February 13 – Destiny and Choice

“Choice, not chance, determines human destiny.” (Robert W. Ellis)

I have never been a believer in the concept of destiny. I do not believe that there is a set of predetermined, inevitable course of events in my future. To me, if that were true, there would be no reason to ever try in life. I believe that my free choice always is in play and that I can decide what my next steps will be in life. I am not sitting in a bobsled on a closed course hurtling through life doing nothing more than steering in a predetermined canyon. Because I have free will, my life is far more like a figure skater carving my own path through the ice.

Yesterday I wrote about my wonderful wife. When I reflect on how great my life is with her, it is tempting to say that fate or destiny brought us together. But, that isn’t how it happened. We met in college back when we were in our late teens. The fact that we were both in that place at that time was the culmination of a lifetime of choices on our parts, and those of our families as well. We chose to work hard in school to earn the grades necessary to be at the University we attended. We then chose that particular University out of the sea of options. Along the way we chose majors that put us in the same classes. We even chose to stop dating some other people so that when the time came that we met, we were both single and looking for someone. After that first date we set into motion the millions of decisions that developed into the life we have together today.

I sometimes hear people bemoan their situation and see their circumstances as arising out of chance. They see that their lives aren’t what they want them to be, and blame lady luck for not shining her face on them, but only allowing others to have a good time.

Last year I read a book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In it he dives into his notions about why some people become superstars in their fields, while others do not. Part of the reason, in his estimation, has to do with chance. He cites Canadian hockey players who develop into stars, and makes the claim that they do so because they were born at the right time of year, pure chance. I say bunk. Those hockey players that succeed do so because they and their parents make choices in their lives that help them dedicate themselves to something. They have talent, but they work hard to apply that talent. It isn’t about being born in the right month, it is about applying themselves in a way that gets the results they want.

There is a metaphor for life that references playing the hand you are dealt. To me, life isn’t about the cards in my hand at any given time, it is about what I do with them. I can skillfully play them to win the hand, or I can fold. I can use the cards to actively engage in the game, or I can use them to pick my teeth or make a house of cards.

Life isn’t about chance, and it isn’t about destiny. It is about being an active decision maker and guiding my own fortunes to get where I want to be.

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