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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

As fate would have it

While taping a podcast episode with my partner, Alvean Lyons, we were asked whether we had any major regrets, and if so, what we would do about them had we the ability to change the outcome. It is a question that most people will ask themselves at some point, perhaps it will be asked of them as well. FYI, we both answered affirmatively, we had regrets. Show me someone who has none and I submit that they are not being honest with themselves. Let’s face it, we are fallible and we have all made mistakes that we would like to rectify if we had the chance.

But the question got me thinking about the degree to which we are in fact captains of our own destiny. Are humans bound to a pre-destined fate, as many believed thousands of years ago, and some still hold to as an explanation for life’s unfolding drama? Does a higher being, know in advance how we will progress, and even more what decisions we will make when we stand at a consequential crossroad? Or was Shakespeare on to it when he said that the “fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves….”?

I subscribe to the principle of free will, and therefore I have difficulty accepting the idea that we are predestined or fated to be this or that. But I am not entirely ready to concede that the decisions we make in our lives are in reaction to arbitrary events. In my own life and in those of others I have closely observed there are patterns—call them karmic instances, or inflection points that we tend to reach regardless of how specific events unfold. These are almost always about a lesson we need to learn; a lesson we need to internalize in order to move beyond our present state of being.

Someone once waggishly observed that life is a poor teacher because it administers the test before providing the lesson. Perhaps, but it is more likely that we are poorly equipped for the lesson the first time around, hence our regrets. If we are at all reflective then we may just need to receive the lesson once, but often we get it wrong serially. In particularly stubborn cases we may need to get ‘hit upside the head’ as a friend of mine put it once, in order to learn what we need to avoid repeating our worst errors. Is it fate that we get the opportunity to face our challenge again and again, or simply the workings of our psyche? In truth, I don’t know. But I do know that for most of us, life lessons keep repeating till we make the decision we should have in the first place; till we get it right.

By watching others carefully, it is fairly easy to spot these patterns, and depending on whether you are friend or foe you can choose to help someone overcome their challenges or exploit their penchant for repeating the same mistakes. I do not condone the latter, though I have watched people fall prey to exactly that manipulation on more than one occasion. So why, you might ask, do I think this human trait exists? If you believe as I do that this is not simply a function of how we learn, or a fundamental flaw in human psychology, you might veer in my direction. I believe it is part of why we are here.

Let me explain. Assuming that Douglas Adams was wrong, and 42 is not the answer to the meaning of life, we are left with one of two possible conclusions. There is no meaning to life, it just is; or life has a meaning. Those of you who opt for the former can ignore what follows, it won’t be relevant to you. Of course, you probably don’t read my blog in any event. For the rest of you then, life has a meaning although we may not agree on what it is. I am going to skip past the Hallmark greeting card answers… life’s meaning is love, God, fill in the blank. For me, life in this particular stage of our existence is all about learning to become the best version of ourselves we are able to be. It’s ok to disagree, I don’t require validation to subscribe to this truth.

To bring this back around to where I began, yes, I have regrets. I regret that I have made many mistakes in my life and some of those errors in judgement caused others pain or hurt. I cannot undo any of those errors, I can learn from them and try to avoid repeating them. I have been good at doing that in some cases while in others I needed that swift kick in the pants to finally understand the error of my ways. I suspect that part of my life’s lessons isn’t over yet, as much as I wish it were.

So, I put it to you. Is the fault in your stars or in yourself? Are you captain of your destiny, or do you too have life lessons you are learning, sometimes again and again? Whatever your answer, I hope it won’t take too many do overs till you get it right.

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