Who is the Master of your Fate?
Imagine you’ve had the worst week of your life. Your car broke down, you’ve been laid off at work, and you aren’t going to be able to make the rent for the third time in a row. To top it all off, your significant other has been cheating on you. Not a great time to be you, right?
What would you do in this situation?
“It’s not my fault that my car broke down, engines fail all the time- and if that company wasn’t so greedy, they wouldn’t have laid so many good employees off. Obviously, I can’t make rent because I’m a victim of fate here, and I didn’t do anything to deserve being cheated on! Life is cruel and I’m just an innocent victim, it’s not fair!”
It’s easy to understand this mentality, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve thought this way. When bad things happen, the last thing anyone wants to do is to think that it’s their fault. There’s a reason that the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is so common. Everyone wants to believe that they’re the hero of their own story, unable to do wrong and free from any guilt. Of course, when something good happens, we’ll be the first to take the credit.
See the double standard?
In 1954, psychologist Julian B. Rotter coined the idea of the “Locus of Control.” He discovered that every person makes a decision, consciously or unconsciously, regarding who or what they believe is in charge of their lives. Some people have an external locus, and they believe that things like destiny, God, fate, or even random chance are responsible for the direction that their lives go.
He poses a scenario in which a mercenary with a sword stands in a room with a king, a priest, and a rich man, and has to decide which to serve and which two to kill. The idea Varys presents is where a man sees power- where is his locus of control? Does he believe that money, the law, or the gods are the most powerful? The obvious answer here is that the man with the sword (the individual with the ability to choose) holds the power.
That idea of the power of the individual represents an internal locus of control. These individuals believe that they are in charge of their own choices, and that they are ultimately the cause of what happens to them, good or bad. A great example of the internal locus is given in the famous poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
This poem is impressive in and of itself, but what makes it all the more incredible is the story behind it. Henley was sick with tuberculosis from the age of 12, and in his early twenties, had to have a leg amputated. Notoriously well-spirited and hardy, he persevered. In fact, he was so resilient that his friend, famed author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, used the tough, one-legged Henley as the basis for the character of Long John Silver.
His sickness wouldn’t stop there- a few years later, the tuberculosis would return to claim his other leg.
In the face of this overwhelming adversity, most people wouldn’t have blamed Henley for despairing or giving up. Henley wouldn’t have it, and it was during the three years he spent in the hospital after his surgery that he completed his most famous poem. Invictus is now widely considered to be among the most inspirational poems ever written.
Ultimately, you are responsible for where your locus of control lies, and, to quote the band Rush’s song Freewill,
“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
(Check out the full album here: Permanent Waves)
What will you decide?
Who is the captain of your soul?