Are You Pursuing Your Destiny or Surrendering to Your Fate?

There is one thing in this world which you must never forget to do

When I was a 11, I had a life-threatening illness that required surgery. I don’t know how the doctor explained the situation to my mother, but her understanding, which she didn’t hesitate to communicate to me (rather inappropriately, seen in hindsight), was that I had basically a 50–50 shot. I’d either come out of the surgery cured, or I wouldn’t come out at all. I’d die on the table.

Of course, I had no idea what it meant to die. I knew theoretically what death was, but I’d never experienced a death in the family, or even attended a funeral. As we waited for the pre-anesthesia relaxants to kick in, my tearful mother made me recite the 23rd Psalm — “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” I said the words, but I simply could not join Mom in her sorrowful mood. Maybe it was the drugs. But I felt 100% confident that I was going to be okay. I experienced what spiritual people I met later in life would call “a knowing.”

Here’s how I explained it to my mother:

“Don’t worry, Mom. I can’t die now because I haven’t done the thing I came here to do. There’s something in life that only I can do, that needs to be done. I haven’t done it yet, so I know I’ll be fine.”

Imagine an 11 year old speaking those heartbreakingly naïve words, tubes sticking out of him every which way, and a big, beaming smile on his cherubic little face. I think anyone would rationally assume that I was comforting myself, grasping at a myth to sustain me in my reasonable fear.

Except I felt ZERO fear. I had no sense at all that I needed comforting. I wasn’t even really trying to comfort my mother. I was simply reporting the truth of my “knowing.” It was that strong.

I came out of the surgery cured. I’ve been fine ever since.



At 11, I had stumbled intuitively onto the concept of destiny. As the 13th Century poet Rumi, phrased it:

There is one thing in this world which you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there is nothing to worry about, but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.
It is as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don’t do it, it’s as though a knife of the finest tempering were nailed into a wall to hang things on. For a penny an iron nail could be bought to serve for that.

Destiny implies we’re each here for a purpose. We are who we are in service to that purpose. We come into the world to fulfill our purpose.



Then life gets in the way. We find ourselves born into a specific family, a town, a country. We receive from our family of origin, our biological ancestry, our socioeconomic status, our education, our religion (or lack thereof), and the culture of our time and place, definitions of what is real, right, good, possible. We learn to see the world through that filtering prism.

Will the prism we receive aid or frustrate the fulfillment of our destiny? We can’t know. But it’s bound to impose some limitations.

This from Jungian psychologist James Hollis’s, Through the Dark Wood: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life:

This was… what the Greeks called “The tragic vision.” The tragedy for them was not something awful happening, they had a word for that, and it was “catastrophe.” Tragedy was the unfolding of the interaction between fate and choice… They understood first of all that each of us is in a sense enmeshed in various force fields. One force field they called fate… and fate represents all of the givens, the determinations, the family of origin or genetics, our culture, etc. And on the other hand, we swim in another force field called… destiny. Destiny is that which is capable of becoming, so already we’re creatures of fate and limitation, but we’re also a being that is seeking somehow to realize itself in the world.

Pursue Your Destiny


The one thing we’re all born “capable of becoming” is ourselves. That’s our destiny. Each of us is unique, in the whole wide world, in all of human history. There’s only one you. There’s only one me.

Each of us fulfilling our destiny matters. The tragedy is that far too many of us surrender to our fate, instead.

In childhood, our families, cultures, education, religions, etc. impose powerful limitations on our expression, and even our knowledge, of our true selves. That’s fate, and no one can avoid it.

But is fate a life sentence? Must we surrender?

Here’s Mateo Sol, from his website

When we leave our lives up to fate, we are basically handing over the reigns of control to other people and outside circumstances… While fate is what happens when you don’t take responsibility for your life, destiny is what happens when you commit to growing, learning, and taking chances… Fulfilling our destiny involves consciously developing a connection to our deepest inner selves and maturing on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level.

At 11, I didn’t know what I came into the world to do, and I probably thought of my destiny in terms of physical stuff, like becoming an astronaut, a rock star, or a writer (the three great ambitions of my youth).

At 54, I have a larger view.

Whether I travel to the stars, become a star, or simply write about the stars (note the SciFi Scribbler in my profile tagline), my true destiny is to become, to realize myself in the world, to consciously develop a connection to my deepest inner self and mature on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level.

In spite of the cards fate dealt me.

That’s your destiny, too. That’s everybody’s destiny.

That’s the “one thing in this world which you must never forget to do.”

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a follow-up essay to Are You Pursuing Your Destiny or Surrendering to Your Fate?: