The most life-changing events in our lives are not really down to us. I read a quote the other day from David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, which beautifully elaborates on the seemingly serendipitous nature of life:
“Both destiny’s kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person’s basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.”–David Foster Wallace
I’m of the opinion that achieving success in life is entirely down to you, in so much as that you can influence events and the course of your life more than many people think. When you crumble at the hand life might have dealt you, ask yourself, “what choices did you make that led you here?” Sometimes, people are completely blind to their role as an agent of the very thing most important to them; their own life!
I’m not suggesting that everyone in the world has the power or means to become whoever they want to be. After all, life is about give and take and it’s sadly inevitable that some people’s gain is only possible with the eventuality of another’s loss. Take the job market. It’s very tempting to assume that you DESERVE your cut of what the world has to offer, but to everyone else you’re a stranger who’s no more deserving than the next person. And the same applies to money, relationships, security – almost anything that means anything to people. All that matters is recognising your little place in the world, and accepting that the number of people who care about your fate might not be as big as you think!
I first read the quote below a week or two ago in one my daily emails from Writer’s Almanac. It got me thinking about what’s more important in shaping our lives – our own gut instinct and emotions, or logic and reason? After all, although we can do our best to influence the route of our lives, much of it is down to chance and the actions of others.
“My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. What do I care about knowledge. All I want is to answer to my blood, direct, without fribbling intervention of mind, or moral, or what-not.”–D.H. Lawrence
Are we responsible for everything that happens to us, or is it all just the luck of the draw? I can’t stand anything more than people who believe their failings in life is all down to other people. Surely it’s all about responsibility for your own situation in life and making sure that you do everything you can to increase your chances of luck smiling on you!
“That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.”–Garth Stein
“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”–William Jennings Bryan
Life doesn’t come with a step-by-step guide to how to get everything you want or reach where you want to be. At the risk of sounding like a crazed self-help book addict, as long as you avoid blaming others for the low points in your life, and appreciating the role you play in your own happiness, you’re on the right track. If anything, recognising your own powerlessness in your own life can be pretty empowering. You can spend less time agonising over your day-to-day choices and just be, safe in the knowledge that that true empowerment is letting go of the non-existent power you were so sure you yielded over your own life!