Luck, Skill, Fate and Attitude

Luck?  Skill?  Fate?

Do you consider yourself an (un)lucky person? Are you a poker player? I used to be but decided that with my luck I may as well stay home. Oh, how about skill? Doesn’t poker require some skill like being able to count and remember cards that have been played.  Sure it does … but it didn’t matter in my case.  I always lost—was unlucky, you might say. I suppose another way of putting this is to say that my “fate” was always—to lose (at poker).  Neither luck nor skill mattered.

So how do you think about luck, skill, and fate in life? Are you a “what will be will be” person? Or do you believe that through skill and some luck, the future is yours to determine? I hope your answer is “I am the captain of my life.” I can be what I want to be. Okay, so if you subscribe to this view, are you just a naive idealist out of touch with the “real world?” Wouldn’t it be much better to be a realist?

A realist, it might convincingly be argued, is better able to learn and grow from life’s disappointments.  I reckon I’ve been both in my lifetime—an idealist and a realist, but not at the same time. As a youth I always believed that I was the master of my fate, that I was not predestined in any way. But as the years passed and my encounters with the real world kept piling up, my idealism gave way to a more realistic view of life and the future. Still, I never then or now succumbed to a fatalistic view.

Now let’s clothe this with a religious coat. I was raised as a protestant Christian which meant that the future was not predestined, but how to get there was confusing. Perhaps I lost it when I asked my minister, “What does the holy trinity mean—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?” Although I asked that question years ago, I’m still waiting for an answer. Now I know why I never got the calling to become a minister.

Okay, okay—this is getting too deep. But maybe not because organized religion is similar to life and our ability to live with inconsistencies, contradictions, and contrary beliefs.  Egads!

So, I ask once more, “Are you a luck, skill, or fate driven person?” None of the above? All of the above?  Let’s hear it, friend.

–Don Menzel

Attitude is Everything

I admit it–I’m an optimist. I like to look at the bright side.

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing so far as I’m concerned. Admittedly it doesn’t change the facts, but it does change how I choose to interpret them. It makes my life – and, hopefully, that of others – brighter.

My husband taught me: once you’ve made a deal you’re satisfied with, forget about it. Don’t worry about whether you might have made more money or spent less. Don’t wonder about whether the other party will profit from the deal. Be satisfied with what you accomplished and move on.

That lesson applies to pretty much everything in life. You have all heard the expression: If you’re given lemons, make lemonade. Being an optimist is that easy.  Decide what is important to you and, when doubts linger, go back to that. Don’t worry about what others will think–just stay true to yourself.

Here is what is important to me: family, friends, feeling useful and enjoying life.

Family and friends– to me that means staying in touch. For those far away it may be checking in on Facebook, seeing what they’re doing and occasionally posting something that is important to me. A phone call may be in order, or possibly a visit.

It’s equally easy – possibly easier – to lose touch with friends who are nearby.  So, if they are people I hold dear and don’t get to see on a fairly regular basis through day to day activities, I make an effort to connect. It may mean weekly or monthly breakfasts, brunches or lunches. If my friends don’t reach out, I do.

It’s been shown through numerous studies that the happiest people are those who maintain connections with others and who are satisfied with their everyday lives. I choose to be a happy person.

In addition to people contact, it’s important to feel useful. When people work, many define themselves by their jobs. Now that era is gone, but we still need a reason to get up in the morning. At least I do. I want to feel that my life is worth something. One answer for me is volunteering. I have done many things in these twenty years of retirement.

I have hosted and mentored foreign students. I’ve been a literacy tutor. For me reading opens up the world; I cannot even fathom what it would mean not to be able to read a book, whether for knowledge or pleasure. I have tried to pass that feeling along.

I have also taught Speakers of Other Languages. It is so important to express yourself. If you do not speak the language of the land where you live, how limiting is that? Certainly here in Tampa a Spanish speaker could survive without learning English, but how much would they miss? How many opportunities? Pleasures? Since I could not imagine myself in that position, I have tried to help other people stretch themselves to learn.

When I realized how many of my friends did not understand their Medicare benefits I became a volunteer with SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of the Elderly). Both a background check and fingerprinting were required, as I was sometimes dealing with sensitive information. It involved continuing education, because it is crucial to understand evolving Medicare rules in order to help people understand their many facets. As I learned, I was able to assist not just  SHINE clients, but also my friends.

Recently, my extra-curricular activities have revolved mostly around the Italian language and culture. I belong to a group of Italian speakers who occasionally go out to dinner together. I teach conversational Italian for OLLI, hoping to put together a group of Italophiles who can also speak the language.

I enjoy gardening, though I am not particularly good at it. Working in the yard allows me to do something physical and helps clear my mind. If I can nurture some beautiful plants or tasty vegetables, so much the better.  Traveling is another passion, both here and abroad. With an open mind we can learn so much.

Certainly in all that I do I make mistakes, get lost and sometimes have misunderstandings. However, if I learn from these, even the negatives become positives. Realizing that I can overcome obstacles makes me feel stronger and more able to tackle the next one.  Attitude is everything!

I know this has been about me, but it can be about you. With a positive attitude you can learn from your mistakes (we all make them) and face the ups and downs of life with a smile and be happy.

–Catherine Mitchell

Don Menzel is a past president of the American Society for Public Administration, author and international speaker on ethics reform. Before his recent move to Colorado, Don organized OLLI-USF’s China Special Interest Group. He also served as an OLLI-USF faculty member for over 10 years.


Catherine Mitchell holds a master’s in Italian from Middlebury College and lived in Italy for ten years.

She has taught English at European language schools and Italian in the United States.



3 Replies to “Luck, Skill, Fate and Attitude”

  1. A truly philosophical question. I am living proof that you can control many aspects of your life. In 1964 an 18 year old landed in Canada with thirty two dollars in his wallet and a letter of admission to University. He came from a village with no electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. He became a doctor, a teacher and eventually a proud American who contributed to his fellow man. Call it what you want luck or fate, I call it hard work, sacrifice and a desire for knowledge!

    1. Well said Ray. You must be a hard scrabble guy. Good, good for you. I’ve always been a hard worker too, learned from days in the corn and bean fields of Illinois. But–hard work does not insure success, does it?

  2. I enjoyed receiving two such meaty essays with my new subscription to OLLI Connects. It was a pleasure to have them appear automatically in my mailbox on Monday morning.

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