Is it fate that allows one to excel while another falters, a pre-determined plan and path for each to follow? How do our decisions and choices affect our lives, especially when coupled with the opportunities that fate presents? Why is it that a select few are in Sochi, Russia this winter to participate in the Olympic Games while the rest of us are merely spectators? Were they chosen? Did they earn it? Was it luck? Perhaps more importantly, does all that even matter: fate, choice, and luck? In fact, is it our perception of the hand we are dealt – our genetics, the opportunities that we encounter, the many other internal and external variables – that ultimately determines our success and wellbeing, both of which are relative to each individual? That individual is the only person truly cognizant of everything that comprises their path and journey and the cards that have been dealt.
As world-class skiers weave down the slopes of Sochi and graceful skaters twirl on the ice of the Olympic Village’s main stadium, hoping and dreaming like all the athletes of the Winter Games of standing on the award podium, it is interesting to wonder how they arrived in that position and imagine the road they traveled to that success and happiness. It does not have to be an international sporting spectacle to provoke such contemplation: what makes the neighborhood Italian restaurant so successful? Why are Picasso’s paintings displayed at the Louvre but the homeless street-painter who exhibits remarkable talent yearns to sell his pieces for a few dollars each? What separates a “good student” from one who struggles? Why does one person’s idea spread and gain steam while another’s never gains traction, a potential business and entrepreneurship halted while another takes off?
In his best-selling books Outliers and The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell addresses these sociological and psychological questions, exploring the reasons why certain people succeed and why some ideas become trends instead of fizzling out. It is too simple and easy to ascribe one’s success and wellbeing merely to luck or genes or fate; for all of these deep ideas actually overlap, coming together to form a person’s life. The external factors cannot be ignored: when one was born relative to a cut-off date or societal change, the socioeconomic and familial environment that fosters a child’s development, the connections one has through his/her social network to spread an important idea. Nor too can the choices one makes be neglected in this analysis, because for each opportunity that presents itself, an individual makes a decision to seize it or let it pass. It is those decisions and choices at each stop along the path fate has provided that help shape one’s success and wellbeing in life.
Although Gladwell analyzes the path to success and wellbeing from an external level, breaking down all the variables that makes one person climb to the top (such as the necessary 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in one’s craft), the internal perception of one’s journey may have an equally or more profound impact on those two values. No matter the circumstances – the events, hurdles, triumphs, etc. – one always has the ability to interpret those situations, creating meaning through one’s attitude towards the events along the path. It is this existential ability that allowed Viktor Frankl and Elie Wiesel to persevere through dire circumstances and make the most of a seemingly unfair hand that was dealt their way. As Viktor Frankl describes in Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Despite any external factor that influences a person’s life, one’s outlook in that situation cannot be touched. We have the choice to embrace the situation or change it, and if altering the situation happens to be out of our control, we can change how we perceive and interpret it, creating a reason in an otherwise irrational and hopeless circumstance that prompts the questioning of life itself. There is no right or wrong choice – giving up instead of persevering – for it is ultimately the individual’s journey and perception that matter, finding the reason amidst one’s external environment.
It is that perception that goes a long way in determining one’s success and wellbeing. Whether a gold medal is hanging around your neck or you are just watching, only you truly know the path you have taken and every aspect that makes it your unique journey and the reasons behind it. Your true success and wellbeing can only be determined by the value and emotions that come from within.