Fate and Fortune

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“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. “ Ecclesiastes 9:11

A recent study from Cornell confirmed what I had long suspected about the role of luck vs talent in success. The bottom line is that having the greatest talent is not the prime determinant of success but rather it is a combination of luck (being at the right place at the right time), and having sufficient talent to recognize and exploit the opportunity.

From a Stoic perspective, this reinforces the fundamental principal of what little we control. I can only control what I think and how I act. I can attempt to find the right places and be there at the right times, however whether I am successful is up to fate, and I should not berate myself when the opportunities do not show up.

This also relates to the Buddhist concept of desire as the root cause of suffering. As long as I hitch my emotional wagon to the idea that something external must happen in order for me to be “happy”, I never will be.

Yes, I can get lucky and the wanted event can occur, but this just feeds the monkey in terms of wanting further reinforcement for what are ultimately random events.

My lesson, do the best I can, try and recognize opportunities when they arise, but in the end realize it is up to fate what occurs and what my path will be. Even the fortune I was seeking could in the end have had undesirable consequences (winning the lottery but then being hit by the bus on the way to collect the prize). I must always remind myself that I cannot foresee the future, I an only make predictions based on what I know, and as predictions my chances of being correct are only probabilities.

Focusing on improving myself through living my virtues is my only guaranteed path to success. The message of modern society, that my successes or failures are all attributable to my efforts, with all the attendant psychosis when I don’t achieve my goals, is shown for the lie that it is.

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