By: Danielle Kristine Toussaint
According to the internet, we have Horace Walpole to thank for the addition of the word “serendipity” to the English language. He first used the word in a letter in 1754, noting that he derived the term from a “silly fairy tale” about three Persian princes who sailed off to an island called Serendip in pursuit of riches. Today, we know Serendip as the island of Sri Lanka, and many use the word serendipity to refer to delightful encounters that come about through happenstance.
With time, some have come to conflate serendipity with luck, which I think is a mistake. Where luck must rely on some mystical power from a source over which we have no control, the power to create the conditions for serendipity is within our own hands. Entrepreneurs, especially, should master the art of creating serendipity. Each day we have the opportunity for enriching and delightfully unplanned encounters. These interactions are often what spark our creativity and challenge our thinking in ways that open new possibilities for our businesses.
Here are three ways to create your own serendipity.
1) Smile at strangers.
I say this with a few caveats, recognizing that we do live in a scary world where not everyone wishes us well. Still, we must do unexpected things to have unexpected results. Maybe we’ve gotten into the habit of looking unapproachable because we want to block any unwanted or unwelcome attention. I’m with you. I can mean mug with the best of them.
It’s possible, though, that by looking unapproachable, we’re shutting down conversation from polite strangers who could be potential clients or collaborators. Be reasonable and use discretion to consider if you could be more approachable by smiling and greeting others as you move through the day in safe spaces.
I recently took an Amtrak train from Washington D.C. to New York City. While waiting for the cafe to open, a stranger sat across from me. We smiled and greeted each other. It turned out that we were both entrepreneurs. He had extensive experience and was incredibly generous, even offering me an impromptu coaching session during our train ride. We’ve since connected on LinkedIn and stayed in touch. I’ll never quite know what prompted that random act of generosity. Our paths may cross again in an intentional way, or they may not. Still, I’m grateful our serendipitous meeting.
2) Go outside.
There’s a Ghanian proverb that loosely states, “You must get out of your house to learn.” I constantly find new ways in which this proverb is instructive. Our “house” may be the physical space in which we’re working each day. It may also be a figurative space that we occupy mentally and emotionally. This “house” can be so introspective that it becomes insular and unproductive. We must get out of our house daily to keep learning, growing, and advancing.
Our “house” may also be our worldview, informed by our cultural and social networks. We must get out of this house, going beyond what’s comfortable and easy to forge new connections and uproot closely-held but ultimately unhealthy biases. We must get into the habit of periodically going outside our daily routines, putting ourselves in spaces that provoke, inspire, and educate.
Schedule visits to a local museum, theater performance, or cultural activity where you know you’re likely to encounter folks of a different background. Start learning a new language. Take a fifteen-minute walk each day around your own neighborhood, being mindful to greet at least one neighbor. Join a diverse community where you’ll have close proximity to people from various professional backgrounds.
When I found that my professional network, though full of amazing women, was becoming homogenous, I sought out diverse communities of women leaders. I joined Tide Risers and Ellevate Network. I’ve found both organizations incredibly valuable in helping me get out of my “house.”
3) Mentor someone.
We’ve all heard it said that “time is money.” That’s what makes the giving of our time such an incredible act of generosity. Like money, when it is invested well, time can lead to rich rewards in the future. It doesn’t take much time or commitment to mentor others. For some, a fifteen-minute conversation, e-mail exchange, or quick text checking on them or sharing a helpful resource goes a long way. Generosity begets generosity. A sure way to have more unexpected, delightful encounters in your life is to give generously of your time and knowledge to others. You’ll be amazed by how quickly good things come back to you.
Members of Ellevate Network have the option to connect and provide coaching and career advice to other members. There are also many in-person opportunities to forge connection. I’ve taken special advantage of the monthly leadership lunches and have met amazing people. Not surprisingly, the most serendipitous things have happened as a result. Just last month, a fellow Ellevate Network member — who I got to know at the monthly lunches — attended a complimentary coaching session that I offered. Afterward, she agreed to serve as a panelist and caterer for one my company events, which we leveraged as cross-promotional across digital channels.
[Related: Why You Should Join an Ellevate Squad]
Let’s say it again for the people in the back.
There’s so much we can’t control in life, so embrace the things we can control. We can smile and greet people throughout the day, if we choose to. We can go outside, opening ourselves up to the world of inspiration that awaits, if we choose to. We can mentor someone else, sharing what we’ve learned generously, if we choose to. It’s our choice. Serendipity awaits.
Danielle Kristine Toussaint, founder + CEO of She Thinks Purple, is a storyteller, strategist, and social impact leader. She has been the writing pen behind op-eds and speeches for Huffington Post, Forbes.com, and TEDx. Danielle holds a B.A. in Political Science and African American Studies from Yale University and a M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. She’s a founding member of Tide Risers and excited to expand the network to Washington, D.C. in 2019. She is a member of #BFFLabs: Black Female Founders Pre-Accelerator Spring 2018 Cohort.
Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.