This month has been like a history lesson for me as I outlined the trail of the past “great ones” in the field of self-improvement. From Russell Herman Conwell’s book “Acres of Diamonds” a generation of self-help gurus sprang up including Og Mandino, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, W. Clement Stone and Earl Nightingale. These were the founding fathers of self-help. It was Earl Nightingale who said, “It’s in your moments of decision that your destiny is created.” Nightingale pioneered the use of electronic media to broadcast self-help material which is partly responsible for the immense success and growth of the multi-million dollar self-help industry that exists today! Who could know? Even Nightingale could not see what hindsight shows us so clearly today that his destiny was indeed created from his moments of decision.
I don’t like to use words like destiny too lightly. In this quote Nightingale would have us believe that our destiny is governed totally by our decisions. Other similar quotes have treated the subject of destiny with the same disregard to an eternal principle which says, “…time and unforeseen occurrences befall us all.” (The Bible, Ecclesiastes 9:11) Though I hold the ideas of Earl Nightingale as precious, I would be amiss if I let this one go without some discussion. The plain truth is, in life we are not in total control of our destiny. Other things play a role aside from our decisions. The great proverb says, time and chance happen to us also.
Time is the first menaces mentioned. We may have all the desire in the world to accomplish a certain thing; however time may be against us. For example, we may find ourselves all-of-a-sudden imprisoned in a body that is disease ridden. I have a very close friend, a Bishop from my church who was one of the greatest orators and proponents of good will and positive thinking you could ever meet. Two years ago he was stricken with a brain seizure and lost the feeling in the right side of his body and also took his speech away. It was one of the saddest days in our church’s history. But the point I stop to make is this; my Bishop friend might have all the desire in the world to teach and be a great orator and help to educate members of the church, but time in this case prevents him from doing what he decided to do. Perhaps in time, with a lot of physical therapy he may acquire his speech again, but for now it is not possible!
The second menace spoken of is unforeseen occurrence (chance). Though the story about my Bishop would work here too, let me drive home the point with a different illustration. I spent the last six years training adults in the welfare-to-work system. Most of my students were women who had children. Most of their relationships happened at a young age, and many of the male partners left their women to bring up their children alone. So here were many women who were stuck. They were now 25 to 30 years old, and they had two children on average and no father at home and more importantly, no support financially. They were expected to go to work and get off of the welfare roles. But let’s remember that they had dreams once. Perhaps dreams to become a dancer, or a teacher, or a medical professional, but they could not finish school. They were stuck. They were imprisoned by “unforeseen occurrences”.
In Earl Nightingale’s time, no one heard of DNA . Today we know that DNA can determine a lot about us. It may reveal for instance that we are prone to have certain medical or physical or emotional weaknesses. Our destiny is affected by this.
However Nightingale would have been correct if he had said that to a large degree our destinies are controlled by what we decide. It is proper I think to put the greater weight of responsibility on our shoulders which is what Nightingale was trying to emphasize. Humans tend to do the opposite and they try to blame their misfortune on some other outside reasons for failure. They look externally when they should probably be looking internally for reasons they fail. Having a balanced point-of-view about this is important. We could get crushed under the weight of believing that we are solely responsible for our living in poverty or marrying the wrong person or even being born into a dysfunctional family. I know how that can feel.
What Nightingale meant was that our moment to moment decisions play a role in shaping our future and knowing this is empowering for it is only when we know this that we can truly begin to change. If we were to believe that our DNA has decided all things for us, than why did God give us a mind and self-will? He obviously wants us to use it to better our lives. We can be set free to some degree of DNA programming just as we can be set free from the cycle of a dysfunctional family, or living in poverty. These are external powers that may seem unyielding, but you and I can change those circumstances with help. Always remember that you have the power within to change. That is the beauty of Nightingale’s message.