Why Kick Yourself When the World is Already Doing a Good Job of It?

by Joe Pagano - Date: 2006-12-02 - Word Count: 737 Share This!

Nothing smarts so much as when the world gives you a good butt-kicking. Nobody-not even the rich and famous-are immune to such occasional whippings. But the rich, famous, and highly successful have their riches, fame, and financial success to lean back upon. What do the regular average Joe's and Jane's have to lean on when the cold world turns its ugly head and starts its unrelenting chase?

As much as I like to believe that we are what we make of ourselves, I have both lived and seen enough to know that despite the panderage of the self-help camp, life is not always fair and there is such a thing as luck. If you doubt this, let me remind you of the mathematical entity called the normal curve. This mathematical tool lends credence to the statement "You gotta be lucky." You see the normal, or bell-shaped curve, models very well the distribution of things like intelligence, height, and weight. Intuitively, that the shape of these distributions would conform to the bell-shaped pattern makes sense as most people will be average in regard to height, weight, and intelligence; while some will be on the high end, some on the low end, but most will bunch up in the middle. Such patterns of distribution form the nice symmetrical bell curve, with the point of symmetry being the average, and the two tailing-off pieces representing the extremes.

The beauty of mathematics lies in its ability to make predictions about things we know little about. This entry into unknown realms is called extrapolation and statistics is one of the fields which exploits this device. Because of its widespread application, the normal curve is the most commonly used statistical curve. Such a mathematical object allows us to make predictions and forecasts about things we have only partial knowledge. If you take the case of weights, we can use the normal distribution to make predictions about certain populations. For example, if after repeated observation and measurement, we find that the average weight for a population is 165 pounds for men and that the standard deviation (a statistical measure which tells the displacement about the average or mean) is 10 pounds, then we can determine that 95% of the population of these men will weigh between 145 and 185 pounds. This number might very well have seemed plausible to you before I even went into all this statistical stuff.

At any rate, the information that this normal curve gives us is the following: if we take a subset of this male population, and what I mean by subset is a randomly selected sample of at least 25 individuals, and I select one male from this subset, the probability that this man's weight will fall between 145 and 185 pounds is 95%. Particularly amazing about all this statistical stuff is how it permits us to make accurate forecasts and predictions about all sorts of things, from presidential polls to weather patterns to birth defects in subsequent generations.

Now getting back to the question of this article. Given the applicability of the normal curve to a wide range of physical and natural phenomena, does it not seem plausible that such could also evidence the entity we call luck? As extremes are bound to exist, as one fat person can be paired with one thin person, so one lucky person can be paired with one unlucky person, and every gradation of luck in between the extremes of the normal curve up to the mean can be modeled by this statistical curve. So if you want to beat yourself up because you feel you've fallen short in life, be comforted in knowing that you might have just been on the wrong end of the normal curve. You just might not have been as lucky as the other guy.

Take heart though, as the one thing the normal curve cannot do is keep you from moving from the bad or "unlucky" side to the good or "lucky" side. You see the one thing a random process (such as whether you were placed on the bad or good side of the bell curve) cannot overcome is willful determination. So whatever adverse randomness has fallen your way, don't kick yourself anymore; rather be willful and fight back. You just might end up on the "lucky" side of the normal curve. After all, there's always room for one more.

See more at About Joe Pagano and Cool Math

Related Tags: success, inspiration, self-help, self-esteem, pick-me-up, sadness, self-respect, financial well-bein

Joe is a prolific writer of self-help and educational material and an award-winning former teacher of both college and high school mathematics. Under the penname, JC Page, Joe authored Arithmetic Magic, the little classic on the ABC's of arithmetic. Joe is also author of the charming self-help ebook, Making a Good Impression Every Time: The Secret to Instant Popularity; the original collection of poetry, Poems for the Mathematically Insecure, and the short but highly effective fraction troubleshooter Fractions for the Faint of Heart. The diverse genre of his writings (novel, short story, essay, script, and poetry)-particularly in regard to its educational flavor- continues to captivate readers and to earn him recognition.

Joe propagates his teaching philosophy through his articles and books and is dedicated to helping educate children living in impoverished countries. Toward this end, he donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every ebook. For more information go to http://www.mathbyjoe.com

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