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Serendipity

Here's What Happened When I Flipped My Way Through the Work Week

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Here's What Happened When I Flipped My Way Through the Work Week

I was super inspired by the idea of Serenflipity cards since the first time I heard about them. While I’m a person who loves to try new things, I find myself stuck in ruts from time to time. Sometimes, my creativity suffers; other times, I find myself caught up in a comfortable routine and naturally stop pushing myself to grow. 

Though I’m nearly two years into my journey as a small business owner and try to take advantage of my freedom I have to design my life each day, the ability to work from anywhere can be oddly paralyzing — both locally and globally. In an effort to add some pizazz back into my daily patterns, I decided to put my deck to the test by flipping a new card each day of the work week. Here’s how it went.

Day 1:Cancel as much on your calendar as you can. Then, sneak out and say YES to at least one random thing that comes your way.

This card couldn’t have come at a more perfect time; I’ve been feeling super stressed and in need of downtime, something I'm still learning to treat myself to. While I couldn’t cancel my morning client calls, I shuffled around some of my project work and took the afternoon off of work. A friend stopped by and we ended up catching up for hours over cocktails on my back patio. I laughed so hard my abs hurt, and went to bed with a big smile on my face that night instead of stressing about the next day. Carving out time to have fun with friends is important, and I need to make myself more available to do it!

Day 2: "Identify a big fear and see if you can take one action to confront it.

One of my biggest fears is that something will happen to someone I love who lives far away. I moved to California almost a decade ago, but still feel guilty about missing out on precious time with my family and friends on the east coast. Though I can’t control what might happen to someone I care about or always visit on a whim, I can definitely connect with them in meaningful ways. Today, I called my Mom and Dad and caught up with two close friends over text. Just taking the time to check in on each person and hear about what's been happening in their lives made me feel really good.

Day 3:Ask a stranger for a mantra and live by it for a day.”

I work from coffee shops often and usually chat with people I don’t know during the course of a day. Today, I decided to ask the barista for her mantra, which was “we are what we repeatedly do.” Though I’d heard this before, I found that having a reason to actually apply forced me to put it into practice and think about each action I took.  It's fascinating how small things that can subtly transform into habits have the ability to shape who we are and how we live. Little things can define us, so we should consider them carefully.

Day 4: “Wear something unexpected or outside of your usual style today, whether it’s an accessory or a full ensemble.”

This card was so much fun for me! I recently bought a pair of futuristic-looking, all white sneakers from an Aldo shoe sale but felt self-conscious about wearing them as they’re pretty far outside of my standard style. Today, I whipped them out proudly. I got a couple of compliments and a couple of questions (my neighbor thought they looked like space shoes!) but wore them all afternoon around San Francisco. I felt like I was drawing attention to myself, which was uncomfortable, but it felt good to try something new and different. Why not?

Day 5:Keep a smile on your face all day long. Take note of how people respond and how this makes you feel."

I actually smiled when I flipped this card (how fitting!) because I've been focused on being more joyful and genuinely positive for a few years. This card reminded me that smiling often comes from a place of gratitude — and that finding things to feel happy about makes it easier to connect with other people in a truly authentic way. Though this card is a perfect nudge to uncover even more positive stuff, it also reminded me that it's not always easy for people to see what's great about themselves or their lives. While staying upbeat per usual, I found that I felt extra patient with others, noting that struggles aren't always visible on the surface. I also felt extra lucky that I have so much to smile about!

Though I can’t tie a transformational moment or specific life change to my experiment using the cards this week, I feel refreshed and inspired after having tackled a mini-challenge during each work day. I started to really look forward to my flip each morning and trying to accomplish whatever the card said. Small shifts can inspire big waves, and sometimes all it takes is a sentence to get started.


About the Author

Krista Gray is a web producer and freelance writer who lives in San Francisco. When she's not working with clients through her company GoldSquare, she loves reading, traveling and learning new things.

Connect with Krista: Instagram, Twitter, goldsquare.co
 

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5 Ways to Bring Adventure to Your Work Day (and Still Get Your Stuff Done)

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5 Ways to Bring Adventure to Your Work Day (and Still Get Your Stuff Done)

Zip lining through a jungle...
Renting a moped in Thailand...
Trying an exotic local cultural delicacy that looks downright crazy...
Leaving your work life behind and running away to Morocco with a one-way ticket...

