Serendipity is Real

If You’re Obsessed With Your Goals, You Might Be Missing Out

Coming from a large immigrant family, my parents didn’t encourage a lot of “play” when I was growing up. It was hard to get my Dad to even sit down to watch television with us (he’d watch it standing up, always ready to go do something more productive). Downtime was discouraged, as was any college degree that wasn’t law, medicine or business.

Unfortunately for my parents though, I had other ideas in mind. I was drawn to design, acting, comedy and many things they didn’t see the point of.

But my parents’ focus on purpose and productivity wasn’t lost on me, and all my life I’ve been prone to extensive goal setting and extreme (attempts at) time management. I couldn’t help it. For most of my 20s I felt the need to focus solely on my goals and let nothing distract me.

During that time, a fellow actor took me out for pizza and confronted me about it. We had gone to a party the night before and he said some of people at the party thought I was kind of rude. When he told me this, I was shocked but I didn’t really care. I knew I was being standoffish at the party, but I told him the truth: I just didn’t see the point of being there.

Trying to get me to see his point, he went on to say that I wouldn’t always know why a specific person was put in my path, or know what I was going to get out of the situation I was in, but if I wasn’t open to the possibilities I’d miss them. He said sometimes the plans you have for yourself are smaller and more insignificant than the plans the universe might have for you.

My need to be focused, to know the purpose of everything I was doing, and my disregard for play, was hurting me. Did I miss out on something that night at the party? Maybe, maybe not. Did I miss out on something for the 10 years I was looking at life like that? Definitely.

Lack of play can be a death sentence for any career, whether it’s in the arts or not. The desire to get from point A to point B in the shortest, most efficient amount of time without ever wandering off path, can mean you miss out on those happy accidents that push you further and faster in a direction you never even considered.

When you find yourself in a situation that feels uncomfortably pointless, do you find yourself thinking:

  • Where is this going?
  • Is this worth my time?
  • Am I really getting anything out of this?
  • Instead of doing this, I should have been doing x, y, z

Now, any productivity article will tell you that if you don’t see the point of something, don’t do it. They say every hour must be accounted for and you should be working towards your goals each and every moment.

But, while you do that, there are things happening around you that could be helping you. There are opportunities that will come up, but you’ll say, “No” because you don’t see how it fits into your plan — even though there may be a plan or path to your goals that you just aren’t aware of.

Yes, your time is valuable. But serendipity is real. Not every meeting, conversation or engagement has to have a known goal.

I was holding on very tightly to my acting career until I ran out of money and couldn’t afford to pursue it anymore. When I finally accepted a full time job, I saw that as giving up on my artistic dreams. But three years later, I wrote a blog post based on life in the corporate world, which went viral and became the basis for my first book, which allowed me to quit my job to be creatively independent once again.

I didn’t see that full time job as a means to get to do what I really wanted to be doing, but somehow it ended up being just that. In fact, almost everything amazing in my life right now is not something I could have imagined or planned for.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should actively pursue things that aren’t interesting or important to you. No, keep doing that. But if something takes you off your known course for an hour, an afternoon, a year, or even several years, try letting it. Try accepting that you don’t know where exactly this distraction is taking you and see what happens.

Try to enjoy not knowing. Spend this time noticing things you may not have seen before or maybe just never took the time to look at. Make that pointless moment count in a different way — make it count towards you letting go of those life plans for a moment and discovering something you never planned to discover.

Allow some purposeless time in your life. Allow some time to wander. If you get an invitation to do something and it doesn’t seem like something you should do, do it anyway, maybe just that one time. Because you really have no idea what may come of it.

The Life Well Lived section is sponsored by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.