The Path of Our Lives

Some men see things as they are and say, why;
I dream things that never were and say, why not
Robert Kennedy/George Bernard Shaw

I got a call that reminded me that most people live their life as if it’s predestined – but some live theirs fighting to change it.

At 19 I joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Out of electronics school my first assignment was to a fighter base in Florida. My roommate, Glen, would become my best friend in Florida and Thailand as we were sent to different air bases in Southeast Asia.

An Enemy Attack May Make Your Stay Here Unpleasant

An Enemy Attack May Make Your Stay Here Unpleasant

On the surface, Glen and I couldn’t have been more different. He grew up in Nebraska, had a bucolic childhood that sounded like he was raised by parents from Leave it to Beaver. I didn’t, growing up in a New York City apartment that seemed more like an outpatient clinic. Yet somehow we connected on a level that only 19-year-olds can.  I introduced him to Richard Brautigan and together we puzzled through R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience. We explored the Everglades (and discovered first-hand that the then-new national park didn’t have any protective barriers on their new boardwalks into the swamps and that alligators sunning themselves on a boardwalk look exactly like stuffed ones – until you reach out to touch them.) In Thailand I even figured out how to sneak off base for a few days, cross Thailand via train, visit him in his airbase and convince everyone I had been assigned to do so (not that easy with a war on.) The chaos, the war, our age and our interests bonded us in a way that was deep and heartfelt.

steve in Thailand 2 ARL-46Yet when the Vietnam War wound down, we were both sent to bases in different parts of the U.S. And as these things happen, as we grew older, more people and places came between us, and we went on with our lives and lost touch.

Four Decades Later
Last week I got an email with a subject line that only someone who knew me in the Air Force could have sent. While that caught my attention, the brief note underneath stopped me in my tracks. It read, “You have crossed my thoughts through the years. The other night you appeared in my dreams. I actually remembered it in the morning and googled your name. By God, there you were. A bit overwhelming…”

You bet it was overwhelming, it’s been 40 years since I last heard from Glen.

On the phone together, I spent an hour with an ear-to-ear grin as both of us recounted, “when we were young, crazy and stupid” stories, stories I still won’t tell my children (which makes me grateful it was life before social media documented every youthful indiscretion.) Glen even reminded me of my nickname (which still makes me cringe.)  The feel of long forgotten camaraderie let me wallow in nostalgia for a while. But as Glen began to catch me up with the four decades of his life, it was clear that while we both had the same type of advanced electronics training, both had been on the same airbases, and essentially both had been given the same opportunities, our careers and lives had taken much different paths. As he talked, I puzzled over why our lives ended up so different. Listening to him, I realized I was hearing a word I would never use to describe my life. Glen used the word “predestined” multiple times to describe his choices in life. His job choices were “predestined,” where he lived was “predestined,” who he married and divorced had been “predestined.”  I realized that our world views and how we lived our lives differed on that one single word.


The path of our lives
While the call brought me back to when we were foolish and fearless, thinking about how Glen lived his life troubled me. It took me awhile to figure out why. I wasn’t bothered about anything that Glen did or didn’t accomplish. It was his life and he seemed happy with it. Hearing his voice brought back those days of enthusiasm, exploration, adventure and unlimited horizons. But listening to forty years of a life lived summed up as “preordained” felt like a sharp reminder of how most people live their lives.

Glen’s worldview wasn’t unique. Most people appear to live an unexamined life, cruising through the years without much reflection about what it means, and/or taking what life hands them and believing it’s all predestined.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to grips that the unexamined life is what works for most people. Most take what they learned in school, get a job, marry, buy a house, have a family, become a great parent, serve their god, community and country, hang with friends and live a good life. And for them that’s great.stages of awareness

Some do want more out of life, but blame their circumstances on others – their parents or government or spouse or lack of opportunities, but almost never on their own lack of initiative. Initiative means change and change is hard for most. (Clearly there are still pockets in the world where opportunities and choice are limited but they are shrinking daily.)

Perhaps the most painful to watch are those who wake up later in life thinking, “I could have or I should have.”

Pushing the Human Race Forward
Whether we have free will or whether our lives are predestined has been argued since humans first pondered their purpose in life. The truth is we won’t know until the second coming or the solution to the many-worlds theory.

But what we know with certainty is that there is a small set of humans who don’t act like their lives are predestined. For better or worse, regardless of circumstances, country or culture they struggle their entire lives wanting to change the outcome. And a small percentage of these translate the “wanting to change” into acting on it. This small group is dissatisfied with waiting for life to hand them their path. They act, they do, they move, they change things.

Those born into poverty actively strive to change their own lives and that of their children. Those who want to start a company or join one quit their job and do it, while others try to change their political system or fight for social or environmental justice.

And the irony is while the individual stories are inspiring they are trying to tell a much bigger story. These misfits, rebels and troublemakers have been popping up in stories for thousands of years. Every culture has myths about larger than life heroes who rose from nothing. This archetype is a recessive gene common to all cultures. They are the ones that make things happen, they‘re the ones that push the human race forward.

