Choosing your own destiny

The word ‘destiny’ means different things to different people. So as part of our journey towards becoming antifragile it is important to be clear about the meaning we are using here.

Like the word ‘destination’, the word ‘destiny’ looks to the future, to the place that we are heading towards. But its meaning has changed over the years.

intiially, the Latin word destinare meant “to make firm or establish.” This gives us one meaning of the word ‘destiny’: as something that is fixed and unchangeable, pre-destined.

But just because we set out for a certain destination it doesn’t always mean that we will get there. We might set out for the airport but then get caught in heavy traffic. We might plan a trip or a holiday only to discover that a volcano in Iceland or a global pandemic forces us to stay home. So over time the meaning of the Latin word destinare changed to reflect this. It came to mean, “the action of intending someone or something for a purpose.”

So what we really mean when we say that our ‘destination’ is the airport is that we are intending to go to the airport for the purpose of catching a plane. And if the traffic is heavy or a volcano erupts, then we might have to change our plans.

When we define our ‘destination’ this way it gives us the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. in a time of massive change this can be very useful. And when we define our own ‘destiny’ this way it does the same.

When people use the word ‘destiny’ to mean something that is fixed, inevitable, pre-ordained it removes their ability to adapt to changing circumstances: it assumes their destiny is out of their control, which stops them trying to shape it. In a time of massive change, this will be a problem.

But when we use the word ‘destiny’ to mean something we are intending, for a purpose, then we put ourselves back in control. We give ourselves the extra focus, energy, and enthusiasm that come from knowing the purpose of what we are doing. And if things don’t turn out as we expected then it’s no big deal — we simply adapt to find new ways of achieving the same purpose.

This is the way that Inner Leadership uses the word ‘destiny’. Our destiny is not fixed. It’s an outcome we intend, in order to achieve a purpose. And if the world changes then we change with it.

In a time of churning, thinking about our destiny in this way will bring us another step closer to becoming antifragile, using change to become stronger.

Have you chosen a destiny for yourself: an outcome you intend to create, for a purpose you want to achieve? Would you find it useful to have the extra energy, focus, and flexibility that come from doing so?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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4 Replies to “Choosing your own destiny”

  1. Dear Finn,

    Interesting post though I find your view about destiny somewhat incongruous. As far as I understand it controlling your own destiny is not possible. Destiny is the sum of events that will necessarily happen to a particular person. Here the word necessarily is key. So as you mention, a person can deliberately chose a course of actions with a strong purpose and a desire to leave a legacy. Which I would say is already very precious in showing leadership, character, accomplishments within a circle that you can control. However, you can only hope to meet your destiny by your own will, desire, and talent.It is not you who decides or chose your destiny. It will eventually be decided or recognized after all is said and done when there is consensus on where this person’s accomplishments exactly meet opportunities, context and expectations.

    I enjoy reading your posts and like your book very much.

    With my best regards

    • Hello Pascal,

      Thank you for your comment. And I am glad you are enjoying the posts and book.

      If I understand you, I think that what you are saying gets to the very heart of what I am trying to describe. And I think I probably agree with you.

      Let me explain why, in a few steps.

      First, many words can have more than one meaning. The word “rose”, for example, can mean a flower (“The red rose in the garden”) or levitation (“She rose into the air”) or standing up (“He rose from the chair”) or something intangible (“Today the stock market rose”) or a piece of garden equipment (“I put the new rose on to the spout of my watering can).

      Words mean different things to different people at different times. Quite often two people talk to each other using the same words with different meanings. And so they misunderstand each other.

      This is why I think it is important to be clear about what I mean by the word “Destiny”.

      I think the word Destiny can have (at least) three common meanings.

      One is something absolutely fixed: “The gods and fate have determined your destiny, from the moment you are born until the moment you die.” Here humans have no control.

      The second meaning is the complete opposite: something unpredictable and unfixed. “Controlling your own [ultimate] destiny is not possible. It is determined by how your talents and accomplishments meet opportunities, context and expectations. It will eventually be decided or recognised only after all is said and done.” Same word, different meaning. But here again, humans have no control.

      And what I think is more useful is a third definition that lies somewhere between the first two. This might seem “incongruous”, but I think it is more useful and more true to life.

