Serendipity is an under-rated thing. It gets a bad rap as haphazard luck or a happy coincidence. A pleasant surprise that uplifts us from our usual routine. A random encounter where the stars aligned. A fleeting moment that comes out of the blue, only to disappear.
But serendipity is not a “thing.” Or an “accident.” Or a “random encounter.” Or just a cute John Cusack movie. It’s actually a skillset – and it’s something that can make us smarter, happier and more connected.
When it comes to serendipity, there’s a whole new field of interdisciplinary research emerging, and studies segment people into “non-encounterers”, “occasional encounterers” who stumble upon serendipity now and then, and “super encounterers” who constantly see happy surprises in even the most mundane of situations.
I’ve become what researchers would call a “super-encounterer”, not because I’m lucky, but because I’ve built my serendipity superpowers over the years. These are definitely not skills I studied in any classroom, but rather gleaned through experience, many of which involve solo travel and times of personal growth. Both of these types of experiences forced me to let go of behaviors and beliefs that blocked me from letting in new things.
But you don’t have to travel far and wide or go on a soul-search to discovery your serendipity superpowers. It’s often as simple as changing what you see, where you go and how you show up.
Here are my top five tips for turning yourself into a serendipity superstar:
1. Believe you are surrounded by serendipity – and expect it every day. One of the first steps to attracting more serendipity is to actually believe that you are surrounded by it. Consider it selective attention – like when you’re pregnant, you start to see baby bumps everywhere. Or when you’re stressed out, you start to see more annoyances and blocks everywhere.
What we see is what we get – and if we choose to focus on a recent serendipitous moment, and look to see at least one of those moments each day, we start to attract more serendipity, and will find it popping up all the time.
One of my favorite ways to build this skill is to keep a journal of “random” things that happen each day – mine include everything from running into someone, to little phrases or sayings that pop out (a recent favorite was when I was having a “founder’s moment” and got cut off by a giant truck with “THE PROFIT IS COMING” written on the side), to texts of the “woah, I was just thinking about you!” ilk. The dots connect over time, and I am always amazed when I look back.
Bottom line – believe you’re surrounded by it. Look for it. Write it down. Get more of it.
2. Celebrate the unknown, the incorrect and the idiotic. Many of the greatest discoveries come from accidents and failures. It’s easy to write off something that didn’t work, blame someone, and move quickly onto the next – but the biggest “aha’s” come from diving into the failures and actually having fun with them, instead of trying to find the next success right away.
Being in a state of “I don’t know” is one of the most powerful places we can be. I once worked for a guy who would respond to my pressing questions with a thoughtful, “yeah, I don’t know.” I was shocked – I figured someone with a higher authority was paid to “know”, but he taught me the importance of “not knowing.” Of collecting information, asking a ton of questions, exploring all the angles and then coming to a decision.
Not knowing can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially to this A-type New Yorker. But actually enjoying the state of “not knowing” is where serendipity finds me. Some of the best ideas I’ve built with clients have come out of jokes, and even going so far as to exploring the absolute “worst” idea we could ever have. We fell about laughing, one upping each other with horrifying add-ons – until someone had a spark and found a nugget of inspiration that led us into the creation of an award winning product. Some of the greatest personal experiences have come from literally not knowing what country I was going to next, and leaving my plans open to the travel gods. In fact, it started a decision making pattern, where I decided to not know, and to do the first thing that was mentioned 3 times by 3 different people. I was never led astray, but rather into incredible encounters and the exact situation I needed to grow.
3. Do the uncomfortable. It’s easy to turn down an invitation in favor of staying home to watch Netflix on the couch with takeout – but magic doesn’t happen when we’re cracked out on Narcos and Lo Mein. (Well sometimes it does, and I guess that’s what Tinder is for, but that’s another article…)
Say yes to what’s in front of you, especially that uncomfortable invitation. It’s there for a reason. The less you want to go, the more magic is bound to happen. And seriously, if you want to get a super dose of serendipity, go alone. That’s right – go to a party alone. Without a wingman. And if you don’t have an invitation to turn down, take yourself out to dinner (and don’t stare at your phone the whole time.)
Every time I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve had to surrender to what’s in front of me, and I’ve had to get curious. It means making conversation with strangers instead of standing by the cheese plate rehashing my day with a friend. It means staying five minutes longer than I want to, and sometimes hiding out in the bathroom for a few minutes when it feels like too much – and then falling into conversation with a handsome stranger. It means getting lost in a foreign country and stumbling across a beautiful village and into a heartfelt conversation.