When we think about what adventure could look like, the sky's really the limit. Often though, it’s hard to see what’s possible when staring at the computer within the confines of a workspace or our loud open office. When we aren’t feeling stimulated in an adventurous way in these sorts of situations, we don't feel creative—and if we don't feel creative, it's easy to get stuck at work and fall into a negative head space. So let's nip it in the bud and get to a place where you’re naturally infusing adventure into your day with without affecting your work performance, shall we?

Here are five of my favorite ways to bring adventure into the work day:

1. Indulge in cuisine from around the world. If you work in a major metro you're likely surrounded by a culinary mecca for different types of food, some of which you’ve never tried before. One day a week, commit to finding a new place for lunch and a goal to try something new on the menu. Begin to invite people to do it with you, starting a de facto club of sorts where you learn about the food and comment on it over the lunch hour. Far from where all of the different cultural delights are? Try using UberEats, which delivers outside of normal Seamless and Caviar zones. Do this just once a week as something to look forward to; it'll be easy to stick to your budget and healthy eating goals too.

2. Feel great on food truck Friday. Back when I lived for the weekend and dreaded Monday on Sunday morning, some co-workers of mine and I instituted 'Food Truck Friday' There was a line of different trucks outside the office and a nice space to eat outside and get fresh air. We’d all get different things and create a mish-mash of food. A bonus, we also got to sit outside in the sun for an hour. Figure out what your 'Food Truck Friday' is and make an adventure of it too!

3. Learn while you lunch. I promise to stop talking about lunch in a second, but food really does bring people together. For this adventure tactic, I’ve found that starting a lunch club (where everyone just brings their own thing, so the focus isn’t actually the food) around a shared interest is a ton of fun. That interest could be professional development or something more personal like your love for photography; either way, plan to talk shop for the full hour. Link up with your HR department for added engagement. This adventure will be a win-win for you and the company you work for.

4. Style (and re-style!) your desk. Love a little visual stimulation? Make over your desk to keep it looking fresh each quarter or season. I got this idea from a store in New York City called Story, where the owner completely reinvents the look and feel of the shop (and what they sell) every four to eight weeks. Bringing this cool concept to your desk will work especially well at creative companies, design firms and startups. So fun!

5. Chat up a stranger. Ultimately, you're responsible for creating your own adventure by designing each moment of your day. Take advantage of the people around you by talking to them when you might normally stay quiet. This could be when you're sitting at the park at your lunch break, or picking up a snack during an afternoon slump. It might even be a co-worker in a different department that you haven't spoken to before. Be bold and ask them to join you on a walk or your next trip to the coffee shop. You'll probably learn something new, and you never know where conversations can lead. I personally like to keep this random as possible and go without an agenda—that way, there's a lot of adventure in it.

If one thing's for sure, it's that there's no shortage of good ideas that can help you infuse adventure into each day you're stuck at your desk. Switching it up doesn’t have to be time consuming or disruptive, and it sure as heck doesn’t have to cost much. Start with these ideas, and I have no doubt you’ll be coming up with your own in no time at all.


About the Author

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Jill Ozovek (CPC, ACC) is a Career Development Advisor based in New York City. She is the host of the Career Passport, not your typical career podcast for thirty-something women hosted on iTunes and has a personal coaching and retreat business, where she takes women to far-flung places both domestic and exotic to consider new career possibilities for themselves. Look out for the first one in Austin, January 2018. In her free time, she enjoys cooking all sorts of crazy things from scratch, traveling without an itinerary, photographer and hanging out with her husband, Aidan.

Connect With Jill: Twitter, Instagram, Facebookjillozovek.com

 

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Meet The Flip Fam: Nonee Kay

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Meet The Flip Fam: Nonee Kay

Welcome to our Flip Fam blog series, where we interview members of our community who artfully build the spirit of adventure and serendipity into their everyday lives!


Kicking off our series is the magical Nonee Kay of Glendale, CA, a special events pro with Kay12 Catering and community gathering guru. We had the pleasure of interviewing Nonee in her family-run artist compound called “Theatre13”, where she shared nuggets of inspiration, adventure, and creative tips for getting unstuck.

Nonee

Your favorite nickname:

Well, my name is short for Antigone, the storybook princess said to be one of the first activists of love (she’s a character from a Sophocles novel). So, technically, I was born with a nickname.

 

What’s your role in the Kay sibling business?

