Not the name of the actress who played Betty Draper on Mad Men, but the month. A natural time for self-reflection and taking stock of your life.
As you try to focus on where you came from and where you'd like to go, a funny thing happens. Other people keep popping into your head. And try as you might, you can't help but compare your life to theirs.
Who could blame you? Compared to past generations, the village of your awareness has grown exponentially. Whether it's the news, the grapevine, Facebook or Instagram, you are bombarded with evidence of people having a MUCH better life than you. Sure, some of it is window dressing, but that's not the problem. You just can't understand how people who are not as [pick an adjective] attractive, smart, hard-working, spiritual, or educated as you are doing so well. Sure, the unfairness stings, but the part that really vexes you is not knowing "how is this even possible?"
Putting to the side that going through life comparing yourself to others is a recipe for disappointment souffle, there is a simple explanation. And in this explanation lies the key for making 2018 your best year yet.
All of us have our limits. I will never be taller, smarter, or escape the dire need for Auto-Tune. At a Karaoke bar I once had a dear friend gently, but earnestly ask me to stop singing their favorite song. Ouch! We all have certain limitations that we should acknowledge.
These personal characteristics limit what we can realistically accomplish in life. However, there is one crucial exception to this rule.
If you are at the right spot at the right time, there are no limits.
"That makes no sense, Joe. Either we have limits or we don't! How late did you stay up on New Year's Eve, anyway?"
Allow me to explain.
Most of the time, our limitations do what they are defined to do - limit us. But every once in a while, we catch a break that helps us to go beyond what would normally be possible under our own power. These opportunities are not subject to our timing or control. These opportunities may be dependent on someone else's involvement. If this is starting to sound like I'm talking about luck, it's because I am or at least its classier cousin, Serendipity.
Serendipity is defined as "the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for."
When you come across a serendipitous moment, it can change EVERYTHING.
- Randomly strike up a conversation with your future boss on a plane.
- Help fix a flat tire for the cop who pulls you over the next day.
- Had a bad hair day when the casting agent picks you for your frizzy hair.
"So...let me get this straight, Joe. You're telling me people who exceed their limitations are benefiting from serendipity? If that's your plan, it stinks."
Not exactly. What I'm saying is the key to exceeding your limits is to make the most of serendipity by:
1) creating opportunities for it to occur
2) being aware when it arrives; and
3) acting on it.
Let's explore these in turn.
Step 1. Create Opportunities for Serendipity
When you are stuck in a rut, sometimes the most obvious solution is the best one. Get moving!
"Why this would help?"
Think about Bingo. The rustle of the balls bouncing off each other as you turn the crank is pleasing and rush of anticipation leading up to, "Bingo!" is not to be underestimated. Now imagine you are ball B1. And the person who can help you is G60.
The more you turn the crank the more opportunities there will be for B1 to meet G60. So move around and meet different people.
- It might be in the break room.
- It might be at the park.
- It might even be in line at the grocery store.
In a similar fashion G60 might be the breakthrough you need. Try changing up what you are doing or your environment.
- Ever find the solution as you are telling someone the problem?
- Ever been driving when the solution pops into you head? Please keep your hands on the wheel.
- Ever notice how changing your position, lighting or music can knock something loose?
So to invite serendipity into your life, get moving. Meet other people. Change the scenery. Anything to get your thinking and emotions moving in a different way. This creates more opportunities for you to stumble onto fortunate situations. The best part is making this change is entirely within your control.
Advanced tip: Make moving a habit or plan it into your day.
Step 2. Recognize Serendipity
You know that movie scene where the answer, love interest, or escape is right within grasp of the character, but they JUST DON'T SEE IT? Remember the feeling and the collective scream of frustration from the audience? I'm sorry to inform you that sometimes WE are that character.
There is no value in unrecognized serendipity.
"That all sounds great, but what can I do to ensure I don't miss out?"
I'm tempted to say "be more aware," but that's too general to be helpful. And you can breathe a sigh of relief as I'm not going to launch into a sermon on the benefits of meditation or tell you to be more "in the moment."
What you can do is practice creative divergence, which is the ability to explore, and sometimes take, alternative paths spurred by chance encounters, many of which challenge our current thinking.
A blind adherence to convention is an allergic reaction to uncertainty and both are arch rivals of creativity.
"So what can I do?"
To maximize your ability to know when "it" is right in front of you must combat the two chief enemies of creativity: uncertainty and insecurity. When we are not feeling sure of an outcome and are stressed about it, our tendency is to close our minds, revert to an existing pattern, and refuse to acknowledge any alternatives. It's like putting a blindfold on ourselves.
In contrast, when we are confident and secure our minds are more open. Now I can't tell you how to magically overcome uncertainty and insecurity. However, what helps is to recognize the effect this has on your thinking and to remind yourself to keep an open mind and not be too quick to dismiss alternatives. This allows your creativity to flow and to notice potentially beneficial options.
"So now we know how to create the conditions for more opportunities and how to better notice them. What's left?"
Step 3. Take the Plunge
Imagine your next level life is on the other side of a dangerous river. As you are pondering what you are pondering, lightning strikes and a tree falls across the river, creating a makeshift bridge. Let's be clear, you are not a lumberjack and had nothing to do with this.
If you slip off the tree while crossing, things may end badly. Maybe you catch yourself or are able to grab onto something and save yourself. Or maybe you plunge into the river and are swept downstream. The point is you have to take a leap of faith and walk across the bridge to reach that next level. This involves moving out of your comfort zone (and I love being comfortable just as much as the next guy/gal) and braving the risks of failure. If you don't act, you will be safer, but you will be stuck where you are.
Make 2018 the best year possible. Don't waste time comparing yourself to others. Instead, make the most of your own potential by being in the right spot at the right time. Exceed your normal limits by courting, recognizing, and acting on the opportunities that life sends your way.
Much of this post was inspired and informed by "Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business," by Thor Muller and Lane Becker.
The authors do a great job of explaining 8 skills that help make "planned serendipity" work for you and your organization. The stories and examples are engaging and informative. Worth a read.
I stumbled across the book while taking a random walk at work. I didn't plan on writing about it, but it serendipitously wove itself into the fabric of this article, which I hope you enjoyed. Serendipity in action!
If you have examples of when Serendipity made a difference in your life, I'd love to hear about it!