BARRETT:Making your own destiny

Tom Barrett

This past summer I worked at a law firm near my house, and one of the people who I got close to there was a lawyer named Michael. Michael was always quick with a joke, but he was always even quicker to lend a helping hand. Put simply, he was a genuinely good person.

Since I was considering going into law, I asked him if he liked being a lawyer. He bluntly said “No,” and then laughed as he shook his head. He explained to me that his dream was to be a writer and to teach high school English. So I asked him why he doesn’t write and teach English. He told me that he originally became a lawyer because he thought it was what he was supposed to do; after all, his father and brother were both lawyers. He realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t totally satisfied with his choice, but with a wife and three young kids to support, he felt he didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Jack Nicholson’s opening lines in “The Departed” are great: “I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.” While most of us don’t feel the need to control half of Boston’s criminal underworld, we would like to be in control of the little space our lives occupy in this big world. We want to be the makers of our own destiny, and when we feel ourselves being constrained by impediments that seem beyond ourselves, we are left with a deep sense of frustration. We feel demoralized and powerless.

A lot of us are like Michael. We feel trapped by circumstance. We find ourselves in a situation – be it a job, a relationship or a major – that we are not content with, yet we accept this situation as inevitable and unchangeable. Our shoes feel like they’re stuck in cement. We tell ourselves we have no place to go, and we try to make the best of a situation we know is simply not best for us.

Sometimes the answer seems too simple to even consider. Sometimes, if our shoes are stuck, all we have to do is take off our shoes. One of my best friends back home found himself in this spot. For the past two-and-a-half years, he knew that he did not want to be a teacher, but for some reason he kept trying to convince himself that he was too far along in the game to change his life. As time went on, he found himself growing more frustrated, more anxious and more defeated. Eventually he got so low that he reached a breaking point. He snapped. But after this mini-meltdown, he finally realized it was time to make a change. He dropped the education major and has finally put himself on a path he feels comfortable with.

In any situation we find ourselves dissatisfied with, the only thing that will ever stop us from escaping will be ourselves. We are our biggest limitation. If we tell ourselves we are stuck, then we will find ourselves stagnantly sitting in place, waiting for some miracle to save us from our plight. We’ll find ourselves waiting forever, though, if we don’t realize that we are the makers of our own destinies. It’s true that it can feel like life has us in shackles, but this is all a matter of perspective. The choice will ultimately be our own. We can choose to let circumstance keep us imprisoned, or we can break free of these self-created bars and live how we know we ought to be living.


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].