My position is all about bringing people together and building community, and I get to orchestrate celebrations for people and feed them delicious things! My brother and I say “what we do is the anti-war”. We use events as an outlet to remind everyone that life is meant to be lived, and that the best moments of your life should be celebrated.

(Fun fact: When I was younger, I never thought I would be working with my family...I actually thought I’d be a nun to ensure my seat in Heaven! Not sure if I’m still getting one of those!)

 

What’s your go-to zen spot in LA?

I started a hiking group called “The Air Humping Hikers”. Every Wednesday (HUMP day) morning, we’ll pick a trail (I like them all!), start off with a meditation and set an intention, and at the top, dance our asses off to a new song. We tape it to broadcast to others that even Wednesdays can become the best day of the week, as long as you do something incredible with it.

 

What’s your most beloved travel destination?

Anywhere I’ve never been!

 

Why is adventure important to you and what do you do to infuse it into your daily life?

For me, adventure is anything that gets my adrenaline pumping, and more often than not, something I haven’t done before. I do my best to put myself out there, jump out of my comfort zone, and maybe even surprise myself. Especially any time I can meet someone new, that’s always going to spark a new experience for me.

 

What's your go-to 'thing' to get unstuck?

If I’m having a day that feels too “normal”, I will get back to a book that I haven’t finished (usually non-fiction that’s going to give me new tools and skills) or listen to a TED talk that I’ve had bookmarked for months.

Doing either of those things always makes me think of other people who I then want to reach out to — sometimes it’s direct, as in the writer of an article I’ve read, the consulate general of a country I really want to visit, or, in the case of Serenflipity, reaching out to Cara when I first bought the deck of cards (when she was still in beta!).

In essence, I get unstuck when I realize that the life I’m living isn’t just the city I’m in and the community I have - I can to reach out to anyone, wherever they live and whoever they are. Then, the planet feels a whole lot smaller and far more accessible.  

 

What's your mantra for getting through challenges or tough times? (And can you give us an example of how that's come to life for you?)

“I am healthy, I am well, I am here and I am now”. We have to remember: we all came into the world already as winners - we started as sperm, we swam the fastest through a tube, we held on the strongest to an egg, we managed to survive in a little room shooting foreign objects our way, and then we were born. We’re walking on a planet amongst winners. It’s that reminder that humbles me and helps me realize that no matter how much I screw up in one day, I started as a winner and I can always go back to being one.

 

What’s a piece advice you have to someone who is resistant to adventure or to doing something different?

There’s really no reason not to go out and try something new. We create these comfort zones in our heads — if we step too far away, we know our way back. Once we become aware that these places could put a halt to our soul’s growth, we are more inclined to step out of them. Everyone gets a little nervous to try something new at first, but isn't that feeling of nerves even a little bit exhilarating?

 

How do you Serenflip?

I use the cards not only to instigate adventure on my own, but for others, as well. I love that moment when you surprise a stranger by buying them a cup of coffee and watching them get taken aback by a random act of kindness. We all have lost a bit of faith in humanity, so I Serenflip to bring that trust back and do more good for people. We all want to feel loved, so why don’t we spread some more of that good s**t?

And, it doesn’t even need to be about flipping a card every day, but rather shifting my awareness and thinking on a much bigger level...to be open, willing and curious.

 

What do you think about adventure potentially being the next meditation (and what could the benefits be)?

Look, we all do things to help us feel better. Some of us meditate to reduce stress and anxiety, others go for a run, some of us crazies go out into the street and silly string strangers because a (Serenflipity) card told us to “instigate fun”. Whatever you can do to become the best version of yourself, while hopefully helping others do the same, should be the “new great thing” to do to feel amazing. :]

 

Follow Nonee’s adventures here! 

@noneekay + @airhumpinghikers + @vertigoeventvenue

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How to make magic happen anywhere...

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How to make magic happen anywhere...

Over the past few months, we've been experimenting with a new idea -- a brunch adventure series called Serenflipity Saturdays. While getting out of your comfort zone is fun solo, we think it can be more fun together. 

Our most recent event was themed around March Magic, and our thirty attendees had 30 minutes to make magic happen for someone. So out we went, in groups of three, onto the streets of Venice to connect with each other and strangers and to see what we could create. 

One group started a game of "Trade Up" with a measuring tape they found on the ground; they met a group of women who had just come from an eating disorder walk and traded their measuring tape for affirmation cards. This group of women definitely took note of the symbolism of the trade, and the power of personal affirmation and positive self-work to trump physical measurement metrics. (A serenflipitous encounter indeed!) The trading up continued, and the artifacts that the team returned (Gjusta jam for one!) which were definitely envy-inducing! 

