The Landscape of Serendipity

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We humans have a tendency to be control freaks. We think we know so much about ourselves (and the world) and I would argue we don’t know the half of it. We also think we are more in control of our lives and our futures than we actually are. So I want to share a little story about this.

My son texted me the other day regretting how he had fucked up in college and failed to pick a major that would have led him to a practical, lucrative job. He didn’t fuck up (well, maybe a little) so much as he didn’t mature enough back then to plan a bit more specifically for his future. So, I told him that, yes, many a white, middle-class, underachieving young adult have reached the same conclusion as you have, just as I did when I graduated with a philosophy degree from a Catholic college in 1991 with no job prospects whatsoever and no “passion” for doing anything that could contribute to my economic survival. (First-world problems, sigh.)

I also told him that lacking enthusiasm and drive toward one love doesn’t mean you are lazy or unintelligent. It just means you don’t really feel pulled in any specific direction.  And because you are lucky enough to not live in the middle of a war zone nor have to labor frantically to feed and clothe yourself (a.k.a. you can live with your parents until you get going),  you have a small bit of time (and fortune) to try to figure out what to do next. It’s daunting to figure out where to direct yourself when you aren’t necessarily being pulled somewhere specific, but is it impossible to create a life for yourself? Absolutely not! When you feel like you don’t know where to begin, you start at your first job, no matter how uninspiring or boring and beneath your capabilities it is—you start there. You have no other choice because you have bills to pay and your mom wants to collect a little rent in return for all this great advice and housing. 

I also told him that life has a funny way of happening to you as you are faced with simple, seemingly unimportant choices each day– like where to eat lunch or buy coffee (should I get a coffee today, or make my own? Brown bag it, or go out?) or whether or not to work out or try a new gym; or even something like your mom or roommate asks you, as a favor, to take their dog to the dog park.  Should you help or not? Now, as a result of all those choices, you end up in various places: the restaurant, the coffee-shop, the new gym, the dog park—which all seem so completely stupid and unimportant— but, then, into the coffee shop comes the love of your life who inspires you in ways you never knew existed and who lends purpose and structure to your life and leads you to new places– maybe to her family’s home where you meet her brother who knows a guy who knows a guy who is looking for a guy like you to fill a position in Company X. Or, in comes your next new best friend at the gym, or your new business partner appears at the dog park and you chat with him while your mom’s Golden Retriever plays with his German Shepherd; this young entrepreneur who struggled through stupid jobs just like you suddenly, on his cross country trip, decided to hop off the highway to walk his dog at this dog park, and there you are with that friendly fucking dog you begrudgingly agreed to take care of —-And, boom, your next (best) thing just happened. See, a “passion” might come and find you, almost by accident. Maybe.

So, knowing all of this— that “Life Happens” (not just “Shit Happens”) you only need to be open and ready to recognize your newest opportunities; you need to be ready and willing to connect with people or events and places while you continue to plan and execute your plans and travel your chosen path. (Ever seen Forrest Gump?) So here is the thing– it is as the saying goes, “Life happens when you’re busy making plans.” This is definitely true in my experience, but not all people realize this or actively embrace this knowledge and do something with it. The path isn’t always straight or exactly how we imagine it to be! The intentionally directed and pre-planned choices aren’t the whole story of our lives! We aren’t in as much control of what happens to us than we think, however much we like to think that we work hard and earn our way and make all our great shit happen. Frankly, I think the universe, happenstance, serendipity and synchronicity deserve a hell of a lot more credit.

I mean, really, the guy pulled off at the right exit? And you were kind enough to do your mom or your roommate a favor? You decided you wanted coffee that day, at that coffee shop where your new girlfriend walked in? You thought it a good idea to try a new gym, and voila, your new best friend was there?

So fine, go ahead, make plans. Of course, make plans! The sun will rise and you will get up and go to work at your first shitty job doing whatever it is you do there that doesn’t really suit you, and on this particular path you have chosen, you will continue to look for better and/or different, and you will follow your internal drives and desires and listen to that tiny little voice in your head or in your heart that seems to know a lot of stuff you don’t,  and you’ll make decisions about how to spend your time and where and with whom (hopefully surrounding yourself with positive people in a healthy environment), and you’ll stay open to anyone or anything that comes your way —-all of which is the part of your life that is in your control. Just remember that this is only part of what will determine your life— the other part happens to you and for you, and it isn’t in your control at all.

And because I really believe all of what I have been saying  here is 100% true (and trying to follow my own truth) I am hopping onto a different path myself to see what happens to me. I am investing in the trivial and unimportant and hoping for the universe to bring me something good. Will it lead me into new places with new people doing things that I cannot even imagine exist right now? Will that unknown landscape be scary? Of course! Even though letting go of routine and security and the familiar is daunting, unsettling, and turbulent, it’s also full of “good” stress and hope, as long as I stay open.

Even though both my son and I are having trouble envisioning our futures (I literally cannot picture myself anywhere in the world doing anything else besides the job I have always done)– maybe rather than getting upset, disappointed, or frightened by this, we can interpret it as a sign that we are about to go into places we have never been before, place we cannot picture, not even in our imaginations. It’s great to have dreams and to aim at goals, but it’s even cooler to experience the unknown that is beyond those wildest dreams or even better—the undreamed of.

And, just so you know, I am fairly certain that another “leap into the unknown” or more “out-of-my-control-experiences” will be added to the list of the best things that have happened to me in my life because so much has happened to me through serendipity already.  One example is that I did not know that Bikram yoga existed five years ago, nor did I even see myself teaching yoga, never-mind even practicing yoga. Yoga was never my dream or plan. Yoga happened to me because I made one seemingly unimportant decision to chat with a girl at my gym who then invited me to try a class with her. Merely because I was curious about her workouts and because I was friendly and engaged her in conversation, an entirely new life was born.  Yoga turned my life upside down with a new daily schedule; a new workout and spiritual practice; it led me to new love and a new community of friends; it led me to Thailand and back and into a second career, all of which has led to a life of travel and connection to people and places around the globe. If people reflect on how they got to where they are now in their lives, they’d have to give credit to forces beyond their control.

So who knows what will happen to us while we are busy making plans, finding our “passion,” and dreaming our dreams of our future? Hopefully, we can remember that our seemingly unimportant choices just may turn out to be more important than we ever conceived (if we think about them at all!)  and to remain open and ready to receive what the universe-beyond-our-control might deliver us. 

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