Living life is a bit like climbing a giant mature oak tree. We start at the base of the tree, and the entire canopy is spread out above us. Every path is open. As we climb higher, some options shut behind us. Take the left branch and you cannot take the right branch.
Oh sure, sometimes you can drop down a bit and backtrack, or perhaps swing sideways from one limb to the other, but for the most part, progress means upward momentum, and making a few key decisions as you pick your way through a canopy of choices.
Last week my friend David wrote a blog post about the key moments and decisions that have dramatically shaped his path in life. David was inspired to write his post by yet another blogger – a personal finance writer, Mr. 1500, who called these key moments his “Serendipity Days.”
Consideration of our own personal Serendipity Days is a concept that immediately resonated with me and many readers of both David and Mr. 1500. If you think back along the path you’ve picked through the great canopy of choices and events in your life, what are the moments that have disproportionately shaped who and where you are now?
Here are mine, in more or less chronological order.
My Serendipity Days
1. Realizing in 7th grade that everyone was so worried about what people thought about them that they didn’t have time to actually worry about me. Nipping that natural teenage narcissism in the bud and realizing no one actually gave a shit about me was incredibly liberating.
2. At 16, tracking down and winning several thousand dollars in scholarship funds that allowed me to travel to Japan and live near Kobe for a summer. This is the experience that taught me that bureaucracy only exists to challenge creative people to find more interesting solutions.
3. At 20, meeting the man who I would marry. A good life partner makes all the difference, and I couldn’t ask for a better one than Homebrew Husband.
4. Having my first baby quite young. I was 24. Every day I am grateful that I became a first time parent in the pre-mommy-war days.
5. Deciding to start a garden. I’m not really sure where I end and my plants begin anymore.
6. Teaching myself to swim as an adult so I could do triathlons. I grew up as a smart, fat, non-athletic kid, and didn’t see myself as the kind of person who did stuff like that. Proving myself wrong changed my life and my body fat percentage for the better.
7. Deciding to start this blog. So much reward. So much frustration. So much opportunity. So much WTF, internet? So much having to own my own perspective publicly.
8. Having my second child and the ugly, untreated-for-far-too-long postpartum depression that followed. I came through depression a far kinder, more empathetic person than I went in. Daria is still my spirit animal, though.
9. Losing effective binocular vision for a couple months because of a difficult recovery from eye muscle surgery. Fucking terrifying. I couldn’t stand up without the world swirling around me into major vertigo. I couldn’t walk in a straight line without holding onto the wall. It was much like being falling-down drunk without any of the fun parts of drinking. Amazing how much perspective there is in not being able to see properly, though.
10. The AHA! moment of learning about the Mr. Money Mustache philosophy of early retirement and better living through badassity. MMM makes financial freedom so simple – earn more, spend less, put the difference into Vanguard and when you have 25 times your annual expenditures, you’re free. (As with so many things in life, simple doesn’t mean easy.)
I’d love to know what some of your Serendipity Days are – leave a comment with a few that pop into your head. Or, if you’re a blogger and also feel moved to write about this, please feel free to share a link to your own post below.0
Great post. Probably the most important thing I did was after completing college. I was in a dead-end job selling prepaid cellphone minutes. I saved up money, lived very simply, and “retired” for what I thought would be 6 months. It was during that time I figured out that maybe I was a really bad employee and might make a better entrepreneur. My life (moving out of the Carolinas, getting into renewable energy, starting a solar company, meeting my wife, having kids…) everything came from that decision to remove myself from the rat race long enough to get my head on straight. I will not be backtracking on those choices. I might look like I am still participating in the rat race, but it’s on my terms and more importantly with my values.
Laura ~ Raise Your Garden says
Almost loosing my 2nd baby in the NICI at the Children’s hospital radically changed my life. I realized at that moment that all the little petty things that bothered me in life just didn’t matter, her life, that’s what mattered. Having this darling girl in my life has stretched me and makes me so happy! I couldn’t imagine life without it and I feel like I snatched her back from the claws of death, I was that close to loosing her! The doctors were befuddled and said there was nothing more they could do, she just had to heal on her own.
Almost nothing bothers me now, I am able to blow just about anything off and just be happy because I now know what it means to suffer.
What an awesome post!
Mr. Money Mustache has been a huge eye-opener for me. My life has been radically changed from learning at a young age that there’s a path you can follow to financial independence. I had some Mustachian tendencies already but now I am constantly trying to maximize efficiency in my life. I have also found that fancy, expensive things that other people seem to really really enjoy (such as a meal at a high end restaurant) do not appeal to me at all because although it may taste great, the psychological burden of knowing I am wasting money makes me have an aversion to such things but also intensifies the pleasure of simple, free activities like board game nights.
