This month’s prompt, serendipity, is an interesting one. I have a strange relationship with serendipity and luck. Throughout my life, I have attributed much of my success to serendipity and luck, but a recent conversation with a colleague of mine highlighted the fact that I might be giving them both a bit too much credit!
I think I’ve always done this. When I was in high school and I got picked for something, I’d say ‘oh, it was just good luck!’. At university when I’d get a high distinction, I’d say ‘well, that was lucky!’, despite the fact there were more high distinctions on my transcript than anything else. When I got my first job in libraries I said ‘wow, I was lucky no one more qualified applied!’.
I’ve been doing it in my day to day work, too – and recently someone pointed it out to me. ‘Do you really think that’s opportunity came around just because of good luck, or might it be because of your hard work and clear interest?’ she asked.
‘Well, hmm. I’d never really thought about it like that.’ I replied. As soon as the words were past my lips and out into the world, I wished I could take them back. How ridiculous! Of course my successes are attributable to hard work. While luck and serendipity might edge things along in our favour, it’s hard work, determination and passion that move us us to a place where opportunities can happen.
I wondered why I’d always been so quick to give serendipity and luck all the credit – so I did what any good librarian would do – I got down to brass tacks and did some research. One of the biggest themes that came back was around Impostor Syndrome. We’ve probably all heard about it by now, and if you haven’t you can check out this great presentation that Kate Davis gave to ResBaz Brisbane 2018 attendees on the topic.
Impostor Syndrome describes that feeling when you doubt your accomplishments (or even your worthiness to be in a place where accomplishments are possible) and you feel fearful that you will be exposed as a fraud. For me, luck, serendipity and Impostor Syndrome have formed a bit of a perfect storm – by their powers combined, I’ve often felt that my accomplishments weren’t really reflective of my skills or capacity and were instead the result of good luck AND EVERYONE WOULD FIND OUT EVENTUALLY!
I think it is easy to get in this frame of mind, but after my discussion with my colleague I went back to my desk and wrote down a list of ‘professional stuff’ I’ve accomplished in the last year and as it turns out, I’ve done a lot of great ‘professional stuff’! When I thought about each item I remembered the work that went into it – researching topics, making roughly one million PowerPoint presentations for various work things, completing courses, compiling resources for self-directed learning, practicing speeches in front of the mirror, pushing myself to learn new video editing software, putting my hand up to participate in working groups, getting involved in putting together a fun game for attendees to play a mini conference I attended – the list goes on. Each bit of hard work built on itself and lead me to another great opportunity. It’s easy to lose sight of how the snowball began rolling down the hill in the first place and I think keeping a document on your work computer that serves as a record of all the things you’ve done is a handy way to put that in perspective. It’s also great when it comes time to write your professional review documents!
On the other side of the coin, and at the risk of derailing everything I’ve just said, it is impossible not to acknowledge the good fortune I’ve experienced by virtue of nothing more than where, when and to whom I was born. It is important to acknowledge that factors definitely gave me a leg up on other people, particularly early on with things like education, so I think it’s important to acknowledge that serendipity and luck played a role here.
With all this in mind, I still think it’s important to stop giving serendipity and luck all the credit when it comes to your successes at work or study. Your hard work, determination and passion deserve their share of the limelight, too.