      What I am saying is that it is useful to use the word Destiny to mean “Absolutely fixed in my Intention” AND “Absolutely unpredictable in terms of where I end up.”

      This is both fixed and unfixed. That might seem incongruous. But defining Destiny in this way brings us more energy (to try to get to our destination) AND more flexibility to respond when things do not go the way we planned.

      For example, this week I chose my Destiny to fly to Oslo to give a talk. Then my plane was diverted to Bergen. Then, eventually, it went to Oslo, 3 hours late.
      Setting my intention and purpose to go to Oslo gave me the energy to prepare my talk and drive to the airport.
      Knowing that reality might turn out different from what I expected allowed me to stay calm when I was sitting on the tarmac at Bergen and thought I might not reach Oslo.
      If my plane had then returned to London I could have tried a new way to achieve the same Destiny (speaking in Oslo on a different date). Or I could have given up on that part of my Destiny and chosen to do something else that was more achievable.

      For me, defining Destiny as something we choose AND know we might not achieve is more useful than either of the first two definitions. And I think it is important to be clear that this is the definition I use in The Churning, Inner Leadership.

      As Peter Senge says in The Fifth Discipline, “It isn’t what the vision *is* that matters, it is what the vision *does*.” It gives us energy to try, even if we end up somewhere else.

      And in a time of change, I think having this extra energy and flexibility is useful.

      (And as you know, Chapter 4 is about choosing what we want our Destiny to be, both short term and long term.)

      – – – – – – – – – – – –

      Was this useful Pascal? Have I answered your question? Do you agree? Disagree? Is there something I have not seen?

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Do let me know if you have other questions on the book / posts.

      Best regards,

      • Hi Finn,

        Thanks for your development of the three ways of how you use destiny. It made me understand where what I called incongruity came from.

        You mentioned Destiny as coming from the French word “destinée”, while for me it came from the word “destin”. However, it seems that in English both are translated by “destiny”, when in French “destin” and “destinée” have two different meanings.

        For me, destiny as “destin” combines the first two meanings you mentioned in your reply, because the first one is from the perspective of the gods and the second from the perspective of the human seeking his/her own pathway; but the result is the same, people have no control.

        Now, where I agree with you is that Destiny as “destinée” means: in pursuit of your “destin”. That means, trying to influence with will, resolve, courage and values that your future accomplishments matches your vision, leaving a legacy, while you stay true to your principles and values.

        I would not use “destiny” for the daily-life example of sticking to the plan even when events may derail it, unless, while you were sitting in your plane hoping that you would get to destination, you met someone and decided to totally change your plan by following him or her because you strongly felt you would be able to accomplish something bigger or different that would bring you what you were longing for.
        What I mean is that I don’t think your destiny would have changed had you involuntarily missed your speech in Oslo. Destiny is something bigger than a suit of planned events.

        Not sure our views start to reconcile yet, which doesn’t matter. Perceptions and opinions may differ, what’s important is that we learn something in the course of the discussion.

        In fact, I also found out why I’m uncomfortable with this active pursuit of one’s destiny: one risk to become too much focused on oneself at the expense of outside elements or people. Inner Leadership yes, but only up to a certain extent; this needs to be kept under close control. Individuals that are too inwardly focused may well miss their destiny. This is why I’m waiting for volume two 😉 When is it due?

        Best regards,

        • Hi Pascal,

          Thanks again. Yes, I think we are saying roughly the same things. Separated only by the difficulties of communicating using text. And agreeing that what matters is the conversation and learning something we can put into practice.

          In answer to your question I must apologise that the timetable for Volume 2 — strategy in times of change — has been put back.

          Where Volume 1 was about creating inspiration in ourselves and others, Volume 2 will be about focusing that energy on the key activities that enable the organisation to operate as a living, adaptive organism.

          The broad structure will still be:
          1- understand where your business is and where it is heading
          2- identify key competencies for future success plus actions to address this
          3- identify and manage risks
          4- identify and seize the opportunities
          5- reimagine the business
          6- organising for constant change

          The first chapters are already well-defined in my mind. The last two less so.

          If you have a particular need then I am happy to discuss that. (Probably better by email.) But otherwise I am sorry that you will have to wait for the actual book.

          Very best,

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