Fortune favors the brave

In ancient Roman religion, Fortuna was the goddess of fortune and the personification of luck. Her name was used in various proverbs including, fortis Fortuna adiuvat—Fortune favors the brave. 

The phrase was used in Terence’s 151 BC comedy play Phomio, line 203. Ovid further parodies the phrase at I.608 of his didactic work, Are Amatoria, writing “audentem Forsque Venusque iuvat” or “Venus, like Fortune, favors the bold.”

Elon Musk (who was Time magazine’s 2021 Person of the Year) is the personification of this proverb. He has impacted the world and made a fortune through courageous and brave acts. Here’s part of his story.

When Musk was 28 years old he sold his first company (Zip2) for $22 million. Instead of coasting on his success, he invested his money in two incredibly risky startups in industries with high costs, long development timelines, and massive barriers to entry: the automobile and space industries. His car company, Tesla, is now worth over a trillion dollars and produces two thirds of all electric cars. His company SpaceX is the global leader in building and flying rockets and crews. It was recently chosen by NASA to build the ship that will put astronauts back on the moon. Musk predicts that his company will land a person on Mars within five years. He recently became the world’s richest person with a net worth above $300 billion.

The term fortune should not be limited to financial prosperity. Financial reward is not what drives Musk; vision and the challenge-of-the-hunt does. Sometimes fortune describes the accomplishment of a high ideal. In the same week that Musk was announced as Time’s Person of the Year, the great Desmond Tutu died. His brave and courageous life led to the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. His fortune was freedom for his people.

But how might this proverb apply to us mere mortals? Elon Musk is an extreme example of this proverb. And for every Musk, Tutu, Jobs, and Gates, there are millions of people who acted bravely and ended up fortune-less. What is the fine line between bravery and stupidity? Quite frankly, if I suddenly had $22 million I would simply invest it and live off the growth.

In my own life, the few times that I have been brave and stepped into unfamiliar territory have ended well. Some financial risks I took have been beneficial and some risky professional moves paid off. 

Sometimes, it doesn’t take giant leaps of faith and risky decisions for life to proceed well. Do you remember Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare? The moral lesson of the story is that you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly.

So should we all be brave? Are we lacking if we’re not? Perhaps the key is knowing yourself and living an authentic life. Some people have an abundance of the “brave gene” and others don’t.

Or perhaps we should reinterpret what fortune means. If you are shy and bashful and feel uncomfortable in social settings, an act of bravery might be attending a party or initiating a meal with someone. If you’re reluctant to get out of your comfort zone, an act of bravery might be pursuing a new hobby in which you feel out of control and intimidated.  

What do you think about this topic?

Here’s an insightful article, Hope Is Not Optimism, by David Feldman.

12 Replies to “Fortune favors the brave”

  1. Ah, If you had 22 million dollars you would simply invest it and live of the growth? There is the quandary. What is your definition of the word live? What would you do? What does it mean to truly live?

    1. Stanley, thanks for responding. I was just saying that if I had 22 million dollars I would be content and not try to increase the fund through risky investments. You bring up a great philosophical issue: what does it mean to truly live? (Question for another post…)

  2. Hi Don,
    Thanks for your thought provoking posts. Always enjoy them.
    I think you allude to the fact that bravery must be tempered by other character qualities when you ask about the line between bravery and stupidity. Wisdom should temper bravery. Integrity should also temper bravery. Elizabeth Holmes was certainly brave but is now facing jail time. Also, the “favor of Fortune” is not the ultimate or only measure of success otherwise we would be pragmatists. For some, bravery without wisdom or integrity may lead to fame and fortune but eternity will show the true value their endeavor.

    1. Thanks, John, for sharing wise words. There are two ruts on either side of a road and it’s important to avoid both. Don

  3. Yep Don … step by step …patient application of talents until you are into Gods plan. Really nothing happens by luck. If perceived that way, it will be short lived

  4. Noun or verb? Either way, moving ahead blindly is a fools game. Assessing the risk and moving forward based on some level of trust in that assessment is at the core of whether you are successful or not! Putting trust in idols, stone or otherwise, is the historical downfall for many people and nations. Luck will only get you so far. The rest is real work and knowing when to “fold em'”.

    1. Ed, for sure, assessment and strategy play an important part in future success. Thanks for taking the time to write. Don

  5. Don,
    I’m sorry for the late post. However, my mind couldn’t let this “luck” thing go. I had a lucid moment and was thinking about how lucky I am for all the things my wife does for me. And equally as quickly I said to myself “lucky?”. Not lucky, I’m blessed. I have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I have a roof over my head and clothes on my back. I’ve worked hard all my life, put myself through college, and have had several wonderful careers.
    I don’t play into the fortunes of people like Musk. But, when I look around at all of my “fortune” and fortunate occurrences, I have been very “blessed” by God. I have been blessed by the many people that have been in my circle of life. Life hasn’t been all good, as you may remember, but in it all ” blessed be the name of the Lord”. He has been so, so good. Brave? I just keep moving forward trusting in God’s grace, knowing I’m on His track.

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