“If it’s written in the stars” said the female protagonist in a book I read recently. She was wondering whether fate would eventually make it possible for her and the man she longed for to live happily ever after.
You’ve probably heard the expression before. It’s a well-worn cliché, but it did get me thinking about the role fate plays in our lives, and our careers specifically. To what extent is our success the product of our efforts versus forces beyond our control?
I’m not sure how one could suggest that fate doesn’t play a huge role after living through the past 18 months. No one in January 2020 had even begun to contemplate how a global pandemic would impact their businesses or careers. If you were one of the many people who lost a job or a business because of the pandemic, it’s hard not to curse fate.
Even when the stakes aren’t as severe as losing a job or watching your business fail, like those times when we got passed over for promotion, didn’t close a deal or were excluded from an important project team, we often look to fate or bad luck as the reason.
If you are a person of faith, you likely attribute or seek solace from a higher power to understand these kinds of seemingly random curses of fate. Most religions share a belief that we only begin to gain wisdom and live fulfilling lives when we learn to accept that the plans our higher power has for us may be different, at times quite different, from those we made for ourselves. Surrendering to a will that is not our own, even for the most fervent believers, often is incredibly challenging.
Whether it be God, the universe or just bad luck, I think we can agree that no one is in complete control of the outcomes of their career. You can work hard, play by the rules, be the smartest person in the room, have the best ideas, all the things that we are taught lead to success, and still end up getting screwed. Shit happens, even to the best of us.
So, am I saying that fate or luck is the main differentiator in determining a person’s success? No, it’s not all luck, but only the truly arrogant and delusional attribute their success exclusively to their own efforts. Show me any Horatio Alger “up from the bootstraps” success and undoubtedly that person benefited from some good luck.
In fact, I’d argue one of the things that separates the truly successful is they understand better than most of us the role fate plays. By that I mean they accept the things that are beyond our control and focus their efforts and energies on the things they can control. Raging against the client who chose a competitor or a boss who doesn’t appreciate your contributions may feel good, but often it’s an easy way to let ourselves off the hook. If it’s all fate, we don’t have to take responsibility or accountability for the role our actions may have played in the outcome.
I’ve written before about how the most successful coaches usually talk about process as opposed to outcomes. Everybody wants to win, but there are many variables beyond the control of a coach that go into winning. What coaches, and we as professionals in our own careers, can control are the processes we follow. While there are no guarantees, good process leads to good outcomes.
Also, I believe the best, most successful leaders, the ones who truly inspire people and customers, are at heart humbler and more curious than the rest of us because they appreciate that fortune has smiled upon them in ways it hasn’t for other people. When you know it’s not all about you, you approach life more openly. Yes, there are plenty of examples to the contrary, but I’d argue that the arrogance of such people, no matter the level of their success, caused them to not fully realize their potential.
I’m not sure what any of this means for that couple looking for the answers to their future in the stars. The book’s ending leaves you hanging for the sequel. As for the rest of us, I think when it comes to fate the lessons are focus on the things you can control and stay humble. If all of us operated by those principles more consistently there would many nice things written in the stars about our futures.