Ole Ange says
2015 has been a big year for me if we’re counting serendipity days. A truly banner, blowout year. The kind of year where everything I thought to be true turned out not to be true. A year where I’ve encountered someone new: me.
#1 The day I figured out that in spite of all tests to the contrary, I’m an introvert. Not a people hater, but a gatherer of energy from alone time. And one who never actually gets any, so who rarely gathers.
#2 The day shortly afterward that I figured out I am not *actually* a night owl, but have acted like one for over 24 years because I didn’t know #1 about myself and thus never carved out the alone time I needed so I took it in desperation during wee hours by becoming hyper productive (and sometimes inventing and completing unnecessary projects).
#3 The day I found out for the first time what it feels like to be well-rested, after having meet need #1 above, and thus not needing to carry through with the remediation described in #2 above.
#4 The day I looked around my home and realized that, though we collectively have a hard time keeping up with countertop perfection, I am actually exceptionally organized, from top to tail. After years of thinking I am a total mess, and being told I was. Everything’s in neat rows, there are no surprises, I don’t keep things I don’t like or use, I don’t buy much, and I always know where the scissors/tweezers/(insert-every-item-in-house-here) are.
And here are a few oldies: -The first day of sales of my first successful business, the “Postinarie Car Washing Service,” age 7. The day I realized hanging dejectedly from the swings with my best friend in late summer that it really is possible to be bored even when there are a million things to do, and that somehow happiness has to come from within. (I also learned that summer that it *is* possible to eat too many peaches).
Thanks for the mention today!
MMM was a turning point for many. His philosophy seems so obvious once you understand and embrace it, but still such a foreign concept to most who have yet to be introduced. Keep it up MMM!
Loved your tree analogy. It reminded me of this quote from Balzac:
“Vocations which we wanted to pursue, but didn’t, bleed, like colors, on the whole of our existence.”
Those are the branches not taken.
Aahh, thank you for this post. It sparked a lot of thoughts and memories today. So many seemingly small things have affected my life in huge ways, like how I decided, in spite of being in the midst of an awful, awful bout of depression, to step totally out of my comfort zone and join some people I barely knew on a backpacking trip. That hike started me on a journey out of that depression and into an obsession that has provided me with countless life experiences.
I might have to write a post like this, too!
Laura T says
One of my serendipity days came when I was in college and my roommate talked about Motley Fool and becoming a millionaire. That lead to the path towards financial independence. Another was the day I decided to commute to work instead of my social life. Because of that decision I eventually met my husband.
Thanks for bringing up this concept. I had thought how my life would have been different if my parents had moved into a different house when I was entering the 3rd grade, but not so much about what were the key moments and decision I made that shaped my life.
Kitty Sharkey says
Apparently I’m not good at climbing trees. Every time I chose a path it ended up with the branch breaking and a terribly painful fall. But I’d brush myself off and start over again… and again… and again. I seem to be doing okay on my current branch. It’s a bit wobbly and I’m unsure of my footing. But with all those other weak ass branches out of the way, I have a pretty good view above and around me. Not many choices left, but the tree is still growing. If I’m patient perhaps a more solid branch will grow and I’ll be happy to just sit with some stability on it and look down at where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and feel content and without worry.
Nicole S. says
I love this. Very often I think about how if I had not made the decision to go to culinary school, I never would have met my husband, and if I hadn’t met him we wouldn’t have our two little girls, etc. I wish I could think of more serendipity days, but I can’t. Maybe more will come to me later.
A lot of the big ones are were too painful to trot out on the internet, so I’ll set those aside.
The absolute biggest one was studying for the bar exam while finishing my masters degree and studying for the first level of the CFA exam…and realizing that, without a shadow of a doubt, I had to get off that ride.
Taking an introductory massage course and realizing that I was *meant* to do this. Then, doing it.
Getting thrown into a major leadership role and forced to be the leader I never wanted to be.
What’s next? 😉
Homebrew Husband says
Some of these were obvious at the time, others only identifiable looking back, I think. It is like while you’re walking the path you don’t realize you’ve even made a turn or else these are moments that didn’t change my life immediately but taught something that influenced a later choice.
* Learning to program in BASIC on a DEC PDP-11.
* Finding out my best friend in middleshool had made up all the adventures his super high level D&D characters had supposedly been on.
* Moving to Seattle because when I’d visited, it felt like “home” in a way that home never had.
* Getting a temp gig at “some internet bookstore” because I knew how to use email.
* Trying sushi for the first time.
* Proposing to my wife off the cuff over a steak dinner.
* Taking the Myers-Briggs for the first time (INTP) and learning what “introvert” meant.
