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I Proclaim Myself a Victim of Fate

April 2008

There are, in this world, two kinds of people. There are those people who make things happen—shaping the world around them through sheer willpower (cough Jeremy cough)—and there are those people to whom things happen. I am not one of the former.

My life has always moved by way of fortuitous circumstances, rather than careful planning. All of my big changes and significant times happened quite by accident. Someone would say something—“when are you going to Carey?” “you should come and stay with us in Kolkata,” “are you looking for fulltime work?”—and Things Would Happen.

Trouble is, sometimes I want to Make Things Happen, and I just can't. This cheeses me off. I have (you will all be well aware) a propensity to make big plans which inevitably end up abandoned by the roadside, tied in a brown burlap sack and kicking feebly. Occasionally I halfway follow through on a plan, and—judging by the way you, my loyal caring friends, react—my small achievements are roughly equivalent to circumnavigating Mars in a leaky sand-dinghy. (Although, that would be pretty sweet.)

Anyway. I'm beginning to accept the idea that I am not of the ‘make plans and execute them’ variety, unless by execute you mean ‘take out the back and shoot.’ I am destined to be driven by the fates, a victim and beneficiary of circumstance.

Ah well, it's working so far. Apart from that short film that I'm seriously planning to make eventually. A little help, circumstance? Hello? Circumstance?

Nato commented:

Yeah. I might be similar - remember the time we got together and discussed secretly starting our own hypnosis cult?

Anyhow, I'm all for making lots of plans, and having some work out. Because, some do (hence your achievements)

Matt commented:

Good example! Maybe we should embrace the fact that we never actually do anything, and use it to plan without fear, because, hey, it's not as if it will ever happen. Throw lots of crap at the wall and see what sticks, as it were.

Jody commented:

Matt, this is an interesting topic. I've been thinking about a bit today. I've always been a person who makes stuff happen. Sometimes I wish stuff would happen to me, to take some of the pressure off, but it doesn't (well, ok, sometimes it must!). I feel a lot of pressure to do stuff. I feel like if I don't, who will? etc etc. playing my oldest child harp quite loudly here :) I'm also a strong believer in mind over matter: that you just decide to do something then do it, even if it's hard or horrible or whatever. One day last year I woke up and realised I couldn't. I couldn't will myself to be xyz that day, and not for quite a few days to follow. It was the freakiest thing ever.

KT commented:

I am similar. I would rather wait to see what life throws at me and then prove myself worthy through my ability to deal with it, than try to manipulate the world to suit myself. In other words, I try to cultivate flexibility in myself, rather than trying to bend the world. I can never quite decide whether this is lazy or very enlightened, and whether the peace and contentment it gives me indicates that I'm motivated by selfishness/self-protection, because I have a deep need to be in harmony with my surroundings. Maybe I just have no fighting spirit. In any case I find it an exciting way to live, because it leaves me open to spontaneity, and everything becomes an adventure. Also I'm one of the most contented people I know :)

Which doesn't really help you with the whole "I want to make things happen but can't" situation - just maybe shows some of the good aspects of being a victim of fate. If you are one, you might as well embrace it! (hm, have I just reduced my argument to a circular one? "Why not fight fate?" "Because you are a victim of fate!" The opposite argument would thus be "Why fight fate?" "Because to do otherwise would be to settle for being a victim of fate!" Comes down to values I guess, and how much power you think you genuinely have. And now I've talked myself into saying nothing at all.)

Matt commented:

From the Tao:

Allow yourself to yield, and you can stay centered.
Allow yourself to bend, and you will stay straight.

Or, as I've read it elsewhere (paraphrased), a strong enough wind will knock down any tree, but a reed will bend and remain unharmed. Seems a sensible mid-point between the two—make your own way, but be prepared to submit to fate rather than destroy yourself fighting it.

kelly commented:

I've thought about this a lot, and I think the ideal (for me, at least) is a blend of both. I am a big believer in working to deliberately put yourself in places where fate can find you. A rather simple example is that if I had stayed in Blenheim and worked in a supermarket after finishing high school, happy coincidences would have had a hard time finding me because fate hates Blenheim. When I came to university I had no idea where I would end up, I just had a vague understanding that I would be putting myself in a place where knowledge of the world, people and opportunities would find me.

Depending on where you are and where you want to get to, I think you sometimes have to use brute force, and sometimes you can put yourself in a position where effortless coincidences will help lead you there. The deciding factors are probably how ambitious you are in where you want to get to, how committed you are (whether you can be bothered) and whether you have the means and the know-how to make it happen (this includes confidence in your ability to actually get there). My personal belief is that a lack of the latter is the main contributing factor to continuing poverty. Incidentally, this view is also shared by many leading writers and leaders (in the World Bank, UN, etc) on the subject. Of course, this ramble can apply to any life goal, not just material gain!

Matt commented:

That ‘being in the right place’ is key, I think—it's finding the little things that tip the balance (was talking to Jim about this last night.) For me, it's often just talking to the right person, or asking the right question; “oh, I've been thinking about getting overseas again,” “do you know of anyone looking for a web developer?”

But even for that, you have to know the right place or the right people or the right question, and you've got to be able to get there, which is why poor people stay poor while the rich get richer. Tricky stuff.

KT commented:

Kelly: nice

Nato commented:

"Fate hates Blenheim" - would make a good bumper sticker :)

Christina commented:

I was going to comment yesterday about this, cos I think at times I've been both, (and have seen both in you, Matt) and then Kelly got there first and stole my words. Well, except the stuff about Blenheim :P

I've seen both of those sides in you as well, Matt. Sure, you may have had people help you to go overseas or to Auckland, but the fact is that you went, and you did things. And you've started your own business, which isn't something to be sneezed at.

Considering the last two weeks in my life and various other things, I'd say confidence is an incredibly decisive factor. You can have all the quals, skills and connections with people; but unless you're OK with yourself and gutsy enough to do something about it, fate'll just flip you the finger. And really, a lot of that comes from knowing yourself, what you want, and what fits your skin.

Knowing the right questions to ask, and the right people to talk to is big too. Not knowing where to go, or having access to those connections is like paddling in a canoe with half an oar. It's all about the Old Boy's network.

Angus commented:

I'm struggling with the same stuff right now too -- am having to start seriously thinking about training programmes and specialisation and so forth. It's not just you :).

KT commented:

Today I heard the phrase "willing rather than willful living" (as a definition for the attitude of surrender, in a discussion about spirituality), and thought it captured something relevant to this discussion. Might just leave it as it is though.