Embracing chance and playing well

Mental Health Brief #28
Joanna Polley, PhD, Philosophical Therapist

Embracing chance and playing well

Friedrich Nietzsche writes compellingly about how to play the game of life well. Using the metaphor of a dice-game, he illustrates how most of us play badly because we accept the standard rules, roll the dice, and then determine according to those rules whether what we have is a winning or a losing hand. A good player by contrast takes the roll as given, and then makes up a new set of rules that turn that roll into something valuable.

This requires two things: creativity and flexibility. When we hold rigidly to a set of expectations about what constitutes success, there is a correspondingly narrow set of possible outcomes that can satisfy us. Furthermore, outcomes that don’t meet our projections are simply failures in this light, rather than new opportunities. And when our creative energies are used only to figure out how to get from here to there, rather than in reimagining what ‘there’ might look like, then we are not fully exercising our human capacities as creatures of imagination and intellectual responsiveness.

The first step is to recognize that a large part of our world is up to chance. The second part is to embrace this as a sign that the world is ready to challenge us creatively if we are equal to it. This can be applied on a grand scale, to the project of constructing a well-lived and meaningful life, but it can also be applied in more specific situations, including work projects and daily challenges. There may be many ways in which we are constricted to certain outcomes in our professional lives, but likely not as many as we think.

When we are struggling with a set of circumstances that look like failure, we can ask ourselves if the outcome towards which we are striving is the only one possible - or if we might in fact change the projected outcome such that current circumstances, with a little creativity, can be transformed into a powerful hand. Not by lowering expectations, but by being willing to radically re-imagine what constitutes success in this endeavor.

View the ‘Response Under Pressure’ Mindful Lawyer CPD program archived video, available free to OBA members, for more tips on tackling counterproductive emotions and managing stress. 

The Opening Remarks mental health briefs provide Ontario lawyers with wellness tips and resources from a variety of individuals speaking in their own capacity. The briefs are not a substitute for professional care. If you are in crisis, we encourage you to urgently contact a mental health service provider.