How to Be the Master of Your Own Destiny

In a recent blog post titled, Why One Bad Day Does Not Define You, I discussed the idea of a little life snapshots. I mentioned that "There are countless factors that shape how I am at one specific moment and honestly, it's pretty unpredictable." I am a believer that circumstances surrounding us shape every little moment that our lives are composed of. At one second, there are countless components that can affect the outcome of that one second. And the next, another infinite amount of components. Each of these moments or snapshots eventually make up the life that we know.

And that idea got me thinking. If there are an infinite amount of elements that shape our lives, is it ever possible to truly have total control over your life?

It sounds a little scary saying yes or no. Saying yes, we do have complete control over our lives, seems scary due to the increased stress over the amount personal responsibility that we all have. Saying no, we do not have complete control over our lives, seems scary due to feelings of constraints and limitations regarding our ambitions. In fact, according to Psychology Today, "One of our basic human needs is a sense of control, to know that we have a choice, that our actions make a difference". And I think that it rings true. I do like to believe that what I do matters. It's inspirational.

Napoleon Hill once said, “You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.” The quote makes me fuzzy inside because it makes me feel happy, optimistic. But am I truly the "master" of my own destiny?

Similar: 5 Things Inspirational Quotes Don't Tell You


We want to believe that we have control over our lives. In the United States, the American Dream embedded into our society says that no matter who you are, you can do anything. We tend to believe that what we do determines where we end up: the equality of opportunity. While that may have been true in the birth of the nation, I don't necessarily think that it's entirely true. Going back to the snapshot idea, while I feel that we can control certain factors that determine the outcome, it's difficult to control everything, maybe even impossible.

In economics, you might hear the Latin phrase, ceteris paribus, being tossed around. If you aren't familiar with the term, it essentially means "holding other things constant” or “all else being equal". It's the idea that this outcome will occur on the assumption that there is only one change and everything else remains constant. If you're more of a science-based person, it's essentially the idea of variables: establishing an independent variable, one that you manipulate, while keeping everything else in the experiment as constant as possible in order to observe an outcome or the dependent variable.

However, in reality, whether you're dealing with economics, science, or even daily occurrences, while we can make our own choices and make our own modifications, it's ultimately impossible to keep everything else "constant", thus causing many other factors to modify the outcome as well.

Although we can make our own choices, it's ultimately impossible to keep everything else "constant", thus causing many other factors to modify the outcome as well.

So if we don't have complete control over our lives, then how can we make them our own? How can I make my dreams reality? How can I break old rules and do something different than the norm?

While you can be pessimistic and believe that we do have certain limitations in our lives based off of the circumstances that we cannot control, I choose to be optimistic with a grain of salt. With the reality that we live in and the infinite factors that influence our day by day lives, I do think that we are somewhat limited. However, I believe that in order to control our own lives for the better, we should do everything possible to change the factors that we can.

Although some factors limit you, you still have control over other factors that can lead you to your dreams. 

Think of the idea of inherited versus acquired traits in genetics. There are some traits that you are born with, such as having a certain height or a certain skin tone. However, there are many traits that you acquire such as learning how to play the oboe or learning how to drive a car. While you may not be able to change your inherited traits, you can acquire new traits.

Essentially, there are some elements that are constant and unchangeable, but there are others that can be manipulated in any way you want.

For example, if you were never born in the United States, you will never be able to run for president, since one of the requirements for presidency listed in the Constitution is being a natural-born citizen. It is a factor that is impossible to change. However, if you want to president and that is your dream, you can change other factors that can get you there. You can take up politics and work to change those requirements. If you're willing to be more flexible, you can take on another huge essential role in the political system which you might love even more than the role of president.

If circumstances affect who we are, then all you have do to is change those circumstances. 

We all love the stories of people that have overcome their circumstances. For example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio when he was 39 years old. Despite several treatments, he was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He found a factor that he could not change. While it could have caused the end of his burgeoning political career, especially due to the negative attitudes towards disabilities during that time period, he was able to turn towards ones that he could so that he could still follow his ambitions.

He began exercising often, mostly swimming, building up his strength so that he could stand and walk short distances, later devising methods for creating an illusion of walking for the public so that he could appear capable. We all know that he became president, a rather popular one, sustaining office longer than any other president: an unprecedented four terms.

It's an intriguing story, but the main reason why I thought to share it was because it reveals that he was able to follow his dreams and take control of his own life, despite not being able to control everything.

So can you ever have total control over your life? Yes and no. 

If each snapshot's outcome depends upon the circumstances, there are some components that you will never be able to control. It's unfortunate, but those don't necessarily have to limit you. So stop obsessing over the things that you cannot influence and start focusing on the things that you can change.

What Napoleon Hill said is partially true. You can make your life what you want it to be and you can be the master of your own destiny as long as you go about it right, seizing on the opportunities that you have and working around the things that are out of your hands.

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