Why Bad Luck is Not a Bad Thing

He could hardly hold his excitement in. 

Ray Bourque was laying his eyes on his first pair of ice skates. They were used, they were old, but they were his! 

Ray grew up in a poor neighborhood. He had a large family who were all forced to squeeze into a tiny apartment. Given his circumstances, Ray was grateful to even have skates at all. He was not going to let them go to waste.

So Ray joined a local hockey team in Montreal. In Canadian culture, kids are groomed from an early age to become hockey stars. They are analyzed at every stage of their development by coaches who are looking to find the next Wayne Gretzky.

Ray was not one of their top prospects. [1]

By Canadian rules, every youngster who is born in the same calendar year plays in the same division. So kids who are born in January have a huge advantage playing against those who are born in December. 

As a 10 year-old, being up to 11 months older than your peers makes a big difference in terms of size and speed. Then, because you are bigger and faster, you look better to coaches and have a higher chance of playing in the top flight - making you even better.

Ray didn't have this advantage. 

Not only was Ray born in December, he was born on December 28th! He was the youngest kid on every team he played on. He was small, he was slow, and his family could only afford to give him old, worn-out equipment.

Ray had just about the worst chances of anyone around him to make it to the NHL. But he didn't let his circumstances imprison him. Not only did Ray Bourque make it to the NHL, he entered the Hall-of-Fame as one of the greatest defensive players ever! 

How Ray Bourque Turned His Luck Around

Ray worked extremely hard to overcome his bad luck. 

To make up for his small size and lack of speed, Ray spent his days practicing his slapshot. He set up a goal in the basement of his apartment building and spent countless hours every single day slapping the puck at the wall.

He also had to work extremely hard on his technique. He worked on his skating, puck-handling and defending until he had better technique than any of his peers. All of this practice led to Ray continuing to make the top flight team despite his small size.

As the years went on, Ray's physical attributes started to catch up. 

As a teenager, the age difference in months no longer played as big of a role. Now, since his peers didn’t have to work on their other skills to make up for their lack of size, Ray had a big advantage.

He could skate faster, shoot harder, and defend better than everyone around him – and now he was the same size as them too.

Because Ray had the bad luck of growing up poor and being small, he was forced to strengthen other skills. This led him to playing on an entirely different level than everyone else around him.

A level that would eventually lead to becoming arguably the best NHL defenseman of all time and a unanimous pick for the Hockey Hall of Fame.


We attribute so much of the success of others to whether or not they were lucky. 

In his popular book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that luck has a lot to do with many people's success. [2]

Bill Gates likely would not have become the richest man in the world if he didn't have many lucky circumstances. He was born just as programming computers was becoming possible, to an upper-middle class family and was sent to one of the few high schools in the country who actually had a computer! Lucky indeed.

Even the Beatles must attribute some of their wild success merely to good fortune. Had they come onto the scene 10, or maybe even 5, years earlier the world would not have been ready for their progressive new music.

Then Gladwell looks at hockey players. Where, in fact, those kids with the good luck of being born in the first half of the year that were mentioned earlier, are more than twice as likely to make it to the NHL!

Yet, there is a different statistic that Gladwell failed to point out in Outliers. Players born in the first half of the year do make up 70% of the NHL. However, they make up less than 50% of the NHL Hall of Fame! [1]

That means that those “unlucky” kids born in the second half of the year actually have a greater chance of becoming one of the best players of all time than the "lucky" kids born in the first half of the year.

Like Ray Bourque, these players needed to work extremely hard on their other skills to make up for their lack of size and speed in order to stay with the top-flight teams.

Then when they inevitably grew to the same size as their peers, they were superior in all other aspects of the game. Giving them the upper hand on not just becoming a good hockey player, but a hall-of-fame caliber one.


Bad luck does not guarantee good outcomes. And good luck does not guarantee good outcomes. Luck plays a role in your success but it is not the ultimate decider of your fate in life.

What really matters is what you do with the luck that you get.