Another group treated a child to ice cream, and shared back that even more than the act of purchasing a gift for someone, the connection that was created with the boy and his father was most impactful. "I felt like I showed this little boy something positive -- and hopefully he'll remember that and want to do that for others. Small acts can lead to big, positive impacts," Tara shared. 

And yet another group spent time in the homeless encampment a block down. They received a note that says "stay positive," a stone that represents the magic of nature, a dollar, and a special, legal-in-LA surprise. "The big lesson for me today is that the magic I received from real connection from acknowledging others as humans and the power of love and acknowledgement," Aviva shared. 

Another group shared about the simple power of a smile in creating magic for another. "We walked by a cafe filled with people eating together and see this guy sitting all alone with his phone in front of him — and I knew I had to make magic for him. I decided I had to make him smile — so I walked straight up to him and did it! He was so grateful and mentioned how simple it can be to brighten someone up. So I asked him, 'are you gonna do it for someone else?' and he said, 'yes, of course!'" 

There are so many more stories, and the impact that compounds after these experiences continues to remind me that at the end of the day, we all want to connect and meet each other on a real level — beyond titles and formalities, but down to the human essence of who we are. And it can be as simple as a smile, words of acknowledgement, or purchasing a treat for someone. 

As we discovered together, kindness is magic. 

Enjoy some of the photos below! 

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How 7 Strangers Got SERENFLIPITY Into Beyonce's Hands

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How 7 Strangers Got SERENFLIPITY Into Beyonce's Hands

Last week, 850 SERENFLIPITIES got shipped to some serious A-list galas. A few challenges ensued -- to say the least! But with the help of strangers on platforms like Facebook, Uber and SHYP, it takes a little resilience, vulnerability and creativity to make almost anything happen. (And some good snacks!)

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How I Serenflipped My Way Out of a Brush With the Law

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How I Serenflipped My Way Out of a Brush With the Law

Tonight, SERENFLIPITY got me out of a ticket.

I was driving home from a long session shooting videos, and may have crossed over a divider a few seconds too late. Before I knew it, blaring lights and sirens were following me, shouting to get off at the next exit.

Crap. My first moving violation. Ever.

I pulled over, shaking and a bit nervous. Was I to play the tearful and helpless girl? Pretend I didn’t know what happened? I’m not a fan of using my femininity to get out of situations, so I decided to just be straight-forward and apologize.

I rolled down the window, and two cops towered over me, demanding the usual protocol that I’ve seen in movies.

“What do you do?” the cop asked me, as he looked at my license.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” I responded, figuring that was pretty safe.

“What do you create? Is it secret?” the other cop asked snidely.

“Well, I created these adventure cards that help you have more fun and serendipity in your life.” I responded, a little wary of how that would go over with two serious cops about to smack a fine on me. After all, fun and adventure aren’t the things you want to bring up with a cop who’s just pulled you over…

“No way…” the first cop lit up, as he responded. “Like what kind of adventures?”

“Here, I’ll show you… You guys can even pick a card to do.” I held out the deck to the two towering gentleman standing over me on a random exit in downtown LA.

They leafed through and started smiling.

“You better get on Shark Tank with this!” the first officer exclaimed. “Look, I have to find the oldest person I can and do something nice for them. It won’t be hard to find old guys back at the office!”

“Yeah, I wish people were nicer and did nice things for us. We’re not bad people,” the second officer joked as he flipped his card. “Hey — I have to buy the person behind me in line a coffee…”

“Well, you better stand behind him when you go get coffee,” I suggested to the first officer, and we all laughed.

“Listen,” the first cop got serious again. “You get yourself on TV with these cards and we’ll call this a warning. But I better see you on Shark Tank – deal? I’m gonna hold onto this card!”

Deal. Thank you, LAPD for the vote of confidence in my start up, and reminding me that simple acts of human connection and kindness can make even the most annoying situations into something serendipitous and positive. And for giving me a whole new edition to build: SERENFLIPITY for the glove compartment!

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Five Steps To Turn Serendipity Into Your Superpower

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Five Steps To Turn Serendipity Into Your Superpower

Serendipity is an under-rated thing. It gets a bad rap as haphazard luck or a happy coincidence. A pleasant surprise that uplifts us from our usual routine. A random encounter where the stars aligned. A fleeting moment that comes out of the blue, only to disappear.

