Rising Above the Fortune We Are Dealt

“For what can be above the man who is above fortune?”

Seneca, 49 AD, Pg.8

When we speak of fortune, we are referring to the ebbs and flows of life.

There are obvious episodes of what we may consider good fortune, such as winning a large sum of money. Most of the time, though, it simply means that circumstances outside of our control are agreeable enough that they do not inhibit us. Bad fortune means that we have been handed a difficult set of circumstances. It suggests that it has been randomly placed, rather than it being through any fault of our own. It can be difficult to conceptualise fortune as we cannot see it or touch it, but we experience it nonetheless. Most difficult to grasp, is how random and often unfairly it seems to be distributed.

There are typically some virtues that it is said fortune favours, such as bravery.

Those who are brave choose to expose themselves to danger, in where often lie possibility and opportunity. They are, as a matter of odds, more likely to find and create good fortune because they are in a state of pursuit. This is the fortune we can create for ourselves. As well as creating it, it seems we can influence the fortune we are dealt.

It seems fairly evident that those who recognise their own good fortune (which may simply be the absence of glaringly bad fortune) and behave accordingly, attract further good.

The more it is recognised and cultivated, the more it grows, like light flooding a dark room the more you open the curtain. It seems just as clear that those who fail to recognise their own good fortune, fail to nurture any further good. They fail to acknowledge the good and foster the negative. They dwell on their perceived bad fortune, all the while developing more.

Some episodes of fortune, however, are not reflective of what we have created or nurtured.

Even if it is unfair, as it often is, it remains a bad idea to wallow in bad fortune when we’re met with it. It appears detrimental to declare ourselves victims, professing the world unjust. Spending time building our own character and building real strength is the only defence we have to the whims of fortune. Internal stability, that has a strong foundation, seems to be able to tolerate almost anything. A deeply rooted tree can stand for years. Its powerful foundation provides it with stability against the challenging elements it knows it must endure. A good objective would be to try and create enough internal stability that we can withstand the bad fortune we must endure anyway, whether we are prepared or not.

Seneca, 49 AD, On the Shortness of Life, On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long If You Know How To Use It, Translated by C. D. N. Costa, Penguin Books Great Ideas, Penguin Books, 2005


Lady Fortuna, spinning the wheel of Fortune, 1466
Illustration for Pierre Michault’s poem, The Dance of the Blind, artist unknown, 1466. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 1654, fol. 161v. Source:

The goddess, ‘Fortuna’, her half white and half black face portraying the two faces of fortune. Fortuna is blind folded while turning the Wheel of Fortune, illustrating fortune being distributed randomly.

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