Perspective: Serendipity

Mar 14, 2021

I recently happened upon one of my favorite words -- serendipity -- in an essay by Garnette Cadogan where he shares this definition, “a secular way of speaking of grace.” I associate this phenomenon with unintended but somehow focused luck. One of my serendipitous stumblings led me to the job that would be the highlight of my career and connect me to a lasting circle of friends.

Moving to the Fox Valley, I was looking for a librarian position and remembered visiting Fermilab. It had intrigued me so I called the head librarian. When he informed me there were no job openings, I was still interested in seeing their library and asked if I might visit.

After giving me a tour, the librarian and I spent some time talking. Then as I was leaving, he told me he was in fact planning to retire and encouraged me to apply for his job. What kind of synchronized serendipity was that?!

Scientists and researchers have long credited serendipity in their discoveries -- x-rays, the World Wide Web, Velcro, the structure of DNA, penicillin. Microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Even for us non-scientists, serendipity can be exhilarating in big and quiet ways. But without curiosity and an open mind, we might miss it.

I’m Paula Garrett and that’s my perspective.

Paula recommends checking out the origin story behind her favorite word.