serendipitous moments

How to allow for more serendipitous moments in your life

What we call mistakes are small serendipitous moments that help us learn. By using the term mistakes we create a negative connotation, when in reality these are moments that provide the best opportunities for insights, innovation, and improvement.

Everyone involved in sports or arts knows that the best way to learn a new skill is by practicing and making a lot of mistakes. Every mistake helps us move closer to where we need to be. But our mindset and self-limiting beliefs often get in our way, preventing us from living richer and more fulfilling lives. We usually say to ourselves: “I won’t be good at this” or “What would others think about my skills?“.

We fear mistakes and try to drive them out of our lives, failing to realise that in fact what we need is to get better in embracing whatever comes our way, and to allow serendipity into our lives.

The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Serendipity – Definition from Oxford dictionary

Serendipitous moments

I started dance classes with excitement, but after almost a year, I started feeling I was stagnating, that my understanding was persistently superficial and my skills were not improving. Although I have tried taking classes with different dance instructors I could no see any real progress, I was feeling mentally blocked.

So, I decided to give up, I didn’t see the point of continuing going to classes. Perhaps dancing was not for me after all. On my last day though something unexpected happened, a new dance instructor joined our class. I had never seen him before, he couldn’t speak English very well and he seemed extremely nervous as it was his first time teaching. At first he didn’t make the best impression on me but he was allocated to teach my level. I thought that my last class was going to be the worst.

How wrong was I?

He turned out to be a natural teacher with a very unique approach to teaching. This was the moment that everything changed. I had taken my decision to stop dancing but then the right person walks into the room and everything changes, serendipity. Four years later I am still dancing and enjoying every moment of it.

Many times we find ourselves stuck in the wrong situation but then a random serendipitous moment comes and changes everything. I really believe in the randomness of nature and our world. So, instead of allowing our emotions to take over and feel fearful of randomness, perhaps we should be more open and see where life takes us.

How a growth mindset helps us embrace serendipitous moments

The difference between learning and not learning is our mindset around mistakes.

If our mindset is fixed, then we see every mistake as a limit of our abilities, that we are just not good at dancing. We take feedback personally, and we see it as a threat to our status. Eventually we give up and stick to what we already know or feel comfortable with. For a dancer, this means having a set routine of moves and never trying anything else.

However, when we have a growth mindset we become fearless. We try new things without being afraid of feedback or criticism. We jump to the unknown knowing that we will initially fail. And this is what makes us succeed.

I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

Every time I did a mistake while dancing I didn’t dismiss it, neither I felt like I have failed. Instead I used it as an opportunity to practice some more and improve. All the small improvements over time added up and helped me reach to a good level of mastery. But this was not the end of the road, just the beginning of a new one, which would take me to a higher plain. I don’t think that we ever really “arrive”, we are always work in progress.

Dancing with strangers

As humans we are wired to social interaction, irrespective of introversion or extraversion. In ancient times, being social is what helped humanity evolve and thrive in a hostile environment. Our modern living environment and culture, mostly shaped by the industrial revolution are quite recent historical developments. We have be taught to be afraid of strangers, we have been told that the world is a competitive place.

But what would you do if you were not afraid? How many people you would talk to?

Looking back on my life I can now see how many chance encounters with people came and left because I wouldn’t allow myself to embrace those moments. I wouldn’t allow myself to reach out and engage with them.

I was always afraid to talk to strangers, let alone dance with them. Only when I discovered social dancing my life changed for the better. I discovered a whole new world of possibilities, of serendipitous moments that would have never have happened had I been afraid. Dancing has transformed my outlook on life and has allowed me to be fearless of the unknown.

Feeling comfortable being uncomfortable

Social dancing provides a unique opportunity to override our initial hesitation and fear when meeting someone for the first time. It makes us more social, more accommodating and more empathetic to strangers. The feeling I get every time I dance with someone I’ve just met is energising, regardless of their level of competence.

The almost spontaneous connection and trust makes me feel part of a bigger community. As a result, I am not afraid to try new or difficult moves, although I know that I will most probably make a lot of mistakes. There is no feeling of embarrassment because I know it is a psychologically safe environment for me to make mistakes. The salsa community is a very open, mature, fun, and sociable environment that makes everyone feel comfortable and happy to be there.

This is something that we should strive to recreate in any environment we are working in. Feeling emotionally safe helps us to move outside our comfort zone and try new things. This sounds like a paradox but it is what makes those serendipitous moments to happen.

Little serendipitous moments that all add up

Innovation happens when you are exposing your ideas to the real world and get feedback that pushes you to the “right” direction, whichever that is. Historically, most inventions and scientific breakthroughs have happened by pure chance at moments of serendipity.

“We move fast and take big risks. We cultivate curiosity. We are unafraid to fail knowing that each mistake contains a valuable lesson and gets us one step closer towards creativity and innovation.”

Number one value at Spotify

Dancing with people you have just met creates a lot of small serendipitous moments. From the initial smile and eye contact to the unexpected feedback, both good and bad. The collective wisdom I have received over the years from hundreds of partners is invaluable. No-one is the same, everyone is unique. Of course, I could easily play it safe and just repeat only the moves I knew really well. But that would be meaningless as I wouldn’t be learning anything new. By attempting all moves of various levels of difficulty with people that have different levels of competence I exposed myself to mistakes and useful insights about what works and what doesn’t.

Threat to serendipitous moments

In the past, Google, amongst many other Silicon Valleys companies, created a serendipity-designed workplace to increase chance interactions. The idea was that more interactions would lead to more innovation, and it worked. Google Maps begun as random thoughts on post-it notes, in fact post-it notes themselves were created by accident. Furthermore, when the new Apple headquarters in California the designers created a building in the shape of a giant donut. The intention was to increase chance encounters which will enable ideas to flourish. Steve Jobs was a big proponent of this idea.

Unfortunately we are currently living at a time where we spend many hours per day glued to our phones. Increasingly our communication and interaction with the wider world happens through a small screen that keeps narrowing our perspective. This prevents us from being present in the moment, and allowing for random encounters to happen.

When hybrid and remote work became the norm after the pandemic, the threat to serendipity increased further. According to a recent article on Forbes a survey found that most business leaders (69%) have concerns around the potential inhibiting of interaction and lack of spontaneous communication, such as the “water cooler” moments” that comes from remote working.

Without realising it we may be missing one of the key ingredients that make life exciting and interesting.

Embrace the randomness of life

Dancing is an endless balancing act of giving the right signals at the right time to the right parts of the body while continuously receiving feedback and adjusting. Every mistake is a small aha moment that provides us a new unexpected insight that helps you to evolve your skills. It is the unexpected that makes dancing Cuban Salsa a truly fun and liberating experience. The mistakes I make while in motion push me to improvise in order to maintain my flow.

In moments of serendipity we manage to make connections of seemingly unrelated elements. Serendipity happens when we are at the right moment at the right place, interacting with the right person. But this can only happen as long as we are open to the world around us and receptive to others. As long as we are brave to do mistakes, interact with strangers and embrace the randomness of life.

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