THE ART OF GETTING WHAT YOU NEED
Humans are split between two worlds: The first is the world of space and time, cause and effect, energy and matter; the second is the world of histories and futures, stories and meanings, memories and hopes.
The happenings of the first world can be measured and predicted as a way to understand the deep past and, sometimes, assume the far future. Cause and effect connect this world: When you do something here, your actions are bound by the logic unearthed by the laws of physics. This is the world your body lives in, and it’s a world your body has to live in harmony with.
The happenings of the second world, however, are complex and uncertain. They are a product of the collisions that occur whenever a multitude of infinitely varied experiences come together to produce new joint experiences. This is the world of our individual and collective minds. Stories and meanings connect this world. History is a story; the future is a story — memories are shaped by meaning; hopes are shaped by meaning. And it’s this second world that makes the first world rich and granular — that adds color where there is otherwise only an outline.
When these two worlds come into contact with each other, something interesting happens. In a world without humans, physical processes are either deterministic or random — things happen, and that’s that. In a world with humans, however, they are that, sure, but they are also judged to be good or bad relative to an observer — meaning what happens in the world can be valued on a spectrum, a spectrum of fortune and misfortune.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines luck as: “Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” This definition suggests that you can’t ever create luck through your own efforts but you can adjust your exposure to luck by managing your actions. The more intention you apply, and the better that intention aligns with reality, the less you leave up to chance. The less you leave up to chance, the less likely it is that bad luck is going to disrupt your life, and the more likely it is that good luck simply isn’t needed. In a way, this is the same as creating your own luck, but it lacks the serendipity that makes luck what it is.
To be lucky, then, can’t primarily be about action; it has to be about interpretation, about what the meaning of something is. It’s not hard to imagine how two people can have the same thing occur to them but make sense of this thing very differently, where one considers it to be a great fortune, while the other thinks of it as a great misfortune. The event itself is secondary. The important thing is how well the event fits into the existing story of the person experiencing said event. Managing our actions allows us to reduce the slings and arrows of chance in the first world, the world of space and time, which alters our exposure to luck — both good and bad — but it’s only the second world, the world of stories and meanings, that enables us to create what can be called luck.
There is an incident the psychotherapist Carl Jung shares in his biography about a client he once had, a client that came to him at a low point in his life. Over time, however, with the help of Jung, this client began to make progress. Not only that, but he even developed a great friendship with Jung. But the client’s wife, a possessive woman, didn’t like this. Jealous of the time her husband was spending with his therapist, she asked the man to prematurely stop the sessions against Jung’s best recommendations. And he did.
The way Jung tells it is that a few months later, he was at a conference out of town. He had just returned to his hotel room late at night, and as he was ready to get into bed, he heard a loud crack and then felt a sudden pressure on his skull. Looking around, he found nothing — no sign of life, no sign of fallen items, no sign of other disturbances. The next morning, however, he received a call informing him that his old client had passed away the night before. The cause? A self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head around the same time Jung was getting back to his hotel room.
This story reflects a personal superstition Jung had throughout his life: He was a believer in the paranormal. He thought that two people or two events could be connected to each other beyond cause and effect and through meaning — that is, say, a husband and a wife who have loved each other for decades would be capable of sharing a deep, inner bond beyond actions confined by space and time, almost as if this meaning existed on a different plane of existence altogether. He called this synchronicity.
Today, scientists have diverged away from Jung’s superstitious intuition, and they attribute synchronicity more to coincidence than they do paranormal forces. That said, it’s generally accepted that it plays an important role in how we understand the world we interact with. There might not be a logical connection between a husband feeling an uneasy pressure in his heart while at the supermarket and the heart-attack suffered by his wife of 30 years at exactly the same time elsewhere, but if that’s what he feels, it completely changes how he understands his life: first, in the realm of stories and meanings, and subsequently, in the realm of space and time.
These examples of synchronicity may at first appear detached from the idea of luck, but at its core, the process of identifying synchronous experiences is the same as the process of creating luck. When two disparate events are connected in your mind as having a relation beyond physical cause and effect, you are creating meaning. When you create meaning, you reconfigure your attention to see more connections in a random world. When you see more connections in a random world, you are more likely to notice luck where you might not have before because your surface area of recognition is greater — your attention is more attuned to certain surroundings.