This is what makes and drives entrepreneurs. Our heads are just wired differently.

You Are Master of Your Own Fate
The world is much different then when Glen and I were young and foolish. In the past, even if you did feel this spirit of adventure, you had no idea how and where to apply it. Barriers of race, gender or location threw up roadblocks that seemed insurmountable.

The world is much smaller now. The obstacles aren’t gone but are greatly diminished. Everyone within reach of a smartphone, tablet or computer knows more about entrepreneurship and opportunity and where to get it then all of Silicon Valley did 40 years ago. There’s no longer an excuse not to grab it with both hands.

As far as we know, this life isn’t practice for the next one. For entrepreneurs the key to living this one to the fullest is the understanding that you can choose – that you do have a choice to effect the journey and change the rules, that you can decide to give it your best shot to do something, something extraordinary.

If your passion is startups and innovation, and your community, region or country doesn’t have an entrepreneurial culture and community – help start one. If there’s no funding for startups in your community – get up and move to where it is. If you’re in a company frustrated with the lack of opportunity – change jobs.

You are master of your own fate. Act like it.

Lessons Learned           

  • The same destiny overtakes us all
  • It’s what you choose to do with your life in between that makes the difference

43 Responses

  1. One of your most remarkable posts. Thanks for sharing your emotional intelligence.

  2. Great post. I have noticed that trend, too, where many people just sit back and let life happen — letting destiny manifest itself. I am still aiming for the top of the pyramid. As Socrates once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Beware, however, that one can do too much examining and dwell on the past.

  3. Glad that you were able to connect with your old friend. A good friend who is in his 70’s told that he sometimes catches himself thinking about the next time he is 20 he will do something different and them remembers we don’t get a redo. You only live your life once. And it is up to you to live it. Thanks for the story.

  4. I entirely agree with the world view that says you are master of your own fate. All my life- in private life and in my career I have lived by the motto that ” If it is to be it is up to me”. This has worked for me as a CEO in a highly volatile economic and political environment where it is easy to just curl up and consider yourself or your company the victim of a hostile macro environment.

  5. Thanks for sharing Steve….your blogs always make me think outside the scope of just entrepreneurship.

  6. Great post. Loved the insight. We all know someone or someones just like Glen who feel like they are a vicitm to their own circumstance but in the end, while we can’t control everything that happens to us, we can control our choices.

  7. Nailed it.

  8. It takes courage to realize change and it takes both intelligence and hard work something our nation was built on…cheers!

  9. Thank you for inspiring so many into action with your words of sense and wisdom. Each time I read something you have put out freely, I am inspired.

  10. Steve,

    This is the most well put version of this philosophy I’ve read so far. That pyramid of life options is dead on and in general entrepreneurs find themselves in one of the top two rungs on that ladder.

    Thanks for the inspiration and for intellectualizing this view on life so well. I’ll certainly save this link and pass it along from time to time when people just don’t seem to get the idea.

    Now, it’s time to get back to it so that I hopefully can find myself in that ‘Made a Dent in the Universe’ category with you and not just ‘The Good Fight.’ Cheers.

  11. That is a truly inspiring and motivating post. I recently left my position with a small company and am now exploring at least two entrepreneurial options. I have two mottoes that keep me going. The first is “If it’s to be it’s up to me” and the second is “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield”.
    Thank, Steve!

  12. Choice without context lacks purpose and where there is no purpose known or defined, there’s little chance for meaning or the passion to discover it.

    In essence, the only choice that really matters is the choice of self and that choice focuses squarely on You:

    1. Knowing yourself.
    2. Being true to yourself.
    3. Being passionate about yourself.
    4. Believing in yourself.
    5. And ultimately, sharing yourself.

    So, in a nutshell, maybe it’s time to stop living other people’s lives and expectations.

    Perhaps it’s time to pick “you” and give yourself a shot in the big leagues of life.

    Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone but it could be for you…..the “choice” is Yours!

    Thanks for the story Steve……and the opportunity to share.

  13. Our Source created us as brothers One in the Spirit with God. Each of us has a part to play in the Divine Plan. If we are aware that our Source is within us and inspires us to live our lives according to His plan, then we are free to do anything we believe we can do. Our free will allows many of us to edge that Source out of our life. We become egotists who live according to our desires. On the other hand our Source will give us the power to accomplish any goal that we set, and will introduce us to other spirits who will make our live happy with our achievements.
    Steve , you are a living saint, and already in Heaven here on earth.
    You love your brothers, and God loves you.

  14. Let me add my thanks to Steve for opening up his personal life to examination by others. A really great read. The only thought I would add is the possibility that one could have a life well-examined but still choose to pursue a course other than big change. Many people choose to spend their lives in service of others out of their religious or social or other convictions. I would not equate these choices with a lack of an examined life or, by implication, a lack of will or motivation. In fact, I would suggest that many of these people rate higher on the selfless scale. Not knowing Glen, I do see the possibility that what he meant by predestined were the less glorifying demands of family or community that he felt the responsibility to support.

