You Are Not A Lottery Ticket

I recently finished “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel. I’m a few years late to it being released, but it has left quite an impact on my outlook. While the book delves into the mindset necessary to build a successful startup, there is one specific chapter in the book that struck a chord with me.

Chapter 6 is titled “You Are Not A Lottery Ticket” and the entire time I was reading it I could not stop thinking about how applicable this notion is to personal finances. I don’t want this post to turn into a full-on book report, so I will briefly summarize what Peter states.

Peter Thiel takes umbrage with the idea that success mostly stems from chance. He challenges Malcolm Gladwell and his book “Outliers” (a book I admit to being a favorite of mine). If you haven’t read the book, you should. In “Outliers,” Gladwell theorizes that people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and even The Beatles owed much of their success to being born in the right place and right time.

I would agree with Gladwell that Jobs, Gates, and The Beatles all benefited by being born in the century they were and would not have found the same success in their exact fields had they been born during any other period of history. But, I do believe they most likely would have found success elsewhere. Had The Beatles been born in the 1600s, they could have been some of the biggest composers of their day. Likewise, Jobs and Gates could have been incredible merchants in whatever millennia they were born into. To go even further, if Genghis Khan or Alexander The Great were born in the 20th Century it’s not a stretch to think they could be like Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg. Some people are determined to succeed no matter what their circumstances are.

This all goes back to the idea of nature vs nurture. Are people successful because they are born in the right place and time? Or are they successful because of something else driving them?

I think it is a combination of both, but more like 20% what you are born into and 80% self-made.

Does today’s economic issues even allow for people to become wealthy?

There is a mindset and message that has been pervasive of late. That mindset and message is “You cannot achieve success. The deck is stacked against you. You can’t do it without a miracle or winning the lottery.” That mindset, to me, is about as un-American as it can get. There have been some macroeconomic aspects at play in the United States the last 50 years that are making it more difficult to get ahead, but the key word here is difficult. Notice I did not say impossible.

A recent study of millionaires showed that 79% of them are completely self-made. Meaning they did not receive any inheritance from parents or family members. 21% received some inheritance and only 3% received an inheritance of $1,000,000 or more. In this same survey, only 31% had average earnings of more than $100,000 a year during their career. And 33% never made more than $100,000 in a single year of their career. If you listened or read any sort of headline-grabbing media these days, this may come as a surprise to you. People are becoming self-made millionaires every day.

How does the idea of “You Are Not A Lottery Ticket” relate to personal finances?

This is the last paragraph of the chapter. If you insert your personal finances for “A startup” then you’ll see where I’m going with this.

A startup is the largest endeavor over which you can have definite mastery. You can have agency not just over your own life, but over a small and important part of the world. It begins by rejecting the unjust tyranny of Chance. You are not a lottery ticket. - Peter Thiel in Zero to One

There is a message I’ve been trying to get across to anyone who will listen to me. And that message is, as a millennial, there is an incredible opportunity in front of us. If we decide to take control of our finances and do something about our lot in life or the hand our generation has been dealt, we could be the generation that changes the path of the United States. All thanks to the power of compound interest, a very long investment time horizon, and the mindset anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I don’t want to sound like Tony Robbins, but this can absolutely be done with a little bit of sacrifice and hard work.

This is an important lesson to learn. Just hearing it can change your outlook on life. But once you believe it, there isn’t anything you can’t do.

You and you alone have the power to change things in your life. Relationships, careers, and especially personal finances.

It is incredibly freeing once you believe this idea.

To quote another author I have been reading lately:

I am the problem. I am the solution. - Nick Murray

I’m building my practice to help those who want to take control of their life through their personal finances and not be chained to the whims of macroeconomic developments out of their control. They want to create a world where they do things because they want to do them, not because they have to do them. They want to be the masters of their fate.

If you want to join me, I’m here to help.

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About The Author

Shaun Melby, CFP® provides fee-only financial planning and investment management services in Nashville, TN. Melby Wealth Management serves clients as a fiduciary and never earns a commission of any kind. Shaun has over 10 years of experience as a financial advisor in Nashville.