Wednesday, December 22, 2004

When Serendipity Whacks 

It's come to my attention that I failed to post anything about a terrific one man show now playing downtown: Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure. An oversight to be sure.

The show is about Gorman's attempt to follow a 10-link chain of googlewhacks to the end. The way it worked was that he found two googlewacks. He contacted each. If successful in meeting them, he asked them to find two googlewacks. He then tried to follow a single chain of googlewacks through 10 individual meetings. His 90-day mission took him all over the world and it is a story that you simply must hear relate in person in order to fully understand just how amazing his adventures were. He is a raconteur par excellence.

What made this show so compelling to me is that as Gorman relates his fantastical/ all true/completely documented adventure, he revels in relating to his audience the incredible luck and coincidence that befell him continually during the time he was on his quest. As anyone who knows me can attest, my own life (both professionally and personally) is chock a block with insane luck and coincidence.

It's not just to me that my life seems improbable. Others comment on it continually as soon as I explain pretty much anything about myself. For instance, I have a relatively senior position in a very large company and serve in a role for which I have zero qualifications in the traditional sense. All of my peers have advanced degrees in business (MBAs) or technology (MSs), or sometimes both. I have a liberal arts degree in drama and my grad work was in acting. On top of it, I'm no genius. This is no false modesty on my part. (I've dated a genius. I know the difference.) Without boring you with the details of how I ended up here, the point is simply that my current professional position is more than somewhat improbable.

Years ago, I had a colleague who read (and taught courses on reading) tarot cards. She was clearly freaked out by the hand that I drew and I asked her why. She said, "These cards are traditionally called the 'hand of god' cards because they are illustrated with a hand coming down out of the clouds holding the suit's symbol. There are four of them in the deck, one for each suit. You drew all four cards in a single hand." I know nothing about tarot. So I asked, "What does that mean?" She replied, "You have a lot of outside forces helping you. You must be very lucky." Without thinking about it, I said, "I am."

Now what does lucky mean, exactly? Richard Wiseman took up this question in his research and published a book on it called The Luck Factor. It's an interesting read. Wiseman approached his research with an open mind. He was ready to discover that luck was some form of ESP, that there was no such thing, that there was such a thing. Whatever.

Wiseman ran some interesting experiments. Here's what he ultimately boiled everything down to: lucky people consider themselves lucky AND they behave accordingly. They expect good fortune and they capitalize on any opportunities that they see, assuming something good is likely to come out of it.

In fact, one of the features of Wiseman's book that I particularly liked is that he does two things: 1) he gives you short quizzes so you can learn about your own luck factor and 2) he makes suggestions about how those who are not feeling lucky can proactively modify their behavior in order to potentially change their situation.

Watching the incredibly entertaining Mr. Gorman (Go see him SOON...HE CLOSES IN EARLY JANUARY!), I was enthralled by his storytelling, his enthusiasm and by the huge volume of coincidences within his story. They really seem too far out to be true in many cases. And yet, knowing my own life and having read Wiseman, I have to wonder if serendipity isn't whacking each of us all the time, day in and day out, all month long. Perhaps the trick is simply to tune ourselves into it.

Happy Festivus, dear readers.
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