Should I call it serendipity?


My city at night

They’ve turned the lights out; it must be late. The Kuala Lumpur skyline fires up around 7.30pm, signalling time for the children to be in bed. And when the lights are extinguished around midnight, I know that I too should be in bed. All I can see right now are tiny vertical flashes scaling the Petronas Towers. Like Morse code, they warn of the concrete, steel and glass spears below. And out there, in that ochre city, which I just can’t take my eyes off, it just keeps on happening. The mention of ‘serendipity.’

It happened last night as I was in the taxi home from dinner, with a lady I had only just met, but with whom I must collaborate. It happened last week, when big ideas and powerful resources for a local NGO started dovetailing perfectly. It happened in a crowded school hall last month as I perched, gripped by the exquisite words of author Shamini Flint. And it happened for four whole days during the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference in The Hague this time last year. Now, on my way to the 2018 conference, I am intrigued and exhilarated at the thought of what’s ahead.

The FIGT Gateway

FIGT is a forum for developing best practice and sharing research for globally mobile individuals, corporates, educators, academics, small business owners, entrepreneurs, the media and arts. Now celebrating its 20-year anniversary, across the world local affiliates are being established, strengthening and widening the research, support, learning and vision that it entails. For me, FIGT is a gateway. An entry point into practical, thoughtful and inspiring worlds, and the calibre of the people is incredible.

Last year, it hosted over 200 people in situ (thousands more online), from 39 countries, 70 presenters and notched up over 33 hours of inspiration.  Like urgent and energised confetti, business cards flew. Conversations thrived not only over coffee at break times, but in corridors, in lobbies, in the resident art gallery, and in the elevators. Education professionals educated us. Career professionals provided us practical roadmaps for our futures. Authors signed and sold their books. Third Culture Kids (TCKs), now parents of TCKs, shared strategies for successful survival. PhD students and consultants revealed findings from years of study. And a host of varied experienced speakers gathered us and inspired us.

The beating heart

So what was it about FIGT that I found particularly serendipitous? Perhaps it was the fact that I was there in the first place. How, after only a few months of actively pursuing a shift in career, I found myself in the beating heart of the expat corporal. How, after realising in November that writing was truly my passion, I found myself invited to join the Parfitt Pascoe writing scholars and between us, had committed to capturing every presentation in the event. How, having always grappled with why I had found my last 11 years as an accompanying spouse challenging, I suddenly realised how others have tackled such challenges and refashioned them into opportunities.

So is it serendipity?

Some of this can be traced to specific people. I need to thank Jo Parfitt for inviting me to be a writing scholar, and I need to thank Dounia Bertuccelli for assigning me the interview with Sebastien Bellin, one of the most humble yet empowering people one could hope to conjure. And I need to be grateful for the support that I have received from my husband to invest in this new chapter in my working life. But, looking back across the last few months, I think there is more to this than serendipity.  We are like-minded people creating ourselves opportunities, and we should be grateful for the time we have available. Time, that in my early days as an accompanying spouse, I found both frightening and destructive.

Poised in the quiet

My life, like many others, often feels like a movie on fast-forward. It is where I seem to work best – on that exhilarating edge between ‘pretty busy’ and ‘wheels falling off.’ But recently, with all this talk of serendipity, there have appeared more and more moments of quiet. As if someone somewhere is pressing pause, and offering me an opportunity to stop, look around and soak up what is around me. Like an animal, poised, picking up the scent of the prey. Sebastien Bellin made it clear that at that moment, when he had been blown up, it was his acute clarity and determination to live that revealed the resources available to him. Someone’s tie became a tourniquet. The baggage trolley became his mobility. And that’s what kept him alive.

And that is what I think is happening. I think these opportunities abound, all around us, every day, but too often we are too distracted to notice them. We walk past them, among them and through them unwittingly. So perhaps it’s serendipity, perhaps it’s luck. I think I’ll stick with Hemingway; you make your own luck. And you can only make your own luck when you’re willing to accept that all this time, it’s sitting there, often quietly, right before you.