My wife and I are fortunate, and we are hard working.
Which of these traits should be first? I cannot answer with certainty.
We moved to our current home in 2011 for what seemed like a perfect job. It wasn't. Yet, I was "lucky" because we ended up in a region with several great universities, a wonderful performing arts community, and many other benefits. These institutions, however, require that you be prepared to take advantage of their existence.
I worked hard for my doctorate, and my wife worked hard for her master's degree. We prepared ourselves for opportunities, when they might appear.
Only a few years ago, we had nothing. We lost everything and I received the earned income tax credit (EITC), which I still believe was odd, since I didn't request it. I read a study that claimed in simulations, with everyone starting equal, the successful outside the simulation end up successful in the game. The theory is, that some people just rise to the top, even if they have to start from scratch.
Now, a dozen years after hitting bottom, I'm teaching at one of those elite universities and we're doing quite well. We are "successful" by every measure that matters, including the non-financial measures that should matter most in life. We have good friends — which mattered most when we had the least — and we have each other. But, that emotional safety net is also why we are financially stable.
When people tell me that can't get ahead in life, I ask some simple questions:
Maximize the education that was freely provided?
Use public and private institutions to improve yourself?
Locate mentors and accept their guidance?
Nurture friendships and social connections?
Avoid giving up and developing bad habits when things were tough?
Keep your mind and body active?
No, life isn't fair, but you have to be ready for new opportunities. Plan ahead and make good personal choices. You can't sit around, be lazy, and then later be envious of the person who graduated high school with honors, went to a university to study science, and became a high-tech entrepreneur.
Get over the envy. Prepare and improve yourself for a better life.