Do We Have Any Control Over Our Fate?

fork in the road
Sometimes it feels like we have no control over our lives, but that doesn’t mean we don’t.

Sometimes I wonder how much control we have over our lives. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and at times I’ve felt drawn towards a fate and without the power to control it.

How much control we have over our fate is an impossible question to answer, as it is impossible to say how much we control what happens around us. But we always have the ability, at least in our minds, to make different choices. Also, we may not have control over what happens, but we have some control over how we respond to what happens.

Have you ever doubted your control over your destiny? Has it ever felt like the things that were happening would happen regardless of what you did?

If you are curious about the power we have over our fates, keep reading cause I’m going to try and break it down for you.

That Time My Fate Was Out Of My Control

I did a bad thing, a horrible thing, the worst thing I have ever done; I cheated on a girlfriend. It felt like love at the time, but I knew I had to escape my stagnant life and try something else. My ex and I had been dating for eight months or so, but I had a dead-end job, and my future was looking bleak.

I had graduated from university the year before, but I had a shitty job and no ambition to improve my life. Don’t get me wrong; I had big dreams; it was just that I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything about them. One day, my cousin asked me if I wanted to move to Korea and work as an English teacher. He had been there for years and thought it would be a good experience for me.

He talked about it for a while before I finally committed to it, but once I said yes, he found me a job right away. I sent my paperwork and visited the Korean consulate; within a month, I had my plane ticket, and it was only a matter of time.

My girlfriend and I had talked about what would happen when I left, but I was confused and didn’t have the courage to end things. So instead, we focused on the future and how I would come back, and we would be able to live our lives together.

For the first two months, I was good, I didn’t go out much, and when I did, I wasn’t trying to hook up with anyone.

Things were going fine, until one day my boss told me that one of the mothers wanted to get English lessons from me. I resisted, but she kept pushing, my boss, who had all the power was giving me pressure, and I didn’t know what to do.

When we had our first lesson, the mother showed up, and she was beautiful; but this wasn’t a problem because I was in a happy relationship. We keep having our lessons until one day ‘my student’ showed up drunk. She pretended to be serious for my boss, but once we got out of the school she told me she was drunk. Full disclosure, part of the job description involved further English practice over dinner after the lesson.

That night, we went to a fancy new western restaurant down the street, a place I’d never go to on my own. She ordered food and beer and started telling me about how much she loved me. She got drunker and was all over me, I tried my best to keep some distance, but it was impossible. When we eventually left the restaurant, she insisted on walking me home, I tried to resist her advances but it didn’t work.

Eventually, I walked her home because she wasn’t able to do it on her own. She begged me to come up to her apartment, but I said no, so she hesitantly went inside, and I walked home.

That evening had been completely out of my control and I didn’t know what to do. 

It wasn’t like I could tell my boss, what would I even say? What could she do about it? So with seemingly no other options, I didn’t say anything and hoped things would clear up on their own, but they didn’t; instead, it got worse.

This lady would send me messages and say weird things; she would ask me to meet her places. She wasn’t giving in and she wasn’t going to stop. At this point, I felt like I had no control over my fate, she was pushing, and I was kind of going along for the ride. We had more lessons, she got more aggressive and I finally gave in and let her come up to my apartment.

Our affair went on for a week or two and I finally told my soon-to-be-ex about what had happened. I couldn’t be completely honest, but it eventually came out. She was destroyed and angry; it was a complete shit show for a while and Facebook became a toxic place.

At the time, I tried to explain why it had happened and what I had done to try and avoid it. I tried to tell my ex that I had no control, that it happened without me being able to stop it. And this was the truth, I had tried everything I could to stop it, but while it was happening, it was like a movie.

I was there, but I was following a script and had no say over the direction of the plot.

People could say I’m just making excuses, and maybe that’s true, but I swear while it was happening, my fate was out of my hands. I was moving along with it but had no part in authorship. Impossible to prove, I know, but if you have any trust in me, I swear that I am telling the truth.

We all make good and bad decisions; sometimes, we are spot on with a choice, other times it is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. But, if you look back at the significant events in your life, a pattern might emerge, things were happening, and you were there, but you had no say on the grander narrative that was taking place.

At the same time, we can look back and see that there were things that we did on our own, we made choices, we were the captain of the ship. But then the question becomes, but were we? How much control do we have over our destiny? Is this question even open to debate?

I have to admit, at least sometimes it is true; that we don’t have any control over some of the things we do.

How Much Control Do We Have Anyway?

In the ancient past, when people thought about destiny or how much control they had over their lives, it would be natural to assume an almighty god or gods in the clouds were guiding their every action. Today, we see ourselves evolved and more intelligent, so we tend to use science and cause and effect to describe why things happen.

While it would be difficult to get into the details of why we do what we do, it is reasonable to point out that all sorts of systems operate around us. So while we might think of more specific examples, like a school or political system, there are also much deeper systems at play.

