Serendipity and other people

I recently got back into the workforce after seven months of much appreciated time off to recharge. Reflecting on my first day, I fell down a rabbit hole of introspection, and got to thinking about how I got here, and all of the things that had to happen for me to once again end up in another unreasonably good place.

I attribute pretty much all of it to serendipity, and to the kindness of other people.

The first thing that happened was that I gave a talk at Velocity Santa Clara this year, which was my first Really Real Talk. I’d been part of a panel on burnout in 2015, which was a great experience for me and for which I am very grateful to Courtney Nash for inviting me to. I’ve long suspected that my good friends Jennifer Davis and J. Paul Reed may have played some part in that and an assortment of other mysterious good things that happened to me.

Still, as this was my first Really Real Talk, they were taking a big chance on me, and for that I am thankful and honored that Courtney and Bridget Kromhout rolled the dice on me. I think it turned out alright. If nothing else, I hope people at least liked the dog photos.

And then there was serendipity.

The other big thing came to be because I happened to be in the right place — in this case Twitter — at the right time, and said the right thing. At the time I was, in a way, shouting into the void. It’s 100% true that those were goals I’d set for myself, and I am a person who achieves his goals. But that tweet wasn’t a request or a call to action. It was just wishful thinking.

But thanks to other people, it became something more than that.

It started with my friend Bart ten Brinke, whom I met when he visited Shopify in 2011. We’d kept in touch online, and he was a fantastic tour guide when Jenny and I visited Zwolle in 2014.

At the time, Bart was working at Nedap. We compared notes on scaling or configuration management or whatever it was we were concerned with at the time, and Bart told me about all of the cool things he and his colleagues were up to.

Fast forward to August 2016. I now find myself in a Twitter conversation with André Foeken from Nedap about a job that just happens to be opening up because Bart’s successor is taking a different role in the company, and they just happen to be looking for someone like me, are not only open to remote workers but are actively moving towards a remote-friendly culture, and they’ve got the culture and In Europeness that I’ve been searching for.

It really does seem too good to be true.

The next thing I know, I am in Groenlo, getting to know my future colleagues and the amazing culture at Nedap. Thanks in no small part to Bart for putting up with me over the years, and to Andre and Olaf van Zandwijk for taking a chance on a well meaning idiot from Canada.

Create serendipity

For me, serendipity was being in position to take advantage of an opportunity. It’s true that there’s not much I could have done to create this opportunity for myself. So, how does one create serendipity?

The answer is that we can’t. But, we can create serendipity for others. We can create opportunities for other people to take advantage of, and we can put ourselves in a position to see those people, or actively seek them out. And even if we can’t directly create opportunities, we can create connections. That’s why I never hesitate to retweet folks who are looking for jobs, or particularly interesting job postings.

Besides that, the same old advice to “be ready when opportunity knocks” still applies. And it doesn’t hurt to shout into the void sometimes; you never know who is listening.

Pay it forward

I’ve benefited throughout my career from the help of others who asked for nothing in return. I cannot thank those people enough for the opportunities they’ve given me. That’s why I will do my best to keep paying it forward.

I’ll know I’ve succeeded if I see my name on one of these posts in a couple years.

❤ Many thanks to Jennifer Davis for once again helping to turn my jumble of thoughts into something coherent ❤

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