Does everything happen for a reason? Who hasn’t asked themselves that question? Experience has shown me that people usually declare the “things-happen-for-a-reason” proclamation particularly when confronted with major, traumatic, or transitional points in their lives. Fate, they say, has a hand in determining our outcomes. Therefore, in troubled times, we can be comforted by the notion that there is a greater plan for us, that we are not just on random, haphazard paths, but rather we are pieces of a puzzle that some great and unseen power is putting together in order to fulfill some greater-purpose design.
I was interviewing a book subject last night for the Cycle of Lives project, my 5000-mile bike ride and cancer awareness and fundraising endeavor, and he spoke of the handful of impactful, meaningful people who had come into his life at a few crucial times in his life. This subject, a well-known, world-class athlete, pointed to his father, two coaches, and his radiologist as being critical to his development, and indeed, to his very survival. When I commented about how lucky he was to have had these influencers, he responded, “Luck or fate?” And it made me really think about how very different those two words are.
If you’re in the “luck” camp, then everything that happens is simply analogous to a coin flip – a 50/50 chance; things happen or they don’t; you’re either lucky or unlucky each step of the way as the outcome of each moment’s coin flip determines your life. If you’re in the “fate” camp, then you don’t need the coin, because no matter the outcome, the act of flipping to find the answer is simply wasted energy; there is no 50/50 chance; things happen or they don’t according to plan.
Surely not every single occurrence in our daily and collective lives is meaningful enough to warrant a theoretical discussion about purpose versus chance, but how do we know which ones do? How do we know when to feel lucky and fortunate – or unlucky and unfortunate – or when to feel comforted by our belief in some master scheme regardless of the ease or difficulty of things? Do we resign ourselves to having no influence on the endless outcomes of life, or on just the major turning points?
Luck, fate, chance, destiny, choice, these are big ideas no matter the size of the issue; ideas that require deep contemplation; ideas that determine our existential reasoning; ideas that comfort us, or keep us awake at night.
Either way, I hope you sleep well.
With that in mind, here are a few movie quotes on the topic.
“Luck’s got nothin’ to do with it.” John Leguizamo in Ice Age
“Sometimes you find your destiny on the road you took to avoid it.” Clive Owen in The International
“Your destiny is in your hands, brother.” Ankur Vikal in Slumdog Millionaire
“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both are happening at the same time.” Tom Hanks in Forest Gump