Friday, January 18, 2008

Thriving on Serendipity

People are always asking me how one discovers a calling. The honest answer is that I'm not sure. I suspect that for the majority of us, the seeds appear in childhood. (My interviews with late bloomers bear this out.) But other than that, I can't really say. What I have noticed, however, is that sometimes a serendipitous, off-the-cuff comment can change the course of a person's life.

Thus, I was delighted to read Lisa Belkin's Life's Work column on 1/10/08 in The NY Times titled Planning a Life with Room for Debate. In it, she explores the role of serendipity in our career choices.

Belkin writes:

...Lately, I have been thinking of the strong but transparent filaments that connect our past to our present. The threads, which are usually hidden, have come out in full relief.

One is a college professor, a literary idol of mine, who happened to ask in passing, 'You’re a writer, so why are you applying to law school?' I doubt he remembers he said it. If I had been late that morning and we had not happened to walk to the classroom together, would I ever have written books at all?

It’s a game we often play when we look back on love ('If I had let my cold keep me home that night in December 1986, would we ever have met'). But we like to think we have greater control when it comes to career choices.

Yet, we don’t. Any number of serendipitous events have led us to the work we do and honed the skill with which we hopefully do it. Sometimes a choice is deliberate, but just as often it is disguised as a lark or even a wrong turn....

She then concludes:

Human nature thrives on serendipity. If the road toward a career allows for less, we will begin to compensate by being more open to serendipity later in the journey.

One of the most transforming trends in the seven years I have written this column has been the willingness of workers to change jobs, identity, routine. Careers are no longer linear for many reasons. I believe one reason is we need to experiment somewhere. If you squelch the possibility at the start, it will burst forth in the middle.

To read the full article, click here.

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