We might like to believe that there is social mobility in our countries, but our parents and what they do significantly influence what we can do.

Further, there are specific ways of doing things in our respective societies, so we tend to go along with them without question. This happens because we don’t have much of a choice; these rules are often so deeply ingrained that even if we disagree, we follow them without pause.

Stepping back a little, the choices we make today affect the choices we can make tomorrow or further in the future. For example, in my story above, I talked about deciding to take a job in Korea; while I was free to leave whenever I wanted, I had committed to staying for a year. So even if I wanted to stop giving English lessons to that mother, I had said yes to begin with, so it would have been difficult to stop. In fact, I would have likely had to run away in the middle of the night to get away from it.

We sometimes call this path dependence, which is the idea that the decisions presented to us are dependent on previous decisions or experiences.

For example, if you go to school to be an engineer but then apply for a job as a medical doctor, it will be impossible to land a job. Likewise, if you skip studying, when it comes time for the test, it is going to be difficult to pass.

The point is that what we have done plays a considerable role in what we can do in the future. And while this happens to us as individuals, it also happens to companies and societies at large. While we might want to return to the moon today, the technology and expertise have not been sustained, so it will take a lot of time to prepare.

Looking a little deeper at how much control we have over our fates, we also have to keep in mind cause and effect. For example, if you had a negative experience with a cat as a child, you will have a different response to seeing one, than someone who had a positive experience.

The things that happen to us play an important role in how we respond to the things that are happening right now.

In addition, there are processes within our bodies that happen without any thought from us. For example, do you think about breathing? Do you think about digesting food? We don’t think about either of these things, but they happen all the time and are perfect in their functionality.

Now take a moment to reflect on all the other systems or processes that function this way. A lot of our world appears to be on autopilot.

So We Have No Control?

While we can’t say that just because these things are happening, then we, therefore, have no control. But we can step back and think about how we are merely a tiny piece in a complex system. And while the system has its own ways of functioning, it likely doesn’t care too much about what we think.

But to be fair, it doesn’t ‘think’ about anything; it just follows the rules and starts from its initial conditions.

Now you might be wondering, what does all this stuff have to do with fate and our control? Indeed we exist within a deterministic system, but we still have some free choice. This seems accurate; if I find myself at an ice cream shop, I can choose between chocolate or strawberries. If I’m swiping left or right on a dating app, surely, I am picking the people I like.

But then the question becomes, where do those preferences come from?

To a certain extent, I think that we have control over how we feel about things. We might not choose all the situations we found ourselves in, but we have some choice about how we think about ourselves in those situations.

For example, in a previous article, I talked about why it is important to know yourself. When I didn’t get a job, I could have dwelled on the negativity or could have been happy about not being pushed into a job that I didn’t want.

While taking a job or not is a more significant choice, many of the smaller, seemingly insignificant choices that we make each day seem outside of our control and a product of fate. Sure we can turn right or left, but we are still going to end up at work.

We can choose this shop or that, but we will still have a coffee in our hands when we step back into the office.

There are many opportunities to make different choices; we don’t have to live the same day repeatedly. But there are other aspects that we can’t do anything about. So, for example, we don’t choose who our parents are or where we were born. We don’t choose what we look like or what our skills or abilities are; we just get born with them.

In this sense, a lot of who we are and where we find ourselves are wholly out of our control. However, we do have some control over how we feel about the things that happen.

Again, our previous experiences will influence how we think about those things, but we still have some power to push our emotions in one direction over another.

The truth is, even when we feel like we are making a choice or pushing things in one direction over another, that sense of control could still be an illusion.

We can never know for sure if our choices are freely our own; we might feel like they are, but how can we know for sure?

How much control we have over our fate is impossible to know, as there are many factors known and unknown that go into the calculation. But regardless of the reality of the situation, we need to act like we are in control. We need to feel like we have autonomy and are doing the things we want to do.

Even if it is our fate for our dreams to come true, we still have to be on board, so we can’t just let the chips fall as they may. We need to act and feel like the director of our lives; even if it is just an illusion that we alone can see.

We can’t know what the future will bring, but we should act like we are in control.

In your own life, you’ve seen this many times before, you make choices, and things happen. Whether or not fate played a role is not your concern; what matters is where your mind and thinking are directed.

Did you think about a positive or negative outcome? And which one did you get?

How much control we have over our fate or destiny may be a question for the gods. But when it comes to the day-to-day decisions in life, we need to pick a side and choosing our direction. If we live as though we have no control, it will feel that way, but if we think we are the masters of our fates, then that is how it will be.

Who we become is ultimately up to us, even if there are an infinite number of mitigating factors.

So rather than worrying about your fate, embrace it and live the life you want to live.

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Robert Carr

Over the years, I've learnt to see things in a different light. This website is my place to share those insights and give my unique perspective on living a meaningful life.

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