In the six years that Zoe has been in our lives, she’s added plenty of fun, enthusiasm and amusement. Always up for a new adventure, last year she and her cousin Jade were treated to their first fishing outing with their grandfather.

When I asked her about it, she said, “We didn’t catch anything, but it still was exciting.”  What  Zoe had uncovered  is the secret of serendipity, even if she doesn’t know that big word.

While the common definition of serendipity is unexpected good fortune or a surprise, I learned several years ago that it goes much farther than that. We go back to an old Persian fairy tale about The Princes of Serendip to see what they discovered to find the true meaning of the word.

These three young noblemen traveled the world, but rarely found the treasures they were looking for. Instead they ran into other treasures equally great or even greater than the ones they were looking for. 

In looking for one thing, they found something else and it dawned on them that this was one of life’s sly and wonderful tricks. When they realized this they got an entirely new slant on life and every day resulted in new and thrilling experiences.

Even though their goals repeatedly eluded them, they were more than rewarded by their wayside discoveries.

Therein lies the key to serendipity. It does not occur when we are passively waiting for something to happen. We must be actively engaged in the pursuit of some goal and, yet, be willing for it to turn out differently than we imagined.

Clinging to what we have is a surefire way to prevent serendipity from entering our lives. I was reminded of this when I got a call one day from a woman who crowed, “I had the best time today being joyfully jobless.”

A year and a half earlier, this same woman was feeling hurt when she was dismissed from her job at a large corporation. Would this enthusiastic conversation have happened if she were still punching a time clock?

But there’s even more to this serendipity business. While it means finding joy and meaning in discoveries on the way to a stated goal, the secret is to look upon incidental goals as substantial and upon accidental happenings as purposeful.

At the same time, it’s necessary to seek the good when the unexpected knocks us off our feet. Uncovering the hidden treasure in adverse situations requires that we be wide awake and looking.

Art Linkletter summed it up nicely when he said, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”  Quite possibly what we call failure is actually serendipity trying to happen.

So go after your goals with gusto, but celebrate all the unexpected rewards along the way. Even if you don’t catch any fish, it can be exciting.

3 Responses to “Welcoming Serendipity”

  1. Sandy Dempsey

    I would have to say that serendipitous events have played a big role in my life over the last few years. But, it was only when I began moving and taking action that they appeared.

  2. Ami

    Sweet – thank-you for sharing the story of the Princes of Serendip, what a wonderful way to understand the meaning of serendipity. I am one of the joyfully jobless, seeking a calling and loving the insights, revelations and mysteries revealed to me because I’m not too busy with my job – and all of its collateral demands – to see them. Losing my job at a big corporation truly was a serendipitous event for me. I pray that my new ‘sight’ will last even after I find a new (or build!) my next job.

  3. Barbara Kemp Cowlin

    Strangely, I just wrote a blog about a series of coincidences that happened to me recently. Taking things that happen and being open to where they might lead makes life exciting. And I find that eventually all the loose ends come together into something cohesive (until the next serendipitous thing happens to shake things up again)!

    If you’re interested, here’s the link to my blog post about my most recent event.

    Also, my husband and I have been working on a project about US Route 89, the road that runs from Mexico to Canada through 7 national parks (Grand Canyon, Glacier and Yellowstone to name a few). Our project is all about taking the slow road and letting serendipity lead to unexpected adventures along the way.

    Jim’s been a self-employed photographer for 38 years, and I’ve been working as a full-time artist for the last 3 years (before that I taught art full time).

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