After a conversation with a delightful stranger, I shared the experience on Facebook saying, “Oh, I love serendipity.” After I’d posted, I began to wonder if calling it serendipity was accurate.

While the common understanding of serendipity defines it as unexpected good fortune, it goes further than that. In The World of Serendipity, author Marcus Bach explains why some people enjoy a large measure of unexpected good while others rarely have such experiences.

He writes, “Once upon a time, there lived an Englishman named Horace Walpole. He was best known for his passion for writing letters. For most of his life, he kept the postman busy lugging mail away from his home.

“On one occasion, Walpole wrote that an old Persian fairy tale had made a deep impression on him. The tale had to do with The Princes of Serendip. These three young noblemen, traveling the world, rarely found the treasures they were looking for, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater than the ones they were seeking.

“Even though their goals eluded them, they were more than rewarded with their wayside discoveries, and soon it was as if an unseen power and guidance seemed to know better than they knew what was best for them.”

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

I’m reminded of a woman who called and excitedly announced, “I had the best time today being Joyfully Jobless!” She told me about some new people she’d met and discoveries she’d made for her business.  A year and a half earlier, this same woman was feeling hurt when she was dismissed from her job with a large corporation.

Would this enthusiastic conversation have happened if she was still punching a time clock?

Letting go of situations, relationships and belongings that have outlived their usefulness is also important if we are to experience grander possibilities for ourselves.

Marcus Bach explains, “This is one of the deep secrets of serendipity. While serendipity 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.”

Make room for unexpected good fortune in the weeks and months ahead. If you do, you’ll find yourself greeting each day with an enthusiasm and anticipation you never had before.

Did I mention that enthusiasm and anticipation are magnets for serendipity?

About the time I moved from Las Vegas, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh announced the ambitious Downtown Project which he is spearheading. His bold vision is to turn the languishing area into “Disneyland for entrepreneurs.”

New start-ups are moving to Las Vegas, co-working spaces with names like Work in Progress are buzzing and renovated apartments and condos are attracting entrepreneurial owners.

There’s another aspect to this project that is unique. Hsieh is determined to create a place filled with opportunities for serendipity which he calls meaningful collisions. I share his fascination with the phenomenon.

While the common understanding of serendipity is unexpected good fortune, I learned that it goes much further than that. The origin of the word comes from an old Persian fairy tale called The Princes of Serendip.

The story involves three young noblemen who traveled the world. They rarely found the treasures they were looking for, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater which they were not seeking.

In looking for one thing they found something else. Even though their goals eluded them, they were more than rewarded with their wayside discoveries. When they realized what was happening, they got an entirely new slant on life.

As Hsieh explains, “I think you can create your own luck. The key is to meet as many people as you can and really get to know them. I think for most people, college was the last time it was normal to just randomly run into people all the time. As you get older, you drive to work, see the same people every day, then go home. But the best things happen when people are running into each other and sharing ideas.”

Want to have more serendipitous adventures? 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 first imagined.

Although you may not be part of the Las Vegas Downtown Project, you can create serendipitous opportunities wherever you happen to be. Keep asking yourself, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”

Engage in social media (don’t just open a Facebook account). Join or start a MeetUp group. Attend seminars where ideas will be filling the air. Investigate co-working spaces in your community. Or start one. Find a mastermind group or accountability partner. Create a quest to explore a new subject. Refuse to settle for predictability.

Specialize in meaningful collisions and celebrate them as they happen. Or, as Tony Hsieh advises, keep creating your own luck.

Blogs and ezines have been filled with messages urging us to get those goals and plans set for the new year. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

Not only is goal-setting a popular tool for gaining focus and clarity, it’s also a fine time management tool.

Far fewer writers have been recommending that we incorporate serendipity into our plans. That’s not surprising since the popular definition of this word suggests that it means a happy accident, something unexpected.

That seems contrary to the Get Focused on Concrete Goals advice.

However, as I learned from Marcus Bach’s The World of Serendipity, there’s more to it than that. As Bach points out, the word originated with a story by Hugh Walpole written in 1754 and called The Princes of Serendip.

This tale featured three young noblemen who traveled the world, rarely finding the treasures they were looking for. Nevertheless, they continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater which they were not seeking.

In looking for one thing, they found something else. “Even though their goals eluded them,” writes Bach, “they were more than rewarded with their wayside discoveries.”

What Walpole was writing about goes well beyond the occasional happy surprises. The key to having regular experiences of serendipity does not occur if we’re sitting on our sofa wishing something exciting—a windfall, a new opportunity, perhaps—would drop into our laps.

Serendipity happens when we’re on our way to a dream, actively engaged in doing what we can to bring it to life. Along the way, we may discover something bigger and better comes to us, something that more than compensates for our failure to reach the original goal.

Marcus Bach shares how serendipity has played a role in his writing career. He says that  he always sends out a new manuscript with high expectations.

“But every once in a while a manuscript comes back. It is then that my faith in serendipity comes in. I affirm that though I did not reach the initial goal, there will be a wayside goal just as good, or better, waiting for me.

“In some twenty-five years of writing, every manuscript of mine that was rejected eventually turned out advantageously for me. Either I improved it, profited from the rejection, placed it elsewhere, adapted it for radio or television.

“I can only conclude that if things work this way with manuscripts, they work this way with life if we are sincerely serendipitous and hold to great expectations.”

So by all means keep designing new quests and see where they lead, but stay alert to all the unexpected rewards of the journey.

Justice Cardozo concurs. “Like many of the finest things in life, like happiness and tranquility and fame, the gain that is most precious is not the thing sought, but one that comes of itself in the search for something else.”

Sounds like a paradox, I know, but that just adds to the fun.

Have you noticed?

 

When I saw the Twitter post from someone saying they were going to claim intentional serendipity, I smiled. See, I’ve had a long love affair with the concept of serendipity.

Like most people, I always thought serendipity meant accidental discoveries. Then I read Marcus Bach’s The World of Serendipity and discovered it is far more exciting than that.

According to Bach, the idea originated in an old Persian fairy tale which was retold in 1754 by Horace Walpole. The tale had to do with the Princes of Serendip.

While traveling through the world, these three young noblemen rarely found the treasures they were seeking, but continually ran into other treasures equally great or even greater which they were not seeking.

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

Bach says, “A closer look at serendipity suggests that there are actually techniques involved. What seems to be chance is actually the result of (1) great expectations,(2) great sublimations, (3) great observations.”

We begin our journey expecting to reach a goal. When that doesn’t occur, we claim something equal or even better will take its place. Then we pay attention and see what shows up. (Note: we don’t abort the journey. This also doesn’t happen if we are armchair travelers waiting for something to show up.)

The author goes on to illustrate how this sort of serendipity has operated throughout his career as a writer. “No manuscript ever goes on its way to a publisher without a special blessing. I affirm that the manuscript will be accepted, that the publisher will like it, that the public will welcome it and that the book will sell.”

But once in a while one of the manuscripts comes back. “I affirm that though I did not reach the initial goal, there will be a wayside goal just as good, or better, waiting for me.”

“In some 25 years of writing, every manuscript of mine that was rejected eventually turned out advantageously for me. Either I improved it, profited from the rejection, placed it elsewhere, adapted it for radio or television, or benefited in some way from its return.”

Great expectations. Great sublimations. Great observations.

Or as Justice Cardozo said, “Like many of the finest things of life, like happiness and tranquility and fame, the gain that is most precious is not the thing sought, but one that comes of itself in the search for something else.”

So go ahead. Take up the journey and claim intentional serendipity for yourself. You’ll be delighted by the unexpected treasures that appear when you’re paying attention.

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.