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Inspiration 13 January 2023

Life is a Gamble

Andre-Francois Raffray felt a tingle of excitement. The year was 1965, and the 47-year-old lawyer had just agreed to buy a beautiful apartment in Southern France from 90-year-old owner Jeanne Calment, in an 'en viager' (for life) deal.

It seemed like a great deal for Raffray. In exchange for ownership of the apartment, he agreed to pay Calment 2,500 Francs per month and give her a right of occupancy until the day she died, at which point the payments would stop and he could move in.

Raffray stood to inherit a lovely apartment at a bargain price. All he had to do was sit back and wait a few years. Jeanne Calment was, after all, over 90 years old.

Unfortunately for Raffray, things didn’t quite go to plan.

In December 1995, thirty years after signing the agreement, and having made over 900,000 Francs in payments to Jeanne Calment, Andre-Francois Raffray died at the age of 77.

He never got to live in the apartment because Calment was still alive, now aged 120 and the recipient of more than double the apartment’s value in ‘en viager’ payments.

Calment went on to live until the grand age of 122, becoming officially the oldest human ever recorded.

 Jeanne Calment at 121 years old
Jeanne Calment at 121 years old. Photograph: Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock, from The Guardian

I really like this story. And, I also like Jeanne Calment’s short, but apt, summation of what happened:

“in life, one sometimes makes bad deals.”

Was Raffray unfortunate? Perhaps. Although, it was clear from the evidence that the sprightly Calment was no ordinary 90-year-old. She remained active both mentally and physically until the day she died.

In interviews with journalists, she found herself able to instantly recall memories from her childhood, including time spent working in her father’s art shop, selling paint, pencils and canvasses to customers including Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.

Even at the ripe age of 115, Calment still retained a razor-sharp wit. On one memorable occasion, when a resident at her retirement home took leave by telling her, “Until next year, perhaps,” she quickly retorted: “I don’t see why not! You don’t look so bad to me!”

What can we take from this story?

I believe life is full of gambles, both big and small. And, as the proverb goes, ‘one man’s loss is another man’s gain’. It’s all part of the great equilibrium of life. Of course, there are ways in which we can try to tip the balance in our favour. Research and planning can aid our decision-making process and allow us to better assess opportunity and risk.

We can also learn from past mistakes – both ours and others. Whilst it would be helpful to be able to jump into a time machine or have the ability to tap into hindsight, negative results from past decisions can be very useful if we use them to shape our future thinking.

However much we plan, though, the truth is that we can never fully predict what’s coming next, so our control is always limited. If the experience of the last few years has taught us nothing else, it has taught us this. A curveball can be lobbed in our direction at any time, and sometimes we won’t see it coming. This perhaps makes us all pawns in a giant game of chance.

Maybe by becoming more accepting of what we can and can’t control, we can release ourselves from being tied to specific outcomes for our lives and instead learn to appreciate more of the trials and experiences that happen along the way. I appreciate this may be idealistic thinking.

Life is a painting

When I think about the uniqueness of our life, I find myself comparing it to a painting – our own Van Gogh. Each new day brings a fresh opportunity to add more paint, through every success and failure, each opportunity won and lost and every experience created.

As we get older, we find ourselves having opportunities to glance back and reflect and celebrate all the drama, colour and splendour of what we’ve created. Our life is, if you like, a giant canvas waiting to be painted.

“This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.”
Maya Angelou

We can’t go back in time and start our painting again. We can only go forwards. The only question is how far. Who knows, you might find yourself reflecting on your own life’s painting at 122 years of age, just like Jeanne Calment.

Personally, I don’t think I’ll still be around at 122. But, don’t bet against it!

Alastair - signature

  1. A 120-Year Lease on Life Outlasts Apartment Heir – The New York Times
  2. Jeanne Calment – Wikipedia
  3. Believed to be world’s oldest – Houston Chronicle News Services

Alastair Hazell

Alastair Hazell

I am a serial entrepreneur who enjoys writing stories of inspiration. You can follow me on LinkedIn.