Holden and I had a long conversation about our lives the other day. We discussed the many decisions we’ve made over the years and how each of them has led us down the path to where we are today. The question came up: Do we control our own fate?
Holden was of the opinion that much of what happens to us is the result of “right place, right time” (he estimated 20%). For example, the new job I recently landed, he argued, was largely due to being at the right place at the right time to be given the opportunity. I disagreed almost completely.
We control our own destiny, damn it!
In my experience we control our own destiny – not dumb luck or chance. Sure we encounter obstacles along the way, but over the long haul our success ultimately hinges on how we respond to them. Take Holden’s example of my new job. I would argue I was given the opportunity based on a lifetime of good decisions.
I developed leadership skills by putting myself in positions to learn them, I chose the right degree path in college based on employment outlook, I attended a reputable university, and I chose a career with a fair number of opportunities. Even with the many, many mistakes along the way the overall result of these decisions put me in a position to get the job – not chance.
Holden then brought up a good point. What about instances of pure bad luck that is out of your control like a serious injury or illness?
I concede that these obstacles do present a distinct challenge in life, but in most cases they are simply another challenge that can be overcome.
Attitude Conquers ALL
One example sticks out.
I know two individuals who were put in a wheel-chair due to the uncontrollable actions of someone else. One is my close friend’s wife. She was put in a wheel chair after being shot in the back while out to lunch. The act was completely random. In fact she had just started the career of her dreams and she was out with co-workers (a result of her good decisions, ironically).
The second person I know in a wheel chair is my mother. My mother was hit by a drunk driver and paralyzed for life.
These two women both faced life altering circumstance, but their response and subsequent lives couldn’t be more different. The young women who was shot has continued her life, is excelling in her career, and is leading a very happy life.
My Mother – well – she is not.
The difference? The character and attitude of these two individuals. This leads me to believe that while life can be difficult – ultimately it is up to you to succeed.
Am I Wrong?
But perhaps I am over-simplifying.
Their circumstances were not equal. No one’s are. The young women who was shot had an excellent home life. She was brought up with self confidence and love. Her support group was vast. Perhaps this gave her the tools she needed to succeed?
My mother was abused. She didn’t ask for it. She was taught to be self conscious and insecure.
Neither of these women chose their parents – that was dumb luck. Does our control end at our circumstances? Can we control the mental habits we are born with or that we are trained with as a child? Am I wrong?
What about people born in Somalia or other war-torn and third-world countries? I’m quite sure a great attitude will not conquer all if there is nothing to eat.
Which is it?
So which is it? Is it chance or do we control our own destiny? Maybe it’s some combination of both? Maybe Holden is a little smarter than I thought and maybe I’m just a little bit afraid to admit some things really are out of my control.