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Fate and Destiny

“I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
– Carl Jung

One of the things that has stuck with me from this past year is a reflection my grandfather had just after he was diagnosed with stage four metastasized melanoma. Those four weeks before he died were filled with conversations among family members. One afternoon while he was still in the hospital, he shared an observation with my aunt Randy. Gratefully reflecting on the arc of his life he said, “Who knew that two kids who had nothing, zero, would have what we have today. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined I would have had the life I had, as much as we have now, and the family that we raised, and how successful our grandkids would be.”

My grandparents came from families that had few material things and even less emotional support, but they came together and made a more than decent life for themselves and their family. They accepted their fate and moved well beyond its limitations; they were deeply imprinted by the circumstances they were born into. Their story is part of my story. It’s something I can look back on and honor. Yet the specific fate I was squeezed out into from the womb is different than theirs, and my life’s trajectory is my own.

As I was listening to this most recent podcast conversation between Jerry and Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Todoist I began to think about the distinction between fate and destiny.

The facts of where you were born, when you were born, your physical body, who you were born to, and what lineages run in your veins are all part of your fate. Fate encompasses the things that were given to us, both advantages and limitations. Destiny, though, is our potential. It’s what calls to us or tries to live through us. (As Jungian analyst James Hollis would say, “Something wants to come into the world through us.”) Once we land in this world with the set of cards fate dealt us, what we do with those circumstances is how we make our destiny.

In a sense, the question posed by fate and destiny is do we create our lives, or does life create us. We are free to choose what we would like, and follow what is moving through us, but in the space between fate and destiny is a catch point where we must tease out the imprints that create repetitions for us (and keep us struggling to move forward as we’d desire, continually caught in an undertow from the past) and what is our authentic journey, moving freely into new territory. Sometimes even the decisions we think we’re making freely are bound to a past. Catching that space between our fates and our destiny takes some sussing out.

The catch point between fate and destiny is sticky. As Jung noted, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

The key is to become aware of the sources of the repetitions we can find ourselves in–the ones that hold us back, like the thoughts and inner warnings that sound like our parent’s voices, not our own inner compass–so that in choice points, we are able to recognize what reactions and impulses feel familiar and may be influencing our current decisions or actions from the past, versus allowing us to move into the a fresh newness of where we’d really like to be, or aligned with our inner compass. What and how are those invisible things ruling our lives? How to we get ahead of that so as to maximize our capacity to allow what’s moving through us in this lifetime to move through freely, unbound by repetitions of history here in the present.

“We all have these, or similar, archaic instructions,” writes James Hollis in his book Hauntings. “They have been around so long we simply have grown familiar with them, like bad habits. But we are not our history; ultimately, we are what wishes to enter the world through us, though to underestimate the power of that history as an invisible player in the choices of our daily life is a grave error.”

Perhaps the gift of Radical Self-inquiry is this: by giving in to the process by which self-deception becomes so skillfully and compassionately exposed so that there’s no mask that can hide us anymore, we can become conscious of the unconscious patterns and sabotaging snares that would otherwise stand in the way of glimpsing and seizing our destiny. Radical Self-inquiry is deep work at the edge of the past and where your destiny is emerging. This work is much more than just a list of your strengths and weaknesses.

As Hollis writes in What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life:

“But the real gift of…any truly conscious, considered life, is that one achieves a deepened conversation around the meaning of one’s journey—a conversation without which one lives a received life, not one’s own, a superficial life, or a life in service to complexes and ideologies. But what of those parts of the story that cannot be changed, that resist our denials, our distractions, our sincere, best efforts? Perhaps then we have also to recover a sense of what our ancestors paradoxically called amor fati, the love of one’s fate.”

To love our fate is to understand in a meta-sense that you choose the starting position of your life before so that you could learn what you came here to learn. Destiny is the fulfillment of that lesson. That’s Radical Self-inquiry and radical self responsibility, a golden lesson in itself. As Jung noted, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”

Without inquiring beyond our pain, our struggles, and the repetitions that keep us eddied in the waters of our life, we can fail to own that it’s ours–and ours to shift–and keep small in life. As Hollis notes in Hauntings:

“How often do we allow the wounds and disappointments of history to define us and enable that diminution to persist in its wounding ways? How often have we failed to seize hold of our own destinies and thereby allow the fates to dictate once again? How often has our failure to show up in our lives revealed immaturity on our part, a failure to grow up, a collusion in victimhood?”

And yet, through all of this assignment of our lives, as Paulo Cohelo writes inThe Alchemist: “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation,”

Part of that obligation is to live the life that’s yours, not someone else’s. Sometimes, as with Amir’s parents, fate throws your life into turmoil with war. And sometimes, as with their son Amir, you realize your destiny by building the thing, the product, the company you were meant to build.

The first step to living up to your obligation is a deeper inquiry into yourself. Cleaning out your closets, if you will. Only then will you be able to undertake the most sacred of all obligations: making the unconscious forces that have been directing your life conscious, confronting that which you’ve perceived as fate and transforming it into destiny.


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