There was an interesting article in today's New York Times Business section entitled "Well-Orchestrated Accidents," as told to Patricia R. Olson. It caught my eye because of the word "accident." That word, being in the business section, seemed a touch out of sync for me, but it was enticing enough to catch me because I am a firm believer in the power-magic-inevitability of "serendipity," a word not usually used in the same sentence as "business plans."
I assume the column comes under a regular heading called "The Boss." I wouldn't know if that is a regular column or not. Nutty artist that I am, I hardly ever read the Sunday Business section. I had to be lured to read it by the front page piece entitled "Pulling Art Sales Out of Thinning Air," which was all about art sales in this crazy economy ( and remember, that read "thinning air," not thinning hair, which also is a by product of a tough economy).
Anyway, I enjoyed the read which told about Evan WIlliams, C.E.O. of Twitter, which, until a month or so ago, I was fairly unfamiliar with. I especially liked reading about Mr. Evans and his transformation from Nebraska farm boy to web mogul. And I was struck by the journey that he has taken so far, at the ripe old age of 36. I like life journeys. The voyeur in me especially loves reading about other people's. I am pretty nosey.
I handed the article to my 22 year old son and suggested he read about the extent of "going with the flow" in this man's life, and about how being in the right place at the right time seemed to work to his advantage. My son dismissed me out of hand after he read it: "It has nothing to do with serendipity. In fact, it's just the opposite."
So I went back and read the piece again.
Please forgive my metaphor overload, but after a second read, I still maintain that it is all about allowing the wind to take you places, but knowing enough when to steer the boat yourself. It made me think back to all the times that I have followed the wind, even never knowing where I was going, and yet I found myself ending up in the best place for me to be.
It has happened to me from the time I was a kid until the present. Yes, I take active steps toward goals that I set for myself. But many time those goals come about as the result of something totally unplanned and unanticipated in my life. They are lucky accidents. Directions I never dreamed of. And I follow them. Some examples of pure chance that ended up changing my life for the better:
1) When I was a kid, my family moved to Stony Point, New York (because it was the only town in which they could afford to buy a house) and in 7th grade, I met the love of my life, and future husband.
2) Strictly on a lark, at the age of 19, I took a job at a school where I met Lois Bohevesky, who began to teach at the same school. She turned me on to puppetry, so I went with her into NY for a summer to study at the Bil Baird Theatre.
3. Because of that, my husband-to-be and I became puppeteers.
4. We transferred to SUNY Buffalo to be together ( and I passed up the chance to attend Parsons in NYC and major in illustration). At some point we gained a reputation as puppeteers in Buffalo and we were hired to perform at a Craft Fair. The committee that hired us was not able to pay our full fee, so they gave me a booth to sell my hand made puppets.
(that's the very booth above)
5. Because of that, we were hired to perform at
another craft show, and after that I ended up being invited to exhibit my
creations as well at a very reputable craft fair at Kenan Center, in Lockport,
6. At that craft show, I heard about the American Crafts Council show in Rhinebeck, NY and thought I would give that a try.
7. I did that show and began to sell my dolls/soft sculptures all over the country, full time.
8. When we moved to Boston, I took a job teaching soft sculpture at the Boston Center for Adult Ed. Because I taught there, I got to take a free course, so I tooka course in graphic design. I learned all about getting things into print and I made a decision to pursue illustration…again.
I ended up leaving Tropic Magazine with an assignment that very vacation and I did a number of assignments for both of those publications for several years after
11. In 1987, when our oldest son was a baby, we took a trip around the country for a month. What the hell. I took my portfolio. I ended up doing art for the Chicago Times Magazine, Chicago Magazine, and the Detroit Free Press after that.
Let's fast forward to 1997. Past the "baby
period" and kid chasing period. Past other countless examples of
accidental life (we’ll keep this basically professional). Two more sons arrived (and, believe me, they were REALLY happenstance) and I decided at some point to go back to illustration.
12. One day, completely out of the blue, I got a call from someone I hadn't spoken to in about 15 years. We started gabbing and she gave me the name of someone running an SCBWI group in Cambridge. On yet another lark I went to the meeting and that led to attending my first SCBWI conference. And from that point on I was bitten by the bug I had put aside many years before: to pursue illustration, especially for children's books.
For me, the rest is history. Other "on a larks" and other "simply-by-chance" episodes. They keep happening to me. Like the on-line writing group I "accidentally' ended up in around 2000, that is still growing strong. Like the group of artists I "accidentally" connected with, who, even after my reluctance, have now turned me on the idea of licensing my art. I value their energy and ideas and find them inspiring. As a result I will be doing the Surtex show in May. Yet another ride on the wind, and I have no idea where I will end up.
Am I preparing for Surtex with a vengence? You betcha! I don’t leave that much to chance, ya know. But still, I often wonder: how did I get here? Sometimes the only answer really is "the wind."
So, that is why I do believe in meaningful accidents and the power of serendipity. Life is much better when you do not try to over-plan. My advice to aspiring artists is to always leave themselves open to good accidents. Go catch some wind. See where you end up. And then know when to jump off onto your own two feet.