Why Serendipity Shouldn’t Matter

“Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated.” – Wikipedia

I’ll be contrarian to my good friend Chris Brogan in saying that serendipity shouldn’t matter to you. Here’s what I mean. There’s an interesting expression in ninjutsu: banpen fugyo. Literally, change, never surprised. Toshitsugu Takamatsu, the previous headmaster of the Togakure Ryu ninjutsu school, is quoted as saying there’s no such thing as surprise for the ninja.

Stephen K. Hayes, my teacher’s teacher, often says that luck is merely energy that is unchanneled.

If you’re really good – really good – at life, if you’re working towards mastery of all that life has to offer and all the potential you have in life, then surprise and serendipity should be the gravy. They should be the bonuses at best. Why?

At the Web 2.0 Open, one of the exercises I asked people to do (adapted from Stephen K. Hayes’ phenomenal Evocation workshop) is to pick out something in your life that seemed like a lottery ticket sort of experience. Pick out something that was just wow! and good fortune came your way, and tell that story to a friend. During the event, I asked people to talk to the person next to them about their experiences, telling this story of a magical moment in their life when something fortunate happened. I told my story of co-founding PodCamp with Chris Brogan and suddenly finding myself on a jet to Sweden to put on PodCamp Europe at Jeff Pulver’s behest.

Serendipity, right? Good luck, right?

The second half of this particular exercise was to take the exact same story but retell it in a fashion where no luck was involved, where you made it happen and the natural course of events was that your efforts and focus created the outcome of success. I asked people to exaggerate if they needed to, but make the story work. Again, my story was of how hard Chris and I worked to create PodCamp and make it the success it was, and naturally events occurred which led to us being asked to create PodCamp Europe.

Here’s the funny thing: with a significant majority of the room, very little or no exaggeration was needed. Very little. Most people were able to find enough factual evidence in their lottery ticket moment of all the things they had done, all the choices they had made, that led to their good fortune. More than a few spirits perked up as they realized just how much of a hand they had in their “luck”.

This is the power that you have, the power that you give away, the power that you forfeit when you chase serendipity, when you hope for good things to happen just because instead of taking the reins for yourself.

Take charge of your life. Take charge of your destiny. Yes, leave room for hope and serendipity, leave room for good things to happen as bonuses to what you’re already doing, but do not live another day in your already too short life counting on hope when you have the capacity, the capability to take the wheel of the ship for yourself, to make good things happen, and to set the stage for the results you want.


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