But serendipity is not a “thing.” Or an “accident.” Or a “random encounter.” Or just a cute John Cusack movie. It’s actually a skillset – and it’s something that can make us smarter, happier and more connected.

When it comes to serendipity, there’s a whole new field of interdisciplinary research emerging, and studies segment people into “non-encounterers”, “occasional encounterers” who stumble upon serendipity now and then, and “super encounterers” who constantly see happy surprises in even the most mundane of situations.

I’ve become what researchers would call a “super-encounterer”, not because I’m lucky, but because I’ve built my serendipity superpowers over the years. These are definitely not skills I studied in any classroom, but rather gleaned through experience, many of which involve solo travel and times of personal growth. Both of these types of experiences forced me to let go of behaviors and beliefs that blocked me from letting in new things.

But you don’t have to travel far and wide or go on a soul-search to discovery your serendipity superpowers. It’s often as simple as changing what you see, where you go and how you show up.

Here are my top five tips for turning yourself into a serendipity superstar:

1. Believe you are surrounded by serendipity – and expect it every day. One of the first steps to attracting more serendipity is to actually believe that you are surrounded by it. Consider it selective attention – like when you’re pregnant, you start to see baby bumps everywhere. Or when you’re stressed out, you start to see more annoyances and blocks everywhere.

What we see is what we get – and if we choose to focus on a recent serendipitous moment, and look to see at least one of those moments each day, we start to attract more serendipity, and will find it popping up all the time.

One of my favorite ways to build this skill is to keep a journal of “random” things that happen each day – mine include everything from running into someone, to little phrases or sayings that pop out (a recent favorite was when I was having a "founder's moment" and got cut off by a giant truck with “THE PROFIT IS COMING” written on the side), to texts of the “woah, I was just thinking about you!” ilk. The dots connect over time, and I am always amazed when I look back.

Bottom line – believe you’re surrounded by it. Look for it. Write it down. Get more of it.

 

2. Celebrate the unknown, the incorrect and the idiotic. Many of the greatest discoveries come from accidents and failures. It’s easy to write off something that didn’t work, blame someone, and move quickly onto the next – but the biggest “aha’s” come from diving into the failures and actually having fun with them, instead of trying to find the next success right away.

Being in a state of “I don’t know” is one of the most powerful places we can be. I once worked for a guy who would respond to my pressing questions with a thoughtful, “yeah, I don’t know.” I was shocked – I figured someone with a higher authority was paid to “know”, but he taught me the importance of “not knowing.” Of collecting information, asking a ton of questions, exploring all the angles and then coming to a decision.

Not knowing can be incredibly uncomfortable, especially to this A-type New Yorker. But actually enjoying the state of “not knowing” is where serendipity finds me. Some of the best ideas I’ve built with clients have come out of jokes, and even going so far as to exploring the absolute “worst” idea we could ever have. We fell about laughing, one upping each other with horrifying add-ons – until someone had a spark and found a nugget of inspiration that led us into the creation of an award winning product. Some of the greatest personal experiences have come from literally not knowing what country I was going to next, and leaving my plans open to the travel gods. In fact, it started a decision making pattern, where I decided to not know, and to do the first thing that was mentioned 3 times by 3 different people. I was never led astray, but rather into incredible encounters and the exact situation I needed to grow.

 

3. Do the uncomfortable. It’s easy to turn down an invitation in favor of staying home to watch Netflix on the couch with takeout – but magic doesn’t happen when we’re cracked out on Narcos and Lo Mein. (Well sometimes it does, and I guess that’s what Tinder is for, but that’s another article…)

Say yes to what’s in front of you, especially that uncomfortable invitation. It’s there for a reason. The less you want to go, the more magic is bound to happen. And seriously, if you want to get a super dose of serendipity, go alone. That’s right – go to a party alone. Without a wingman. And if you don’t have an invitation to turn down, take yourself out to dinner (and don’t stare at your phone the whole time.)

Every time I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve had to surrender to what’s in front of me, and I’ve had to get curious. It means making conversation with strangers instead of standing by the cheese plate rehashing my day with a friend. It means staying five minutes longer than I want to, and sometimes hiding out in the bathroom for a few minutes when it feels like too much – and then falling into conversation with a handsome stranger. It means getting lost in a foreign country and stumbling across a beautiful village and into a heartfelt conversation.