There is nothing lucky about Jung’s old client taking his own life or an old man’s wife suffering a heart-attack, but the fact that both people made the connections they did changes how they interact with their loved ones moving forward — it changes what they remember, what they expect, what they value, what they are grateful for, what they are moved by. As long as their feet are planted on the ground in the real world, assigning the meanings they do to the coincidences in their lives only adds more beauty, more potentiality, to the depth and the richness of their experiences.
By definition, the creation of luck lies beyond intentional action. It’s something that happens, something that happens randomly yet fits into your life perfectly. It’s this fitness between randomness and the reality of our lived experiences that synchronicity helps establish, and it’s this same fitness that generates meaning and, thus, luck.
Whether we realize it or not, we all make use of synchronicity in various non-obvious ways. Some people, naturally, do this more than others. In fact, a small minority take it so far they ignore the fact that we live in a physical world dictated by laws that don’t bend to their personal expectations. And that’s a problem. That said, being intentional about assigning synchronous meanings can yield gifts that are otherwise hidden, and those who ignore this possibility also ignore a level of beauty not found in a world of pure causes and pure effects. There is a certain magic that comes with generating your own luck, and if approached with humility and awe, this magic can spark up a special sense of aliveness and vividity.
Personally, I spend a fair amount of time meeting new people in my life. I enjoy interesting company, so this is one of the things I value and prioritize. And yet, sometimes, meeting new people can be exhausting — the novelty wears off, the next person begins to resemble the last person, and my own boredom with it all can make even the most fascinating encounter appear mundane. It’s often the same with email. Because of my writing, I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of really thoughtful people reach out to me on a daily basis. These interactions aren’t something I would trade for the world. But, sometimes, due to the sheer volume, it can start to feel like a task.
Recently, I have started to ask myself a simple question anytime I find myself falling into these habit patterns: Why is this person in my life, right now, in this particular moment? To be sure, I’m not inclined towards believing that some divine plan has brought them here or that it’s anything more than a coincidence, but the simple act of treating it like there might be a reason for it is generally enough to open my eyes wide enough to actually see the person: who they are, how their life is colliding with my own, and all of the interesting things I could potentially learn from them.
And true enough: Because I’m suddenly paying attention to the words coming out of the other person’s mouth or listening to the actual voice behind the writing in the email, I notice things that I otherwise would not. Sometimes it’s something as simple as realizing that a certain book recommendation is exactly what I need at a particular point in my life, one that I wouldn’t have found without the stranger emailing it to me, one that perhaps even changes the trajectory of my life. Other times, it’s seeing that the person who just introduced themselves to me has qualities that I admire, a few that I even lack, and that I find that moving and inspiring and that I want to spend more time with them, time that may even lead to a relationship that, one day, I will look back on, not able to imagine having been without.
Both people and events travel along paths, and every time they merge with other paths, they create new paths. Along these new paths, there are new meanings, new coincidences, new sources of luck. But new paths don’t always get walked because we don’t always have the vision to take them. Synchronicity is that vision, and helped with intention, it’s a vision that creates and generates worlds — worlds of beauty and serendipity, life and zest, but most of all, worlds of potential, the potential for something brighter, something gentler, and perhaps, something a little more human.
EDITOR: I had a successful commercial insurance boss early on who preached “activity breeds activity”. As a young bond producer working under him, he asked proteges to get busy in activities leading in the direction of their goals; one contact or event led to another, and pretty soon we were attracting more opportunities than we could handle. The secret was we had a goal, and, without realizing it, our activities attracted its outcome. In my book, “Set Your Own Salary”, I explain how I arrived in Jacksonville FL, a city I had never been to before. With the goal of starting my own insurance agency, I set out working a year to earn the right to sit for a license exam, learning the insurer landscape, putting together a strategy, and launching at the end of the required period. Only synchronicity could have brought three separate events together and pointed me to one insurance company in particular as a chosen vehicle. One was an impossible bond written across town by a competitor, another word-of-mouth information from the agent’s license exam, and the third getting beat in a bid in rural Georgia using an exceptionally competitive product. Each event hit me over the head with an arrow pointing in the direction of this important insurance company. Synchronicity was alive and well in startup entrepreneurship then and remains just as alive to use today!