyond their control.
An example was Gene. He was born in 1899. This made his time of birth just 35 years after the end of the Civil War. His birthplace was Woodbine, Georgia, still reeling from the devastation of Sherman’s march to the sea in the Civil War. Gene was the fifth of five children. His father was a farmer who died when Gene was nine years old. He finished the eighth grade before going to work in a box factory where he earned 10 cents an hour.
At age 18 he traveled north to Detroit following his four older siblings. There he enrolled in Ford trade school and earned his journeyman’s papers as a tool and die maker.
At 24 he joined the National Cash Register Company, which at the time was an industry leader in technology. Gene shed his shop apron for a suit and tie. In the heady “roaring 20’s” Gene was making a name for himself as a successful salesman working in Cleveland. He was riding high.
Barely months after he married Anne in 1929, the stock market crashed. Their first son was born in 1931. Business was at a crawl and Gene lost his job at National Cash Register. He moved his family to Detroit as the Great Depression enveloped the country. By 1934 their second son was born. Gene decided to put his shop apron back on and return to working as a tool and die maker. There were food lines for the unemployed, but jobs for this skilled trade were available throughout the depression.
Gene was good at what he did and had leadership qualities. He was offered several management positions but turned them down. He was unwilling to give up the steady paycheck earned working at a job he knew was secure. The lessons from the crash of ’29, the responsibilities of his growing family, and now the depression shaped him. Take no chances.
In 1941 with a wife and four sons, Gene was locked into the war effort. He worked seven days and sometimes 12 hours a day for most of the war years. When the war ended, he continued as a tool and die maker until he died in 1963. The last 30 years of his life Gene missed no more than a handful of days at work. These were the times his gout was so painful he was unable to drive his car which in those days required frequent use of the clutch pedal.
Gene began paying into social security in 1934 at the program’s outset and continued doing so for 30 years. He died two years before he was eligible to receive benefits.
His birthplace, birth order, time of birth, father’s death, the crash of 1929, the Great Depression and WW II were all external events which could be considered bad luck and setbacks, or at least bad timing. Gene soldiered on doing the same work without shirking his responsibility as a father of four sons and a husband without ever looking for sympathy. How do I know all this? Gene was my dad.
By Savvy Senior
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