Or it simply means opening myself up and into the positive potential of a new experience – instead of closing myself into what I already know. A few years ago, I felt creatively stuck and decided to spend 90 days traveling solo through India and Southeast Asia, following adventures my friends wrote for me instead of a guidebook. I was terrified. But the more I got into the habit of saying “yes” to the adventure in front of me, I started to open up in a new way and incredible things started to happen. (Fast forward to two years later, it’s become the foundation of my business, a product designed to foster adventure and serendipity every day… who would have known?)

Learning to trust, and being willing to be vulnerable is scary, but it’s also where we get out of ourselves and into the magic.

 

4. Say “thank you.” There are tons of studies and life-hacks around the life-changing effects of gratitude, and for good reason. Shanti-shanti as it may sound, it shifts our outlook and our energy, and attracts more positive things to come our way.

Saying thank you (whether to “the universe,” God, the person sitting next to you, or to the highway as you drive to work) for the little nods and coincidences is just as important as saying “thank you” for the promotion or the clean bill of health. It’s easy to get into the mentality of “well, he was perfect, except for…” or “the job seems great, but…” – simply acknowledge that something serendipitous just came your way and take it as a sign that more good things are on the way. “Thank you” is essentially a prayer that says, “that was awesome, I really dug it, and please bring me more.”

I’ve built this skill by writing a gratitude list each morning, and even putting little reminders in my phone to take 30 seconds and think of 3 things I’m grateful for. The real game changer has come in the past month in finding things I’m grateful for in really annoying situations.

Take a recent travel plan: my flight was 6 hours delayed on New Years Eve and then I couldn’t find the place I was staying once I arrived. To offset the irritation, I practiced finding a few “thank yous”, which included being able to go to my favorite yoga class that morning (instead of sitting in the airport), having an interesting conversation with an Uber driver who introduced me to a videographer, making time for a conversation with a friend in the airport, arriving in town just in time for dinner (and getting picked up straight from the airport as a result), being with friends who put me up for the night when I was lost, etc. Really cool connections and opportunities have been happening as a result.

The “thank yous” seem to build resilience to get out of a negative mindset, which only clouds me in my worries and prevents me from seeing the bigger picture – or what great things are in front of me. Taking a minute to find a moment of gratitude shifts me back into being in the unknown – which is where there’s space for serendipity to come in.

 

5. Share it to grow it. Serendipity isn’t a “thing” or even an “action” – it’s a flow that we get into. And it does take work – sometimes it’s as simple as leaving the house with a good attitude and talking to someone, or picking up the phone and listening (and really listening, not Facebooking and listening), in order to dive into what can seem like a consistent stream of unbelievable encounters.

Note that many of these experiences are encounters – which means that they involve other people. We multiply our magic by sharing it with others – whether it’s saying what we’re looking for, or helping others fulfill what they’re looking for. And sometimes serendipity comes from something as simple as a status update and discovering that you’re in the same country as an old friend. A big part of Serenflipity is asking people to share those serendipitous experiences on social media for just that reason – to foster more connections, to share cool experiences that uplift others (and potentially bring serendipity to them), and to encourage an environment of experimentation. Because we all need a little push to peel away from our habits.

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So, it’s that time of the year where we might be faltering on our New Year's Resolutions and about to dive back into old habits. Instead, I invite you to dive into bringing more serendipity into your life.

All you have to do is decide to see yourself as a serendipity super-magnet, have fun not knowing the answer, go to parties alone, say thank you, and share it with others. No calorie counting or guilt-tripping necessary!

I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for bringing more serendipity into your life – please share below!

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Dude Looks Like A Lama: Getting A Mantra From An Unexpected Rockstar

Elizabeth Real challenged me to ask a stranger for a mantra, and what better stranger than an inspiring rock-n-roll hero.

In my hotel lobby, I saw a familiar face, long tousled hair and layers of distressed denim that only a famous rocker could wear as effortlessly as I wear my Lululemons. Unflanked by guards or an air of celebrity, he was perusing the shop windows, admiring sumptuous fabrics and sparkling gems just like any other well-heeled tourist. With my challenge in my wallet, I knew he would be the ideal person to ask. I back-and-forthed over whether to approach a lime-lighter clearly enjoying an off-stage moment, and how to acknowledge his celebrity, as I admired the showcases just a few feet away.