After Mark Cuban got his first professional job as a salesman, his boss unjustly fired him after less than a full year. It was an unlucky time to be fired, as the job market in Dallas was horrendous at the time, and Mark had bills to pay. [3]

So the only logical option to him was to start his own business! Imagine if he didn’t get fired. Would he have become the Mark Cuban that we know today?

Howard Schultz, the man who made Starbucks great, had the bad of luck of being born in the projects of Brooklyn. His dad was a truck driver and barely made enough money to provide for his family.

He was abused by the company he worked for and wasn’t even given worker’s compensation when he was injured on the job. This caused the Schultz family a lot of hardships, but it made Howard resolve to make his company better.

“I wanted to make Starbucks a company that my dad would be proud to work for.” [4]

One of the key reasons for Starbucks’ wild success has been its treatment of entry-level employees – including offering them health insurance and stock in the company. His bad luck became a brilliant idea in the creation of one of the greatest companies on earth.

Bad luck is not a good thing. But, if you react the right way to your bad luck, it can be.


Outcomes are ultimately out your control. There is no way that Ray Bourque could have foreseen that his unlucky birthdate would lead to him creating a relentless work-ethic or superior skating and shooting skills.

Nor could Mark Cuban or Howard Schultz have seen how their bad luck would end up helping them.

However, just because you are not guaranteed to get results, does not mean you can’t begin to take steps in the right direction. Here are 2 key ways that you can make the most out of your bad luck:


"Be relentless in pursuit of your goals, especially in the face of obstacles. Along the way, make no excuses and place no blame." - Ray Bourque

Most people use bad luck as an excuse. The reason why they are not successful is because of their ill fortune in life. Ray Bourque could have easily taken this path. He could have blamed his poor upbringing and unfortunate birthdate for why he couldn't make the top flight team. But he didn't.

He never saw himself as unlucky. He simply had a goal and a relentless desire to make that goal become a reality. Then he recognized that in order to do so, he was going to have to work harder than everyone else. So he did.

You may have been dealt a harder hand in life than some people. But you are not doing yourself any favors by using that as an excuse. You will never be able to control what happens to you. Nor will you be able to control your ultimate results.

However, you can always control your actions and your effort. Making excuses will only demotivate you and lead you to wallowing in pain and bitterness. Believing that you have the power to overcome your bad luck, however, will lead you to small wins and confidence in yourself. 

Bad luck plays a role, but it is never the ultimate decider of your outcomes. Make no excuses and place no blame.

Identify areas that you have the advantage

Ray Bourque was actually able to use his small stature to his advantage. He may not have been as fast as his peers, but he could be quicker than them.

He could move his feet and his stick faster than they could because the neurons in his brain didn't need to travel as far. That is why he made sure to work on his footwork and puck-handling abilities. 

Also, before him, many defensemen didn't worry too much about their shooting abilities. After all, they're on the ice to prevent the other team from scoring, not score themselves. So, Ray knew that he could set himself apart by being an offensive-minded defender.

Then once he made it to the NHL, his shot was one of the most powerful in the game - regardless of position.

Others may have advantages in life that you simply do not. However, there are also advantages that you have that they may not.

What are your advantages in life that you may be overlooking? How can you use your willpower to develop those advantages so that you can get on the same playing field?


Bad luck is not in itself a good thing, but it does not have to be a bad thing. Those who are unlucky have different opportunities than those who are lucky. If they are able to summon the willpower to overcome their bad luck, they almost always come out better than those who were lucky in the first place.

In order to achieve good results from bad luck, you cannot make excuses or place blame. Rather, you must identify those areas that you have an advantage - no matter how slight - and pursue those advantages with rigor and excellence.

If you are able to do that, you might just count yourself amongst those who society truly admires. Those people who came from humble beginnings and through their sheer power of will were able to create their own measure of greatness.


  1. Collins, J., & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck : Why some thrive despite them all. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
  2. Gladwell, M. (2011). Outliers: The Story of Success.
  3. Cuban, M. (2013). How to win at the sport of business: If I can do it, you can do it.
  4. Schultz, H., & Yang, D. (1997). Pour your heart into it: How Starbucks built a company one cup at a time. New York, NY: Hyperion.