We were in a charming cafe at Mandarin Gallery on a weekday afternoon. After we took turns to narrate about our recent lives, S spoke of a book, a little life by Hanya Yanagihara that has consumed her life a week ago.
S: After reading the book, I thought about many things…
Me: Such as?
S: That’s not the point of the book but I wonder whether we have a choice in our lives or we are just living out our given circumstances. We learnt in schools that we decide our own fates and we earned our own successes.
Me: That’s true, I think we are, in one way or another, products of our very own circumstances…
S: Yes, for instance, if another kid is put in exactly the same circumstances as yours, she may be able to achieve what you have achieved. How much of your, or anyone’s, success is determined by their own effort?
When I think of this conversation, I think of the phrase “a self-made man”. The man might not have the privileges and the connections as their counterparts of higher social status but what the man possesses is tenacity and grit that may not come naturally to his richer counterparts. He is “self-made” in the sense that he did not have the connections that may help him build his business more easily but on the other hand, his values and character traits, which help him through tough times, are products of his circumstances. Our life experiences shape our values and beliefs and these, in turn, shape our choices. Although we cannot choose our circumstances most of the time, we can choose the attitude we have towards the circumstances. In other words, we can choose if we want to be construed as the victims of our circumstances or celebrated as the products of our circumstances.