Fate is Random

Ryan - Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Entered on October 2, 2008

“Fate rules the affairs of mankind with no recognizable order.” – Seneca.

I believe that providence is governed by probability and dumb luck. Unpleasant at first, this belief evolved from a lot of time spent playing poker and weighing the odds. It was reinforced by my experience. And now it informs how I react to success and failure.

I started playing poker in high school. I remember thinking it was this exciting game of strategy and spine. So I began to study seriously. By the time I got to college I was playing online, thousands of hands a week. I never needed to toil behind a counter at the campus book store or snack bar. I had spending money. Meanwhile the game introduced me to randomness and variance.

Part of the allure of poker is that it is a game of chance that can be tilted in favor of the savvy player. What you are doing is manipulating probabilities and odds in your favor to win money in the long run. However in the short term it is still a game of chance where improbable events happen. Often you may win or lose more than your play warrants. Even the best players will run badly. Even the worst players have hot stretches.

Once I started to understand randomness in poker, I began to see it in life too. At my private liberal arts school I met people who were born into wealth, and a few who were born into absurd wealth. Later, while volunteering in Honduras I met kids born into abject, third world poverty. There is no greater example of life variance than the hand people are dealt at birth.

Regardless, as I navigate the ups and downs, I know each of us is responsible for the quality of our own choices, though they may not add up like they should. Old men who smoke everyday and eat ice cream sandwiches for lunch may live well into their 80’s. People who jog everyday and eat organic may get cancer at 42. Some of the best of us will end up face down in the gutter. And some of the worst will find themselves at the very top.

A person can overcome a lot of misfortune, and some adversity is healthy, but providence can crush even the strongest. It could stop anyone. It could stop Oprah. No matter how worthy I ever am, it could certainly stop me. In acknowledging the nature of fate, I find room for humility and sympathy alongside individual responsibility.

It comes down to what you can do something about and what you can’t. In cards, I don’t get angry when someone plays poorly but makes an unlikely hand to win. When I lie in bed at night, I don’t worry as much about how tomorrow will turn out. I just try to remember that whether in the face of success or failure, each hand, each moment is an opportunity to play well.