* Becoming a parent.
* One particular time someone told me I was lazy.
* Walking away from a toxic job even though I had no plans for where to go afterwards.
* Reading Leonard Mlodinow’s “The Drunkard’s Walk” and understanding Bayesian probability.
*Not* getting into my 1st choice college: Because of this I took a year off to travel to Portugal, ended up staying going to college there instead, met my husband and have a lovely family and a tiny garden here on the Westernmost edge of Europe. None of that would have happened if I had gone to the college I *thought* I wanted to go to… Praise God I didn’t get what I Him asked for, but what I needed, instead!
The first ones that come to mind are:
– Not getting a job right out of graduating with a Master’s degree and work experience during the Great Recession. I learned happiness came from being good at the job, not necessarily doing what I thought I would.
– Not getting the job back that I’d left to go to school when it came back open. I didn’t really want it, but I was desperate by then. It felt like a huge slap in the face to not be hired by my old boss who professed to love me, but I got the next job I applied for and it was a WAY better place to land, and led me to where I am now, where I’m kickin’ butt and takin’ names (almost literally!)
– Losing my best friend to brain cancer, mixed with a mild case of depression. When I deal with people, I now try to see what’s behind the way they are acting. Frequently, they are struggling and barely keeping it together. A little compassion from me often goes a long way for both of us.
Jen in Montana says
This brought a fun bit of restropection — wait, spell check tells me that’s not a word. And reading the comments, I see similar events in my past. Moving to Montana from the east coast at 22, when no one in my family had ever left anywhere– and striking out on my own was truly one of the most influential events of my life.
More recently, through a bit of help from a therapist, coming to terms with my chronic back pain. Using this “restriction” as a way learn to be mindful, to be patient with myself, to take time to relish in the beauty and awesomeness of the world around me instead of my ambition and drive blasting me through a world I don’t notice. Perhaps my pain will never be solved, perhaps the scheduled fusion surgery will be the answer. Either way, I need to take this as a way to be OK with who I am, that I don’t need to be better, faster, smarter to be loved– but it is an everyday struggle.
Finding Mr. Money Mustache, as others have said. We were already frugal, but the combination of moving to part-time work (because of the chronic pain) and realizing “things” weren’t what makes us happy– reading MMM has brought perspective to so much of my life.
Nothing else jumps out at me as a specific moment– meeting my life partner, growing and cooking our own food, updating and improving our farm/home ourselves, spending time outside, continuing to be a library addict, not watching TV, living frugally, becoming a steward of land and livestock– all of these things were just part of me, coming from somewhere from my childhood thanks to my parents and grandparents.
Ien in the Kootenays says
Love your ‘wisdom posts’. A major serendipity period was my first year away from home, when I joyfully let go of any need to be normal. I discovered sex and Simone de Beauvoir. This was 1961/62, well before the second wave of feminism got under way across the Atlantic. Meeting my spouse was good, and even better was his geology work taking us first to Canada, then to the Kootenays. Once here we fell in love with the area and joined the seventies ‘back to the land’ movement. We basically decided to let a chosen place dictate what we did for a living instead of the other way around. It has not been very smart from a financial point of view, and we have not been brilliant at the homesteading thing. I have no regrets. No amount of money can measure the joy of living surrounded by natural beauty for most of one’s life, instead of sticking it out in the city till retirement age.
Thank you for an interesting post, and the link to the original concept post. I have a question about the so-called “mommy wars” that you mentioned, mostly because I can’t remember how old your littles are. Are they real? Or just a media/ internet thing? I know there are a lot of click-baity type “articles” about “the mommy wars” but it’s something I’ve never seen play out in real life. Are they maybe a regional thing, or only occurring at a certain class/ income level of society? My kids were born in 2009 and 2011. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, and a work-out-of-the-house mom. I “baby-wore” at lot, but also used a stroller, a lot. Breastfed all over town (Charlottesville, VA) for years. Never have I gotten any kind of attitude about any of it. Is my social circle just exceptional? Is it because I’m at a pretty low income level?
My feeling is that the “mommy wars” are more or less an internet phenomenon, and/or are only happening in the upper echelons of society, where parents have more luxurious choices regarding staying at home or working, that aren’t entirely dictated by putting food on the table.
Great post. There are so many, and it’s nice to think of them that way. Meeting my husband, a dear friend, having my girls, but mostly the one I am still going through – a health issue. I’m still in the belly of it, but I feel like even thinking of it this way is helping me move forward. Thanks for sharing.
I Wilkerson says
If there’s a post in learning to swim, I’d love to hear about it. Working on this now with arthritis in one hip cutting into my dancing …