I’m not a particularly competitive person, but a few weeks ago I entered a competition to communicate my research. I enjoy public speaking, so I thought it would be a bit of fun, would help me understand my research better and might get my research ‘out there’. I was right on all three counts. However, as a result of the competition, I also managed to inadvertently recruit a participant, win money and other prizes, meet some great people and score an interview about my research! Serendipity indeed, I certainly didn’t see any of this coming!
By definition, serendipity is the “happy accident,” the unexpected stroke of luck, but wouldn’t it be great if you could attract serendipity and the success that seems to come with it? Well, it may sound like an oxymoron, but I think you might be able to. Humour me…
Chances are you’ve heard someone who is a success in their field being posed the million dollar question, how did you do it?! Maybe you’ve even asked someone yourself, perhaps a friend, colleague or relative? Some people seem to be able to describe the ‘how’, but other people reply that they “just did it”. If we look a bit closer though, it’s obvious that these things don’t just happen, no one really wakes up to discover they’ve become a pop sensation, Oscar winning actor or cutting edge scientist overnight. A series of serendipitous events might be the culprits in each case, but something still had to spark that serendipity and I think that this spark is something we have control over.
So how can we attract such serendipity? What are these sparks? Cal Newport has written a series of posts at his blog Study Hacks* about the sorts of things that spark “serendipity” for students and professionals, resulting in their successes. For instance, a guest post by Ben Canoscha suggests that being open to random ideas and experiences can yield unexpected benefits, while Cal’s Zen Valedictorian series emphasises focussing on one thing, doing it well and then capitalising on the low hanging fruit. The best thing about these ideas, is that they’re achievable; they highlight that success isn’t something that just happens to other people, whomever those other people might be, it can happen to you or I, if we go out and actively seek it.
So maybe serendipity is an oxymoron because in reality, those happy accidents aren’t always so accidental.
* I highly recommend Study Hacks. I’ve been following the blog since high school, and I find it very helpful. It’s always interesting and full of new ideas.