Or it simply means opening myself up and into the positive potential of a new experience – instead of closing myself into what I already know. A few years ago, I felt creatively stuck and decided to spend 90 days traveling solo through India and Southeast Asia, following adventures my friends wrote for me instead of a guidebook. I was terrified. But the more I got into the habit of saying “yes” to the adventure in front of me, I started to open up in a new way and incredible things started to happen. (Fast forward to two years later, it’s become the foundation of my business, a product designed to foster adventure and serendipity every day… who would have known?)
Learning to trust, and being willing to be vulnerable is scary, but it’s also where we get out of ourselves and into the magic.
4. Say “thank you.” There are tons of studies and life-hacks around the life-changing effects of gratitude, and for good reason. Shanti-shanti as it may sound, it shifts our outlook and our energy, and attracts more positive things to come our way.
Saying thank you (whether to “the universe,” God, the person sitting next to you, or to the highway as you drive to work) for the little nods and coincidences is just as important as saying “thank you” for the promotion or the clean bill of health. It’s easy to get into the mentality of “well, he was perfect, except for…” or “the job seems great, but…” – simply acknowledge that something serendipitous just came your way and take it as a sign that more good things are on the way. “Thank you” is essentially a prayer that says, “that was awesome, I really dug it, and please bring me more.”
I’ve built this skill by writing a gratitude list each morning, and even putting little reminders in my phone to take 30 seconds and think of 3 things I’m grateful for. The real game changer has come in the past month in finding things I’m grateful for in really annoying situations.
Take a recent travel plan: my flight was 6 hours delayed on New Years Eve and then I couldn’t find the place I was staying once I arrived. To offset the irritation, I practiced finding a few “thank yous”, which included being able to go to my favorite yoga class that morning (instead of sitting in the airport), having an interesting conversation with an Uber driver who introduced me to a videographer, making time for a conversation with a friend in the airport, arriving in town just in time for dinner (and getting picked up straight from the airport as a result), being with friends who put me up for the night when I was lost, etc. Really cool connections and opportunities have been happening as a result.
The “thank yous” seem to build resilience to get out of a negative mindset, which only clouds me in my worries and prevents me from seeing the bigger picture – or what great things are in front of me. Taking a minute to find a moment of gratitude shifts me back into being in the unknown – which is where there’s space for serendipity to come in.
5. Share it to grow it. Serendipity isn’t a “thing” or even an “action” – it’s a flow that we get into. And it does take work – sometimes it’s as simple as leaving the house with a good attitude and talking to someone, or picking up the phone and listening (and really listening, not Facebooking and listening), in order to dive into what can seem like a consistent stream of unbelievable encounters.
Note that many of these experiences are encounters – which means that they involve other people. We multiply our magic by sharing it with others – whether it’s saying what we’re looking for, or helping others fulfill what they’re looking for. And sometimes serendipity comes from something as simple as a status update and discovering that you’re in the same country as an old friend. A big part of Serenflipity is asking people to share those serendipitous experiences on social media for just that reason – to foster more connections, to share cool experiences that uplift others (and potentially bring serendipity to them), and to encourage an environment of experimentation. Because we all need a little push to peel away from our habits.
So, it’s that time of the year where we might be faltering on our New Year’s Resolutions and about to dive back into old habits. Instead, I invite you to dive into bringing more serendipity into your life.
All you have to do is decide to see yourself as a serendipity super-magnet, have fun not knowing the answer, go to parties alone, say thank you, and share it with others. No calorie counting or guilt-tripping necessary!
I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for bringing more serendipity into your life – please share below!
You are wise, and eloquent, beyond your years, and have only just begun, as the song says.
Having been an”opportunist” in sports and business, all my life, I fully subscribe to your viewpoint. In football it’s seeing, or sensing, the opening. In business and life in general, it is being alive and alert to the situation, and acting upon it.
As Pema Chodron writes in “Start Where You Are” (you kindly recommended) it is essential to acknowledge and respond to all stimuli, be they positive or negative. As you say, locking yourself away in your room (back to the womb) serves no purpose, because the interface with others is what stimulates us, and them. It’s called life, so live it.
There’s a book in this, my dear, so keep on rolling and scrolling.