In today’s blog, I am exploring the idea of free will and destiny (officially Choice: Part 2, but to be honest, also a little bit of The Witcher: Part 2). How much of a role do we play in how our life turns out? Do our choices guide our way or is our path pre-determined by fate? These kinds of questions have always intrigued me and are a major theme of my first novel, FIVE DAYS.
In that story, Alexa has built her life around maintaining control, certain that her choices have created the well-planned life she is living. Until destiny intervenes…several times, in fact…and she comes to believe that some things are simply meant to be, beyond her control. And yet, in this realization, she is empowered to make choices that help her discover and embrace the essence of who she is.
In addition to writing, I am a therapist. I work every day to help people make choices, feel empowered, and take agency over their own lives. I’m influenced by existential psychologists—Vaclav Havel, Irving Yalom, Martin Buber—who teach about freedom and personal responsibility. I believe deeply that we must follow our values and act in our own best interests.
I also believe there are these moments and shifts that happen that have nothing to do with personal choice. I believe in fate and destiny too.
The night I first kissed my future husband, my plan was to flirt with a different guy, a cute lifeguard (sorry boys, if you didn’t want to know that!). I absolutely, positively was not looking for a serious relationship at that point in my life. Yet here we are, thirty years later. That seems like destiny to me, and yet I also made a lot of choices along the way to keep us together for all that time.
I just had a conversation with a friend about my last blog post, and he was reflecting on the fact that his decades-long career as a teacher started because he needed twelve final credits to graduate from NYU and decided to take a few education classes, where he happened to sit next to someone who offered him the job that led to his career. Feels like fate, but he still had a choice, right?
Back to the Witcher…Geralt moves through the show denying destiny, yet it continues to follow him. He makes choices that repeatedly lead him closer to aligning with the destiny he is fighting against. So is that choice, free will? Or is it destiny? Do all our choices only lead to what would have happened anyway?
Of course, it’s fun and easy to call destiny when the outcome is good. But what about when tragedy strikes or life takes a dark turn and people say it’s meant to be? That’s annoying and often seems like a lame way of dismissing pain and disappointment.
Which leads me to my recent exploration of Friedrich Nietzsche’s interpretation of amor fati (love of fate), “…that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but loveit.” The idea being that everything that happens in one’s life is necessary, neither good nor bad, but progressing in the way it must. This further implies that good and bad are inextricably linked, inseparable, that suffering is as much a part of life as happiness, each equally necessary.
In a philosophy discussion with my son, he suggested that maybe we are predestined on a certain path and what we get to choose is more about our attitudes, our responses, the meaning we make of those events. I like control (those of you who know me already know this!). I like to think that I am THE active player in my life. I do not like to think that my choices don’t really matter, that my journey is not entirely under my control. But I also like the romantic idea of destiny, and I have often experienced things coming together in a way I could not possibly have chosen or foreseen but feels like it is meant to be.
A few years ago I made a choice to start writing a book. After that, something magical—perhaps destiny, perhaps creative inspiration—took over. I didn’t expect to write another book, to actually become a writer, but I think this is meant to be. I decide to write—that is clearly my choice, and it takes a lot of time and energy and discipline, so sometimes it’s a hard choice. But there is also a piece of it that feels like the story has energy and momentum without my choice, like the story is destined to be created and I’ve been chosen to tell it.
I believe there is an element of fate that overrides me sometimes, and I like Jake’s idea that my power comes in what I do with what happens to me. I get to choose that, and that’s something.
Carol Dries says
I totally agree with Jake. What happens is neutral, how we perceive of it and how we react to, or with, it is what labels it. Too often, in my life, I have judged happenstances too quickly, and oftentimes wrongly. Why, there was a time, about 20 years ago, when I was offered two free prime tickets to a concert, but couldn’t find a date. That was seen as “Bad” (and I was unworthy with it!). You know where this is going! Quite “out of the blue”, a friend told me that a gentleman was coming for a visit and might have that evening free. I got a blind date, and that was your Dad, and we are blissfully together, lo, these many years later. So, it wasn’t a Bad thing, I wasn’t unworthy of a date, but Serendipity, or Destiny, stepped in and changed our lives. Very Good Thing! But – and this is important, we each had to make the decision to be open to a blind date and then, to being vulnerable again. Choice and Destiny. I love your writings and musings!
Holly LaBarbera says
Thanks, Carol! Perfect example of the intertwining of choice and destiny!
Kellen Akiyama says
I love this topic, Holly. I teach this Free Will vs. Determinism unit to my students. Most of them are not mature enough to really grapple with the philosophy, but most of them love it. After reading your fist chapters of FIVE DAYS, I can see where Free Will versus Destiny comes in with Alexa. Always fun to read your blog.
Holly LaBarbera says
Thanks, Kellen! Good to hear from you!
Bridget H Bertrand says
I love how these are all beginning to build on one another. Perhaps a third book? I have shared it widely. So excited for you to keep this up!
I have this conversation all the time…and somehow I’m no closer to an answer!!!! I am definitely more of a “free will” person, though… 😉 Great topic!!