Fate vs Choice

Marshall Goldsmith
3 min readJul 9, 2021

Fate is the hand of cards we’ve been dealt. Choice is how we play the hand.

This is a wonderful old saying that has been passed around, revised, and voiced in slightly different ways by many great people. Basically what it says to me is that we were born with a certain physicality, at a certain location, of certain parents, and so on. And, what we become is in very large part the result of how we, and in some cases if we, choose to use the talents we were born with, learn from the experiences we have, and apply that learning along the way. It’s just about that simple.

Because some things are outside of our control, we may feel like victims of circumstance. Victims of fate. I don’t accept that. What would life be like if we just accepted the hand of cards we were dealt and lived the rest of our lives in homeostasis?

Imagine a life in which nothing changed.

I’m not talking about working at the same company for years, or staying married to the same person your entire life. Those are choices to be honored, not regretted or derided. They reflect a sturdy permanence worth celebrating.

Nor am I talking about going through life and not changing the food we order in a restaurant, the style of clothes we wear, the music, TV shows, and books we enjoy, even the social and political views we hold. Going through life and never changing our tastes, opinions, and everyday preferences is unimaginable — because our environment won’t allow it. The world around us changes and we change with it, if only because it’s easier to go with the flow.

What I am talking about is our interpersonal behavior and our resistance to changing how we treat other people. For instance,

The sister we haven’t seen or spoken to in years because of some long-forgotten grievance.

The old friend we still tease with a cruel childhood nickname that he’s long outgrown.

The neighbor we’ve seen for years and, out of shyness or inertia or indifference, have never talked to.

The customers we resent for the demands they place on us.

Most of us would mock a restaurant that never changed its menu. But we are not so reproachful or mocking with ourselves. We take a foolish pride in prolonging some behaviors as long as possible, with no regard for who is harmed. Only when it’s too late to undo the damage and we have reached some objective distance do we rethink our…



Marshall Goldsmith

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams.