Don’t Believe in Fate – Or, Changing your Vocation

How many times in your life have you thought of something as predetermined, preordained, or destined to happen? Perhaps it was something that happened to you early in life; say that you won prizes once or twice from your school, and you never seemed to step on that dangerous and mythical crack in the sidewalk. Other kids at school told you that you were lucky, and you started to think of yourself that way.

Or maybe it was something that you saw in someone else – they seemed to have a natural talent for singing, and later ended up performing on Canadian Idol. You start to tell people stories about the singing talents of your acquaintance, and the amateur singer begins to take on incredible personal qualities which extend well beyond their questionable vocal abilities.

I’m frequently inclined to believe in fateful happenings, or the solid continuation and growth of a person’s natural abilities into something much greater. It’s because I always think in stories – even now, I can hear the distant but sonorous voice inside my head narrating something patently ridiculous: “Maria sat at her computer, completely unaware that her blogs were dropping into the vastness of space, thus causing ripples in reality.” I use narrative to provide excitement and interest to my daily life, and reading mountains of sensationalist novels in my youth is a large contributor to this ongoing dialogue in my brain.

However, I also use narrative to shape the meaning of my life, or at least my life’s vocation. I often say to myself: “I grew up quiet, shy, and introverted. I could be a great novelist, a thoughtful academic, or a wonderful librarian. But never anything else.” This is problematic because it sets me into a rigid vocational path and way of seeing myself. There’s no room for spontaneous change or evolution of the self.

A brilliant article recently published in the online Nautilus magazine made me think in different ways about the idea of destiny, preordained lifestyles, fate, and other related issues. Entitled “Homo Narrativus and the Trouble with Fame“, by Peter Sheridan Dodds, it’s a combination of complexity theory, network analysis, and sociology. In the article, Dodds suggests that we take average life and turn it into a meaningful narrative to make sense of everything that’s going on. Additionally, we rely on the image of the individual and create explanatory metaphors around their lives.

The combination of narrative plus the individual contributes to the persistence of the ‘famous’ people amongst us. Fame spreads about an individual when other people tell stories about them, making them a focal point and drawing larger and larger social groups into this same awareness. How and why fame spreads depends on the characteristics of the individuals spreading the word about its growth (i.e. network theory).

So to return to where I began; I suggest that everyone start to question that narrative voice in your head that informs you of grandiose plot lines in your regular day-to-day life. Just because you’ve seen a similar plot line in a novel, movie, or play, doesn’t mean that something is predestined or determined. It may also be that the stories you’ve told yourself, or had others tell you about yourself, for your entire life just aren’t true.