Obliquity and Luck

I have a slight confession for some of you: I’m an occasional smoker; perhaps more than occasional.

Last night I finished my last cigarette and took a cab home from the co-working space I’m renting to help me stay on top of things. It was late, I had just spent several hours in a row writing and sending emails and I was on the phone wrapping up some of the day’s details and catching up with a friend. As I got out of the cab, I went to put my cash away in my wallet and found it missing. My cab receipt was already in the wallet and I had no idea what cab company, let alone what car number I was in.  I quickly ran to chase down the cab as it turned the corner, but it was for nothing… that cab was long gone.

I walked a few blocks home and quickly turned to my computer to start cancelling cards and rapidly re-order them as I’m due to be in Boulder, Colorado next week to help run the Learning Registry Plugfest.  As soon as I got on my bank’s website, the phone rang… it was a stranger asking for me, saying that they found my wallet, and after asking some questions based on the contents of the wallet and where it was found, confirming they had my wallet, they invited me to walk over to their house and pick it up. They were super nice, refused to take any offer from me to thank them for being so kind as to find me and spare me a huge hassle of running around to the DMV and all my financial institutions… and they lived right up the street from Walgreens. After stressing out about losing my wallet, I really needed a cigarette.

My unsavory vices aside, as I was walking over to this house to pick up my wallet, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a recent conversation I had with Thor Muller (@tempo) about his ideas for structured serendipity and a concept he introduced me to, called obliquity. Thor described obliquity in this way,

Given a complex set of challenges, you have a higher likelihood of reaching your goals by aiming for something else.

That probably makes either absolute sense to you or no sense at all. No sooner did Thor share this with me than it registered that obliquity is a pattern that has been part of my life since I was a young adult.

In my last post, I wrote how “over the last couple of years I’ve encountered a lot of professional and personal challenges, met them head-on and even with my failures, I’ve gained so much from doing so.” What I’ve gained overall is in large part due to obliquity, but there’s something more.

I have lots of opportunities for this kind of growth that come my way. These opportunities don’t come because of some special privilege or power. They come because of luck: I’m a very lucky person.

I’m lucky that there are so many good people in the world who happen to make connections into my work and life just when I need them (sometimes when I don’t even know I need them).

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to recognize the opportunities when they come my way: to borrow from American Football, that I can “find the seam and go vertical.” I’m lucky that I have this drive within me to want to apply the ideas I have, so I practice finding opportunities to which I can say “yes, and…” rather than “no, but…”

And apparently, I’m lucky that I live in the Midwest, where strangers are friendly more often than not. I’m lucky that someone found my wallet probably five minutes after I lost it and they called me. I’m lucky that they lived right near a Walgreen’s.

Apparently, I needed a pack of cigarettes. 😉