You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.Napoleon Hill
While that remains one of the most motivational and encouraging quotes ever, it may not fundamentally be based on facts. Chance or Fate or Destiny is what really determines an outsized amount of what your life is and you have little control over it.
I know the first instinct is to revolt against this very idea (as was my own) but let me explain why that is the truth. I will look at some of the factors that truly define who we are, and see how much of these do we really control.
I will further divide these factors into two very broad categories – Default Characteristics and Characteristics of Choice.
Default Characteristics – determined for us by virtue of birth.
- Parents / Lineage – A big part of who we are is defined by the family we’re born in. Most of us, if not all of us, define ourselves by a name – a “given” name and a last name. We’re born into a last name, and our “given” name is not really of our choosing either – it is our parents’ choice invariably. So, we start out lives with no luxury to choose who we’re born to nor the unique identifier called “name” that we’ll be identified for the rest of our lives with.
- Gender – We often associate a huge part of our identity with our gender – we’re mostly proud men and women, and often strongly connect with that broad community and the things that come with being a man or a woman. However, none of it was a choice you made. You were born into it.
- Nationality – There are 195 countries in this world – and so if you picked a random one you would have a roughly 0.5% chance of picking your own nation. That is probably a flawed metric, as the population of each country isn’t the same, even by a population weighted metric, your chances of picking China or India are about 1 in 6 each, and your chances of being American are 1 in 25, and so on. So the next time you’re proud to be American, or Indian, or Chinese, or any other nationality, remember you didn’t really have a choice in the matter.
- Appearance & Race – Some of us are extremely vain about our appearance, while others spend most of their lives living in insecurities based on what they look like. But we never really chose what we look like, did we? Yes, we may very well workout to have a certain body type, do our hair and make up as we choose, wear the clothes of our liking, but a large part of what we look like is again a default setting we’re born with. This color and race and the discrimination we see around us – did a white man do something different than a black one to be born in that color? What then gives one a right to feel superior than another? The feeling of control and entitlement is a sheer myth.
- Religion – Religious beliefs shape the principles and thinking of a lot of people, and so it is a big part of who we are. But aren’t most of us born into our religions, and just learn to live with it? There are some of us who choose our religion, or convert into one we believe in more than the one we’re born in, or some of us who choose to be agnostic or an atheist – but again, those are exceptions and not the rule. We’re born into a religion and then we teach ourselves to believe in the principles of that religion, until we’re convinced this is who we truly are.
- Economic Status / Means at hand – Do we all have access to the same means and resources as everyone else? No, we don’t. By virtue of being born to a billionaire, or to a pauper, a huge part of the general direction your life will likely take is pre-determined for you. Sure there are stories of rags to riches, and stories of inherited wealth wasted in a matter of years, but those are again exceptions rather than the rule.
Characteristics of Choice – the things we choose or the part we control, or do we?
OK, fine! You get it! A big part of who we are is determined by birth, and we don’t have control over it. But we surely make choices that determine a lot more than these birth characteristics. Ummm…, not really, no.
But I won’t go into the details of this. If you thought you really fully chose your life partner, or your career, or the things you achieve in life, I’d refer you to the butterfly effect. Every little incident in our lives, whether a result of our own choice, or a chance occurrence, has a non-linear and often outsized impact on everything that follows.
The fact that you broke up with your ex, and ended up at the same club or common friend’s party as the man / woman who’d end up being your spouse, has more to do with chance than anything else. You being so successful at your current job, has probably as much to do with you being rejected in those previous four interviews, or that other candidate having to miss their interview due to a personal emergency, than it does with your actions and the fact that you earned it with your hard work.
You can’t control everything. Sometimes you just need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and just let life happen.Kody Keplinger
And while Kody Kelinger may not be half as well known as Napoleon Hill and most of you (including myself) hadn’t heard of her until you read this, her quote, potentially not as powerful, is probably more pertinent to our lives.
Life essentially just happens to us, but what we can do is control the handful of variables that are in our control – make the choices that we want ourselves to be defined by, act in a way that makes the best of the circumstances that are given to us, and have faith and hope for the best!
After all it isn’t always about the cards you’re dealt, but often how you play the hand that determines the winner. So even if it may feel like you were dealt a shitty hand, I’ve seen pocket aces fold to 2-7 offsuit if you play the field right! So, in this lottery called life I’ll leave you with this quote, and lots of good luck!
Life is a lottery that we’ve already won. But most people have not cashed in their tickets.Louise L. Hay