seeking serendipity

It's 2 am on a Friday night as I'm typing this up. I didn't have any predefined plans and I felt like treating myself, so I committed tonight being a solo Sam affair. Picking my poison: a solo movie theatre expedition to see Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, a Marvel blockbuster with an all-star Asian cast.

I learned tonight that spontaneity sometimes coincides with serendipity, but only if you allow yourself to be open. This spur-of-the-moment piece is a fitting sequel to last week's reflection about battling the iron grip of fear. I'll provide a commentary on the flagship moment of courage (a positive progress update!), while also exploring the slippery texture of serendipity in the wild.

On paper, going to a movie by yourself isn't the pinnacle of fear, though many are still averse to the idea. For me, it marked the return of another dynamic in-person experience. A full embrace of nostalgia packed into an immersive universe for 2-hours, a brief reprieve from the entropic space of Real Life.

As the history of legacy kung-fu flicks was scrolling through the preshow, another solo movie-goer walks down the aisle beside mine. I note this air of earned confidence — maybe this wasn't their first rodeo. My curiosity heightens. I take a quick glance over, and as luck would have it, she sits right in front of me. Her multi-patterned blouse and lavender dress accentuate the subtle elegance in her movements. The same thoughts flooded my mind just like last time at Book Club: to act or not to act?

This time, the problem was sitting with the agony of inaction, forcing me to reallocate my attention towards the on-screen superheroes. At the film's denouement and classic post-credits scene, my mind is still plagued by indescribable fear. The next series of events happen in rapid succession: A prompt walkout. Quick bathroom stop. Escalators out of the theatre. All the while, I'm haunted by the ghosts of hesitation and uncertainty.

I knew I had one last shot once we reached the theatre entrance. In the corner of my eye, the familiar UI of Uber's ride request flashes up. At this point, I felt an energetic sensation bubble up rapidly, as if I were punched by an in-person push notification saying: "You're up! Now's your time to shine!"

me: “‘Scuse me! Noticed you were also watching alone in the theatre. I’m so curious and just wanted to ask: how was it for you and how often do you usually do this?”

For once, my “always-on” perceived confidence evaporated out of my body. I was left scrambling for what to say, stammering through my first words like a glitchy electronic appliance. I noticed halfway through the conversation that I kept excessively pushing my mask up to my nose, like it was some kind of personal floatation device to make sure I didn't drown from this interaction. My internal monologue probably went something like this: Am I really this nervous? Oh geez. Get OUT of your head, Sam, and turn on that charisma!

I might be overextending the metaphor and hyperbole here, but it sure felt I was in a heightened state of limbo. On the flipside, maximizing the surface area of my discomfort zone was the very thing I had been yearning for. Many will say that approaching someone in public, whether with romantic intent or not, has asymmetric payoff: limited downside (just “no”; you're free to walk away), unlimited upside (who knows what the possibilities could be?) And it was true, a few minutes of banter turned into exchanging contacts with the open option of extending this connection into another meeting. Truly an accidental happy ending to my modern superhero tale, right?

As I walked back home deep in thought and buzzing with energy, I couldn't help but reflect on serendipity as a crucial part of a fulfilling life. Christian Busch delineates the science of serendipity where "luck can be caught, coached, and created". I especially love his framework for formalizing this playful practice: identifying the trigger > connecting the dots > following through with action. This type of reframing helps me shed the fear and gamify tense moments. I strive to be bolder all the time, so I think I'll commit to building this muscle over this next chapter of my personal development. After all, aren't first encounters just participating in another improv scene?

A few experiments I want to implement to stimulate serendipity uptake:

  • Engaging strangers by default in even the slightest interactions of the mundane day-to-day: coffee shops, gyms, street markets, co-working spaces

  • Exposing myself to disciplines and domains that live outside the general scope of my life (i.e. technology, business): art, dance, history, culinary

  • Adventuring to niche neighbourhoods outside of my regular periphery and routine: abandoned trails, run-down parks, artistic alleyways

  • Attending random themed events and meetups that prioritize an element of interaction, expression, wonder, and wander among other aspects

Phew, that's enough superhero roleplay for one weekend. Here's to seeking more serendipity for the rest of 2021!

Published by Sam (samwong) 8 months ago on Monday the 13th of September 2021.

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