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How often do you consider the role of happenstance in your life?

Today is May 14 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you consider the role of happenstance in your life?” While many people who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well have well developed plans, they also understand the role happenstance plays in life. For today’s reflection happenstance will be synonymous with luck. Here are just a few of the many examples of those who navigated the chaos through happenstance.

  • Robert H. Frank examined the role of luck in his book Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy. Frank discusses how social scientists have discovered that chance plays a much larger role in important life outcomes than most people imagine. For some luck is a positive experience, while for others very negative. For example, Frank suffered a major sudden cardiac event while playing tennis. If it had not been for an ambulance that merely happened to be nearby due to a car accident he would have died.

  • Best-selling author Michael Lewis just happened to sit next to the wife of a Salomon Brothers banker who convinced her husband to give Lewis a job. That job eventually allowed him to write his first best-selling book Liar’s Poker.

  • Bad luck frowned upon Mike Edwards, formerly a cellist in the British pop band the Electric Light Orchestra. Edwards was driving on a rural road in England in 2010 when a 1,300-pound bale of hay rolled down a steep hillside and landed on his van, crushing him.

  • Steven Lynn Chilcott is one of only two number one picks in the Major League Baseball draft to never make it to the major leagues. In 1967, during his second season in the minor leagues, he injured his shoulder diving back to second base where he dislocated his shoulder and ended his season. He was plagued by injuries for the rest of his baseball career and by 24 years of age had to quit baseball.

American author Rita Mae Brown wrote “So much of life is happenstance. It makes me laugh to go to a bookstore and see all those titles about controlling your life. You’re lucky if you can control your bladder.”

How often do you consider the role of happenstance in your life? Actor Bruce Willis owes much to happenstance in his career. The 1988 film Die Hard is based on Roderick Thorp's 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the sequel to 1966's The Detective. The novel was adapted into a 1968 film of the same name starring Frank Sinatra and was a box-office success. When a movie based on Thorp's sequel went into production, the studio was contractually obligated to offer Frank Sinatra the lead role in Die Hard. Sinatra, then in his early 70s, turned down the project. The script was then offered to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Don Johnson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, and Richard Dean Anderson, all of whom turned it down.

Fast running out of options the producers and director John McTiernan offered the role to Willis for a then record-breaking $5 million. Happenstance allowed Willis to be offered the role after ten other actors said no. Sometimes navigating the chaos involves being offered a job that no one else wanted. In saying yes to what so many actors said no to, Willis launched his wildly successful film career merely by happenstance. Happenstance also proved to be genesis of rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Guitarist and singer Greg Lake was a co-founder (with guitarist Robert Fripp) of King Crimson, the influential late ‘60s progressive rock band. After one album and one U.S. tour, King Crimson disbanded while appearing at San Francisco’s Filmore West.

On the same bill was another British progressive rock band, The Nice, with keyboardist Keith Emerson. That band was also splitting up, and so was born Emerson, Lake and Palmer, one of the genre’s most successful groups. With nine RIAA-certified gold record albums in the US, and an estimated 48 million records sold worldwide, they were one of the most popular and commercially successful progressive rock bands in the 1970s.

Lake told Rolling Stone magazine in 2013 “It’s very weird, but there you go - strange things happen sometimes. Music, and the music business, is sort of very fortuitous. It’s very circumstantial.” Amidst the break-up of two bands an entirely new one was formed. Thanks to serendipity, this new band would go on and make a substantial impact on the music industry and popular culture.

  • How often do you consider the role of happenstance in your life?

  • How often do you allow yourself to see happenstance unfold before your eyes?

  • Are you willing to accept happenstance might open a new door you once thought impossible or perhaps never thought of?


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