  15. Steve, Great post. Thank you. Keep it coming!!!! Truly inspirational.

  16. One of your best post of ever!
    Tnx Steve for sharing it!

  17. Really thoughtful and well done. Thanks so much

  18. Good one Steve.

  19. Great post! It´s inspirational, another way to understand our inner will to change, to examine our lives and what we want to do. These lines show far way beyond your emotional intelligence a great lesson to believe in yourself and being passionate that the choice is ours!!

  20. Fabulous article. You’ve just said what I have been trying to say (and write) for 20 years.
    Almost by definition, the people who think different(ly) are the ones who change the world.

  21. Great article and I love the pics…..Ann

  22. Another great article – we have the power to shape our lives!

  23. Really excellent post.

    We create ourselves and our world with our choices. And we always have a choice, no matter what comes our way.

    Thanks for 5 minutes well spent.

  24. I live in Asia where beliefs are very dominant and I grew up believing the adage that things always happens for a reason – which is most of time beyond one’s control. Thus, you can just let nature take its own course and accept whatever it is that comes your way. But I’ve always thought there’s always something beyond our beliefs, and we can always change the course of our destiny. Thanks for this awesome article. It just proved that no matter how similar one’s past can be with someone else, you can always change your life’s trajectory.

  25. its is all explained in the book Mindset by Carol Dweck

  26. Amazing post with a huge dose of much needed wisdom !

  27. This post reminded me of a recording by Earl Nightingale called “The Strangest Secret” about why people who start out with the same opportunities early in life, only about 1 percent will lead truly successful lives and be financially independent by the time they retire.

  28. Steve- It was a pleasure to meet you in person a few days ago (I have since caught my breath). Thank you for the inspiring post. My move from North Carolina to join another healthcare startup was driven and inspired by a lot of your ideas and generosity to share them freely with all of us. “You are master of your own fate. Act like it.” Truer words have never been spoken.
    Keep it up and thank you.

  29. This post reminds me of the Steve Jobs quote featured in the documentary “One Last Thing”:

    “When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and
    you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into
    the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

    That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that
    other people can use.

    Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

  30. Steve, as usual, I cannot say how your words resound on my head over and over again. I love your inspirational writings. Most from your own experiences.

    I just went from a day in the sun to almost a total shutdown. For the third time now. I think I fully know what you mean.

    KOTGW (Keep up the good WOR(K)(DS).

    God Bless and thanks.

  31. good post for sure but I wonder if you gave a thought to how Glenn would feel if he read this post!

    • Hopefully Glen will read the part that said, “… I wasn’t bothered about anything that Glen did or didn’t accomplish… is what works for most people. Most take what they learned in school, get a job, marry, buy a house, have a family, become a great parent, serve their god, community and country, hang with friends and live a good life. And for them that’s great…”

      This post will act as a very uncomfortable mirror for some. It’s not a commentary about Glen. It’s about how some of us have chosen how we live our lives.

  32. Since I’m not a dialed in fan, I feel at liberty to disagree with this post and even state that it’s judgmental and condescending. I kept thinking, even if pre-qualified, I hope ‘Glen’ never reads this.

    Sure, some people live life as though it is what it is – like they’re ‘corks floating in a toilet’ as I like to say but who’s to say ‘progress’ has taken us anyplace better? Who’s to say your life has been spent better than his Steve?

    Yeah, I hope Glen never reads this because if I were him I wouldn’t be left with much to think about what you’ve become either.

    • Sophia,

      This post must have pushed some buttons for you.

      Try reading it again.


  33. Wow! Incredible post Steve! I can feel the energy bursting through me. I was already on fire but this article just threw gasoline on it! Thank you for the inspiring words!


  34. Thank you for being BRAVE enough to pen this post. It’s not easy to challenge the status quo, but bravo to you for doing so. 🙂

  35. Steve, do you think it’s too late for Glen to jump up to the Good Fight rung if he wants to? Or perhaps he’s already trying to change the world, not through his own career but through charity? The post appeals to entrepreneurs, I just wonder if there other ways of making a dent.

    • Nigel,

      Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough when I said, “…Those born into poverty actively strive to change their own lives and that of their children. Those who want to start a company or join one quit their job and do it, while others try to change their political system or fight for social or environmental justice…”

      The good fight is about all of those, not just entrepreneurship.


  36. I got butterflies in my stomach from reading your post! Entrepreneurs are a different breed, we think differently, we act differently, our genetic makeup is rare and special. I agree with you 100%, thank you for this.

  37. Purpose drives the happy, fulfilled life. Entrepreneurship is one way to derive purpose. Abdicating your decisions to be predestined cuts us off from the unknown.
    The unknown is where the real fun happens!
    Thanks for the story. Always good to read the truth.

  38. I really enjoyed this post – reminds me of one of my mottos –

    Failure, is a failure to try.

  39. “This archetype is a recessive gene common to all cultures.”
    “Our heads are just wired differently.”


    Are you arguing for predestination or against it?

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