Princes of Serendip

Have you ever experienced unusual or unexpected twists in your day at work or home that turned out better than expected? If yes, I hope you relate to this first story of the new year. If not, I hope this article tweaks your imagination and maybe you can become an honorary Prince or Princess of Serendip.

I confess to being a loyal Volvo owner for the last 25 years. My current Swedish road beauty recently rolled over 428k on the odometer so it’s “almost” time to trade it in, not because it is starting show aging signs, (read loyal owner) mostly because it doesn’t have a CD player. So on a warm December Saturday I went to a dealer across the bridge and was unhappy with what they had on the lot. While driving back over the bridge I thought I’d stroll the car lots that line Kempt Road in Halifax (aka Automobile Alley). I actually missed the turn off and ended backtracking by turning down a side road that ran beside one dealers lot. And there our eyes met. Glistening in the afternoon sunlight was a sleek silver V70 5 speed wagon. Purrrrr. Needless to say we fell madly in love and signed the commitment papers the next business day. I shudder to think where my life would be today I had of turned down the “correct” street. I give thanks for the serendipity of that adventure and those like it that make life and work more interesting.

Here are a few more examples that I hope tweak a your memory of a few serendipitous moments you can celebrate.

2nd Serendip: Have you ever been late for a flight? I was five minutes late checking in for a long flight back to Halifax recently and I lost my assigned window seat. Disappointed and somewhat grumpy, I shuffled into my new middle seat on a very crowded plane. I was pleasantly delighted when an old friend I hadn’t seen for years turned out to be my new seat mate. We had a great catch-up on life and love and plan to renew our old connection. An opportunity I surely would have missed by checking in 5 minutes earlier.

3rd Serendip: Snowstorms: Good or bad? I was excited to speak again at the National Consultation of Career Development in Ottawa this past January. I was pumped to present, “How to Wake up Happy and Do What you Love” on the first day of this national conference.  I made it to the Halifax airport the night before in a wild snow storm (in my trusty Volvo!) to discover that all flights were cancelled. The best rebooking I could get was late morning arriving in Ottawa after my scheduled talk. My colleague Clarence just happened to call from the conference and I told him my dilemma. He approached conference organizers and they kindly rescheduled me for the next day in a room 3 times the size. I was delighted that word got out that “the storm stuck guy” was still coming and I presented the revised Canadian version of my talk retitled, “How to Wake Up Happy and Shovel!” to a sell out crowd. I couldn’t help but chuckle with thanks for accidents and delays that turn out so wonderfully in the long run.

Events like these are known as serendipity. The term serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. He had formed it upon the title of the fairy-tale `The Three Princes of Serendip’, (A former name for Sri Lanka) the heroes of which “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.

Serendipity, according to the Oxford dictionary, is the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Perhaps the greatest serendipity of history would be Columbus and Cabot discovering America instead of reaching the East Indies.  

As the new year rings in, I invite you to be mindful, take a pause and give thanks for the moments in your life and work where changes, surprises and shifted expectations have born unexpected fruit. A little something to chew on as you work on your post holiday diet.

Read the Tale of the Princes of Serendip

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