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What Is Serendipity?

What is serendipity? I would venture to bet that most people cannot rattle off the definition of this word without looking it up or using the Google. My vocabulary may not be the most expansive, but I have known this definition by heart since the age of sixteen. In the rare circumstance the word comes up in conversation, I end up seeming smarter than I really am for knowing it!

I started playing football and baseball at a young age. In middle school I picked up a basketball and started wrestling. I was able to catch onto both sports pretty quickly. The problem was that these two sports took place in the same season. Fortunately, middle school allowed me to do both at the same time.  High school was different.   

My freshman year I made the basketball team, which made the decision for me not to wrestle. If I am being honest, it did come to me as a little bit of a surprise. I was a decent basketball player, but most of my contributions that season came in the form of occupying a seat on the bench!

After coming to grips with the fact there was not much of a need for a 5’10” point guard who couldn’t shoot on a basketball team, I returned to the wrestling mat my junior year. I made the varsity team that year off pure athleticism mixed with just enough experience on the mat.

My life was intersected by Coach Scott Larsen that year. He had a big influence on my life in teaching me the value of commitment and hard work. He valued those two things. Coach was well read and had an expansive vocabulary. His articulation of that vocabulary was a different story. Imagine someone with a raspy voice trying to talk with a mouthful of rocks. That was Coach. He was a character to say the least!

We were not a very good team overall that year. As a program, we were in a rebuilding phase. That particular year, many of us learned through the process of losing. In those rare moments of success, Coach would give us our post-match pep talks that consisted of the following, “serendipity boys…serendipity boys.” He defined serendipity as, “the act of achieving something not earned.”

what is serendipity

That word and definition stuck with me. Let’s dive in to five ways the word serendipity intersects with our leadership journeys:

Sometimes We Need Good Luck

Coach used the word out of a sense of humor with a dash of sarcasm. He really did not intend to diminish the work we put into the process. No matter how hard we worked in practice, it did not always end up with a win on the mat. There were those moments when we did overachieve. Luck was on our side. We beat that wrestler or team that we probably shouldn’t have.

In leadership, sometimes we just need luck on our side. In a season of struggle, when odds are against us, we will take achieving something we did not earn! We shouldn’t depend on luck, but in difficult circumstances, we will take it.

Position Yourself To Achieve More

We should not grow dependent on the process of achieving something not earned, i.e. luck. Not a great strategy for your leadership journey! It probably will not carry you far. Positioning is everything in a leader’s journey. You position yourself through commitment and hard work. Being in the right place at the right time. When you do that, you put yourself in a position to achieve more consistently. Not just growing dependent on happenstance. You create your own luck most of time.

Laugh At Circumstances

Sometimes we put little work in and get great results. Other times, we put a lot of work in just to fall short. It is just the way the ball bounces sometimes. Circumstances can dictate a lot in our worlds. When good fortune shines on us and we achieve something not earned, you just have to laugh. When we work hard and things go south, you just have to laugh. There is far too little laughter in our world. It can bring levity to bad situations and can celebrate good ones. Just do it, laugh at your circumstances!

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Leaders can get way too much credit for the results for the achievement of the organization. A classic example of achieving something not earned. Do not get me wrong, the leader guides and directs their team, they deserve some credit. What I am saying is someone put a lot of work into a particular project, program, or production and they deserve the credit. Leaders celebrate successes, but more importantly celebrate those that earned it.

Leaders Earn The Blame

On the other hand, leaders should achieve something not always earned. The blame when things go wrong. Just as leaders get too much credit when things go well, leaders generally take too much blame for when things go wrong. The failure was likely earned somewhere else, but good leaders fall on the sword for their people. They earn the blame.

What is Serendipity Conclusion

Coach Larsen demanded a lot out of us. He worked us hard, especially in conditioning. He taught me the literal meeting of serendipity. When he gargled those infamous words, “serendipity boys…serendipity boys,” he always had a smirk on his face when he did it. In his own special way, it was almost congratulatory.

Coach and I stayed connected beyond my high school wrestling career until his sudden passing several years ago. I have been more than blessed in marriage, fatherhood, and my career. He would probably say, “Serendipity James…Serendipity.”

What is serendipity in the life of a leader? I can’t answer for anyone else, but in my world it is, “the act of being blessed with more than I deserve.”

Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection

Reflect on a time when you just got lucky and didn’t earn it.  Are you positing yourself to achieve more?  How often do you laugh at your circumstances?  Are you giving credit where it is due in success and accepting blame in failure? 

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