I don’t know if it’s the season — but I see Bougainville everywhere. I stare and stare, but their magic doesn’t fade away. I linger to move away to “work,” but my mind is with the bougainvilleas, always.
I honestly don’t know if it is my luck or my hyper-organized-keeping-three-todo-lists or the weight of privilege that has attracted good things in my life. Do you? I can’t trace down how many times a “mistake” led to something magnificent.
“Serendipity unfolds silently in the outer edges of your noisy hustle,” Dushka Zapata said.
I opted for Maths in my 12th standard with “goals” to use it in the future. Not a single day have I used calculus or algebra (neither have you). But I am thankful for that decision every day. I picked up a sister’s book by mistake, and in an effort to imitate her (I thought she was “cool”), read one myself. I was lucky my brother was home for the holidays — he gave me a better book. Now, if a day has gone by with me not reading, you can safely assume I’m ill. Landing my first writing job was a coincidence of grand proportions. Writing my first poem a stupendous stroke of luck.
A dear friend is a fan of curiosity and I’ve joined the club. It’s said that the phrase “That’s funny?” beats “Eureka!” when stumbling on to the plethora of accidental scientific discoveries. Scientist Robert K. Merton called “controlled sloppiness” a useful trait in serendipitous breakthroughs.
I spend chunks of my free time wondering about how a likely small thing would’ve shifted and made my present an entirely new life. Another chunk is spent wondering about the things I thought were ‘destined’ but were a genius work of the secret carpenter, serendipity.
There’s a pleasure in finding exactly what you are looking for (and Google makes it so easy), but there is a joy far more superior in the discovery of finding something delicious you weren’t even looking for. Unexpected opportunity is a honey far thick than time-saving just-get-what-you-want convenience.
Because my job consists of “Oh fuck, what will I write about next?” a lot, I unconsciously rely on serendipity to lend me her cover. And like the mama bear that she is, she generously lets me use her to write what you now read. This has happened so often that I have come to believe that serendipity can be sprouted, learned, and procured.
Whaaatt? How can you create something that’s supposed to be a luck-baby?
That’s the thing: Serendipity is not luck. Luck is succeeding at what you already wanted despite slim-picking chances. Serendipity is finding something extraordinary you didn’t already want.
You can become a super-encounterer of serendipity. Unlike me, you don’t have to rely on it for a living. I won’t deny that this urgency of having a deadline but no idea rushes serendipity, but there are other ways.
First is noticing. How long had bougainvilleas been following me? I didn’t know. But once I started looking, my eyes kept hunting for the next one. Suddenly they were everywhere. Gratitude for each encounter is a pleasant side-effect. Gawd, what a gift.
Second is making room for serendipity to find you. Don’t schedule it on your calendar like me because that is exactly what a dumb lamb would do. How do you expect serendipity to reach you at exactly 5 PM? It’ll come when it comes. Make space for it by being a little freer, less risk-averse, and let go of that to-do check-check-check ASMR once in a while. Loiter.
Thirdly, believing you are a super-encounterer-to-grand-serendipity manifests itself. Perception leads to clues. Whimsical faith is the trail to a grand bump of unimaginable good fortune.
Fourth is acceptance. Some of my wildest mistakes have been the best decisions of my life — either for the story (and laugh) they provide or because they forced me to create a non-existent road. When the unexpected happens, as it always does, remember you’ll find its trail decades later, clinging onto some of the best things of your life. You will feel lost and it will be the best thing to happen to you. Surrender to what is.
Lastly, take the page from my friend’s book and walk on wheels of curiosity. Dig deeper into that author you liked. Go to the farther end of the library. Take a leap into the unknown.
The bougainvilleas will be there, waiting for you.