You're far, far luckier than you think

I'm down a decent chunk since the highs of last year. But I still count myself as lucky.

A young woman smiling and looking happy, indicating a positive share price movement on the ASX market

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I am the luckiest bloke in the world.

No, I didn't win lotto.

No, I didn't discover a long-lost mega-rich great-uncle.

I'm lucky because I won, as Warren Buffett puts it, the ovarian lottery.

I was born to wonderful parents, in a fabulous country, at an incredible time in human history. I have a terrific family and a job I love.

Maybe you think you're luckier than me. (Perhaps you have that rich great-uncle I lack!)

I still reckon I'd come out on top. Life hasn't always been perfect, but I'm bloody fortunate.

Maybe you haven't been quite so lucky.

But, if so, only by the tiniest of margins.

Because I want you to think about all of the permutations that had to play out for you to be here, millions and millions of years after your very-distant earliest relatives made their way out of the primordial sludge.

Imagine if Earth hadn't been so hospitable to carbon-based lifeforms.

You wouldn't be here. Me either.

Imagine if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs took all life with it?

Sure, new life might have formed, but your ancient bloodline would have been wiped out and, well, you wouldn't be here.

Imagine if your great-great-great-great grandmother and grandfather hadn't met.

There'd be no you.

And so on, through all of life's events and circumstances, for centuries and millennia.

Seriously, the sequence of random events, near-misses, could-have-beens and never-weres is mind boggling.

The odds of you being here, now, are longer than winning the lottery.

Much longer.

And not only here, but now.

A couple of hundred years ago, your life would have been very different.

No modern technology. No old technology, either. No electricity or motorised transport.

No modern sanitation or healthcare.

95% of the jobs we do today didn't exist.

And the 5% that did were far more difficult and far less efficient.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling like I want to take a break from modern life, the 1820s doesn't seem too bad.

But that feeling doesn't last long. Maybe 1 in 10 people reading this wouldn't be here, having died in childbirth or as infants. Most of the people over, say, 65 reading this wouldn't be here any more, either.

Our teeth would be rotten, surgery would be hit and miss and done without anaesthetic by butchers-cum-surgeons. And you'd be stuck in whatever station you were born into.

Even those with an unlucky life by modern standards would have been considered fortunate a couple of hundred years ago.

Which isn't an excuse for us to rest on our collective laurels, by the way. While we have the resources and opportunity to make our society better, I reckon we're morally obligated to do so.

But it's a reminder of just how lucky we are.

We are also lucky in a different way, and one that has particular relevance to my day job: we have very good access to very well run investment markets.

The idea of stock markets goes back a few centuries. But they were relatively limited, expensive to take part in, and regulatory oversight was negligible.

Modern stock markets go back maybe 130 years or so.

And they have continued to improve.

Costs have come down. Regulation has improved. Technology has given us access to almost-instant information, shared openly and equally.

Just before I started investing, brokerage was usually over $100 per trade (via phone to a bloke – it was usually a bloke – who'd place trades for you). I got lucky, starting when online brokers had been established, and I could trade for the unheard of bargain of $30 per transaction. Still, information wasn't universally available.

Now? Trades are close enough to free, and information is plentiful. It has literally never been easier for the average person to own shares.

And the advent of exchange-traded-funds has meant that you can, with a very, very bare minimum of knowledge and money, have access to the average market return.

Oh, and speaking of the average return, over more than a century, that's been somewhere between 9% – 11% per annum.


(If that doesn't sound extraordinary at first glance, check this out: a 9.6% annual return turned a hypothetical $10,000 into more than $160,000 in the last 30 years, according to fund manager Vanguard. Not bad for just leaving your investments well alone!)

But the luck doesn't stop there.

Thanks to improvements in our society over the last century, most of us have the relatively historically unparalleled ability to save some of our incomes to invest. That wasn't always the case for most of the country 100 years ago.

One more? I'm glad you asked.

Even if you're struggling to find a spare zack to invest, if you're working your employer is sending 10% of your paycheque to your nominated Super fund to build retirement wealth on your behalf.

Yes, the last few months have been rocky for many ASX investors, as volatility and uncertainty whipsaw share prices.

I'm down a decent chunk since the highs of last year.

It hurts. No-one likes losing money.

But we've been here before.

Remember: The ASX has never yet failed to regain and surpass its previous highs. Sure, this could be the first time… but is it likely? No, I don't think so.

And viewed through the lens of how lucky we are to be here, now, with the opportunities and benefits that come from being an Australian in 2022… well, those short-term gyrations pretty much fade into the background, I reckon.

If you're doing it tough right now, you have my sympathies. I hope things improve for you.

And I'm not going to make light of those struggles. They're real and often very tough.

But if I had to face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… here, and now, are the best time and place to do it, I reckon.

And that's my exhortation: don't forget how bloody lucky we are. And don't miss the opportunity to make the best of that luck – investing and otherwise.

Have a great weekend!

Fool on!

Motley Fool contributor Scott Phillips has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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