Dancing with Destiny

May 27, 2014


There was once a young man named Jack who had a dream of being a great pilot, maybe even an astronaut. He joined the navy and went into their aviation wing, intent on laying the foundation for a soaring career in the skies. It never happened. A freak car crash nearly ended his life, and definitely ended his chances of being a pilot.

Jack was a wreck as he began the slow process of recuperation. In order to strengthen his arms he took up swimming, and got pretty good at it. Eventually he went into the water as a line of work and started getting serious about ocean exploration. In time he co-invented the Aqua-Lung, developed a one-person jet-propelled submarine, and introduced millions to the wonders of the undersea world. You’ve heard of him, only you don’t know him by the name Jack.

You know him as Jacques Cousteau.

The failed pilot.

There are two principles to life. The first is one my mother imprinted in me from an early age: you can do whatever you set out to do. I believe this wholeheartedly, except that I also know that sometimes, you can’t. (Just ask Jack.)

And that’s because of principle #2, which is that sometimes what you set out to do may involve a wholly unexpected and often unwelcome left-hand turn.

Flying high above the earth; diving deep below the ocean. Same dream … only with a left-hand twist.

Life (or you could say fate, or destiny, or God) sometimes throws things at you out of left field. It’s easy to get knocked off kilter, to resist, to fight back, to get bitter. The trick is to stay open to the wisdom of it, even if that wisdom is unseen for now. I call it the law of left field.

When a crash takes you out of the sky, it might be the perfect time to look in the water.

Living is like dancing, and you’re not alone on the dance floor. You make a move, then the universe, your dance partner, makes a move. What do you do? You go with it.

If you’re going to live this life successfully, you have to trust your dance partner.

That means taking your own wants and insistences with a grain of salt. Not taking yourself too seriously. Yielding to the fact that the universe may know you better than you know yourself.

Trusting that sometimes — often — the greatest results come from directions you did not expect and could not possibly have predicted no matter how hard you tried.

As that wonderful Yiddish expression goes, Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.

Man plans — and God laughs.

Years ago I published a magazine about health and the environment. My ambition was to be a big magazine publisher, a publishing mogul. Toward that end, I bought a competitor’s magazine, figuring that swallowing up the competition would make me big and strong, like eating a can of Popeye’s spinach or a bowl of Bob Richards’s Wheaties.

But growth is not always good. The move ended up killing my company.

On my day in bankruptcy court, my biggest single creditor was also the only creditor who showed up for the hearing. When his turn came, he addressed the court, testified earnestly on my behalf, and astonished the judge by asking if the amount I owed him could please be reduced. In fact, could it be cut in half? (It took years, but rarely have I so relished paying off a debt.)

Today I am so grateful my publishing business was left-turned out from under me. Had it succeeded, it would have been an enormous burden. And its failure, like Jacques Cousteau’s car crash, opened the door to the career I have today.

Don’t be too quick to judge what is a disaster and what a saving grace.

And remember this: your dance partner has your back.

(Image copyright: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo)


  1. Dixie

    What a wonderful example of “can I redesign it?” In the Indian language there is a word, “Maya.” It means something along the lines of “not that.” We might call it illusion. I think that often, when we think we have a dream or a vision, our divine self that knows what IT really is uses “tragedy” to tell us, definitively, that the dream we were dreaming was “not that.” Almost, but not. And so we are helped to penetrate the scrim of illusion and see the true vision that was meant to be. So glad you had your “not that” and found what is.

  2. Linda Ryan

    OMG, Mr. Mann ~ you have no idea how much I needed to read this TODAY! I’ve said it before and I KNOW I will say it again ~ I LOVE your writing and I am SO glad you are doing more of it. Thank you xo

  3. Laura Atchison

    Ditto to Linda’s comment! I am in the process of a major left turn right now. My husband and I are getting a divorce and I feel like my whole life just turned upside down. I know something amazing is on the other side I just can’t see it right now. Thanks John for sharing your words today.

    • jdmann

      Laura – Oh man, I’ve been through that narrow mountain pass and over that painfully rickety bridge … yes, you got it: something amazing on the other side. Truly amazing. Just knowing it’s there makes the stones in the path hurt a little less!


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