Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you is determinism; the way you play it is free will.
– Jawaharlal Nehru

None of us have any control at all over how we are born, to whom we are born, where we are born, or what our family environment is like. That’s undeniable. And to that extent, our lives are predetermined.

But does that mean that our lives are predetermined forever? Does it mean that our lives, our jobs, our friends, our lifestyle are all predetermined and there’s nothing we can do about it?
After all, if we are given a “bad start” in life, then who can blame us for never amounting to much, right? It’s not our fault, it’s what we were born into.

Well, it is true that we can take the easy approach, we can blame everything on our parents and society, and we can let life pass us by, placing ourselves at the will of random fate.

Or we can decide to take what we were given, to play the hand we were dealt, to look to our strengths and to forge our own way in life. Just like a good poker player will play the hand they were dealt, good or bad, to their best advantage. The World Series Poker Champion didn’t get dealt a better quality of hands than everyone else throughout the tournament; they just played those hands better than anyone else did, because they chose to become the best in their field, to learn all they could, to put in all the hours necessary to study and learn and practice until they could take full advantage of even the poorest hand dealt.

And that approach is just as true in life. We have no control over the hand we were dealt, but we have a lot of control over how we chose to play it! It is highly probably that if you are reading this then will place you in the top 10% of the world’s population in terms of wealth. That’s a pretty good start already. But what can really make the difference between a successful life and a humdrum life is choosing to take control, to be responsible for what you do, for placing yourself as the cause of what happens in your life rather than letting your life be the effect of other people’s decisions and actions. We all have that choice, we just need to decide whether to make the choice or whether to let others control our life for us.

I know it can be quite a scary thing to start deciding to be responsible for our own life, so many things can crop up, so many fears and crises of confidence. But these can all be overcome if we really want to put our minds to it, especially if we are in tune with ourselves and really believe what we want to do.

My own parents had both left school around 16 and went into their jobs pretty much right away. Neither of them had gone on to further education at any stage, certainly none of them had been to university. I could have easily followed that same route, but instead when I found I had the chance to try for university I went for it and got in. Not that it was all plain sailing from there either, as I ended up failing my 2nd year. At that point I could have given in and accepted it was not for me, but instead I fought, and ultimately won the right to come back the following year and resit my exams and if I passed those then I’d be considered for my final year. Which is the approach I took, but I still wasn’t going to leave things to chance, I was going to take control – what if I failed those resits? So meanwhile I started contacting other universities and got one to accept that should I fail my resits, they would take me into their 2nd year so I at least still had a course. Of course, that left the issue of money – in those days we got student Grants, but only for a limited number of years, and this other university place would extend beyond that time meaning no grant. So I decided if I ended up there, I’d find part time employment and pay my own way through university. I was determined to graduate somehow and I was not going to let anything take that away from me. In the end I did pass my resits and went on to get an honours degree from my first University. But I could just as easily have seen the original fail as a sign that I wasn’t good enough, and I could have sat back and let others effect what happened to my life – I don’t know what would have happened if I’d sat back and let that happen, but I know all the wonderful things which would not have happened had I not decided to play my hand to the best of my ability!

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You may recognise times in your own life where you either sat back and let things happen, or you took action and took control of your life and made things happen for you regardless of the problems in the way. And as you look back on those, you might see how life could have turned out so differently had you made the choice to act in the other way. Of course, the past is the past and nothing we can do changes any of it. But we can change the future, no matter what hand is dealt us, if we chose to take responsibility for playing our hand to the best of our ability and not to make excuses.

Sure, we can’t always stop things going wrong, and bad things can and do happen to even the most well-prepared nicest person. But that’s not the heart of the matter. It doesn’t matter that things go wrong, it’s how you react to them which is the crucial matter. It doesn’t matter what hand you are dealt in poker, it’s how you chose to play it, and so it is with life.

Will you sit back and let life treat you as it chooses, or will you take control of your own life and choose to play your hand your way?