I’m going to do the unthinkable and quote wikipedia here. Serendipity (along with soliloquy, and hygge) is one of my absolute favorite words, and the description on wikipedia is just lovely:
Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; a fortunate mistake. Specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.
Serendipity has guided me to my favorite things in life. I have a tendency to put a ton of work into making a decision, and then magically find myself casting it all aside and doing something that feels almost totally accidental. This is how I ended up in graduate school studying philosophy instead of at one of the documentary film programs I’d painstakingly researched. It’s how I found my first AND second apartments by randomly calling a number on a sign by the road instead of choosing from my carefully curated spreadsheet of options. I did a whole bunch of work to find the best option, and then tossed it out the window at the last second to go with this new option that presented itself out of nowhere and was perfect. Serendipity!
I’ve always wished I could be a fiction writer, but it never seemed more than a pipe dream. I had the facility, but I didn’t really have any ideas for plots or characters. Then one day, my husband made an off-hand remark. It was just a little observation, but it was like a light switched on my brain, and I was suddenly filled with a story. I ran with it, and out of nowhere, seemingly by happenstance, I had a first chapter.
It feels serendipitous, suddenly having a story to tell. It feels like I stumbled into the story accidentally, like it’s some fortunate mistake that I’ve come across it, rather than it being something I’ve made up myself. It feels right. It feels good. It’s not something I’ve been working at for my whole life, and yet I have been, indirectly. Over and over again, my work has focused on literary elements, metaphor, myth, imagery, narrative, so perhaps its no happy accident after all.
But maybe there is no happy accident. I like to put the work in, and I like to think that the work was worth it – that it’s cleared my mind and helped me know what I want, so that when I randomly happen to see it, I can recognize it immediately. Perhaps all the time I’ve spent studying historicism and attempting to tell philosophical stories has paid off by preparing my mind to receive a story when it comes along.
I’m reminded of a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on listening to your muses. Even if you’re not a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, you can still be a fan of this talk. She explains beautifully that we make a mistake when we take credit for our own creativity, thinking it is something we’ve built. Gilbert “shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us ‘have’ a genius”. Fabulous musician Carsie Blanton’s commentary on this talk sums it up perfectly:
This is a tremendously comforting concept for me, and I imagine it’s the same for every creative person (and by that I mean every person). It means that my job is not to create. My job is to remain inspired, so that my heart will be open to the creative force.
And then hope for serendipity.