Proximity and Serendipity

Published on September 17th, 2021

There's something lovable about Forest Gump. His huge heart outshines his low IQ, but that's not what makes the movie so captivating. Despite being born with so little potential, he manages to stumble his way into all of these amazing life experiences that are randomly disconnected. Yet as he recounts story after story to strangers on a park bench, you can see how each one weaves into the others so beautifully. In the end, his life was never constrained by his circumstances. Instead, it continued to expand as he bumped into people and places along the way.

Yes, it's just a movie.

However, there is one aspect of this story that resonates so strongly with my life. I've often said that I feel like I'm Forest Gump-ing my way through life. I don't always have a specific plan of where I'm going. Yet somehow, the right people seem to show up at the right time to open doors that lead to extraordinary personal and professional opportunities. Since leaving college in 2009, every single full-time job or contract I have has come from some chance conversation or a referral from someone I met along the way. I met my wife on a blind date from 2,000 miles away. I've changed career paths several times and will likely do so again.

Some would say this makes me scattered or unfocused. However, each of these different stops along the way has benefitted me in some way. These skills, experiences, and relationships have weaved together in unique ways that I would have never predicted (or planned). Thankfully, my life has been enriched by all the twists and turns along my journey.

What was the key driver for all of this? Courage played a big part in it. I have taken some big leaps of faith to the point where it's part of my identity. Proximity is another massive part of it. By constantly moving around and meeting new people, and striking up conversations, new opportunities emerge.

Not every conversation leads anywhere useful. There are many dead-ends and distractions in life. Yet, some of them have been life-changing. I became a Techstars Mentor through a chance encounter in a coffee shop in Boulder, and that one conversation has opened so many new doors. Had I decided to work from home or keep to myself, that chapter of my life would have never opened up.

Proximity leads to serendipity, which leads to opportunity. It worked for Forest and, so far, it's been a winning strategy for my career (and other dimensions of my life). If you are feeling stuck, it's a great way to shake things up. Get in conversations with colleagues of old and strangers of new. You'd be surprised what might come up if you ask the right questions and take the leap down each rabbit hole that appears.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.