I overheard his familiar rasp, and figured he was put in my path for a reason.

“That’s a familiar voice!” I exclaimed, just as I might have to any other American thousands of miles from home. He smiled and turned and we began to chat about where each of us had lived.

“You lived in Aspen? Well, how’s your ass been?” He joked.

“Well it’s been great,” I responded with an exaggerated hip slap. “I’m on sabbatical for three months traveling the world.”

We chatted and laughed about travel and my three months off as we sauntered down the hall admiring jewelry, and picking up a few onlooking Americans in conversation.

“I have a strange request for you.” I summoned, after a deep breath. He looked at me, perhaps expecting an ask for an autograph or a large donation. “My friends are giving me challenges to do over my 90 days away, and today I have to ask a stranger for a mantra… Would you be up for giving me one?”

He smiled and crossed his arms in thought. “Wow, that’s a good challenge.” More pauses, an elbow to the wall and hand to the back of his head, and through his tousled hair. He paced and furrowed his brow.

“I’m sorry to ask you such a difficult question on your vacation,” I backtracked. “It’s completely fine if you can’t think of one.”

“No, no… This is good.” More pausing and thinking. “A mantra… Just one word?”

“Well, it can be a phrase, a word of advice, a flash of inspiration… Whatever comes to mind.” I was feeling like I had overstepped my bounds.

As he kept thinking and pacing, his friend assured me that I had indeed asked the right person. A few other hotel guests started to look on. More pauses. My brain quickly sidled up to gawk at the scene of one of the world’s most famous rockers pacing and thinking, and a trepidatious American fumbling and glancing around the marble hall: I can’t believe you asked this man for a mantra… And then, he had it.

The only way to get to the other shore is to lose sight of the one you’re on.

“This is amazing,” I beamed. “It’s perfect and so applicable to where I am right now.”

“Me too,” he smiled. “Me too.” Status and circumstance washed away, and we continued to chat as we walked down the hall, a small group of us connected by the desire to look to new shores. The type of shore we were each aiming for, fancy and famous or small and simple, seemed superfluous. Just knowing others, even the most celebrated, sought new shores and a little inspiration for the swim was a strong enough current to push me farther away from the fears of that familiar, footprinted sand I’ve treaded for so long.

Much of my travel has been about letting go of old ideas, whether my need to control and plan or my ability to turn a simple decision into a detailed drama. Over the past few months, I’ve had to let the current pull me farther from the plans I’ve pre-meditated and closer to the possibilities I can’t yet fathom. And what a laughably-perfect way to practice floating with the flow than to be presented with the need for a mantra and a superstar stranger.

I still hadn’t given nod to the fact that I knew how famous he was, and at this point in the conversation, it seemed odd to throw in how much I admired his work, how enthralled I was at age 9 by “Janie’s Got A Gun,” or to call him by name.

As we parted ways, we wished each other well on our respective shore-hopping journeys. I was reminded that lamas come in many forms and that we all can teach from our experiences. Anyone can be a lama, often unintentionally and sometimes just for a moment. You just have to ask.

Originally published on yestoexcess.com.

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A Crazy Beautiful Lesson

It’s hard not to wear a blissed out grin all around Ubud. Of all of the places I’ve been, it’s the one where I feel the most connected and cocooned, yet inspired and introverted. It’s a town that stretches those who want to be stretched, ahead into the possibilities of new ways of living and back toward the depths of buried circumstances one may care to keep dusty. In the ark of my 24 hours (thank you, Kate Plumb!), I learned that a day of smiling takes a lot more than simply grinning at everything from rice paddies to happy babies.

It starts with those gaping grins, which are simply a vehicle to connect. Smiling has been a super-tool in my trusty solo-traveler tool belt, as it’s led me to new encounters and new people. However, it’s hard to stay on the surface of such a smile forever — the “how are you”s and “where are you from”s get weary after a while. My morning started with light smiles and instant depth (this is Ubud…) with three lovely ex-pat ladies, whom I would later meet for the afternoon. Gaping grins continued to dot my day, ever the energy booster during a dull moment, but a smile that I’ve often taken for granted slowly began to take its place.

It started in the home of a Mayan Astrologer, who began our session with dancer-like gestures to paint new dimensions of time, and an immediate break for a quick downward dog fix to soothe her back. My old snap smile, the one with the quickened pace and raised eyebrow, popped in as I sat nervously in half lotus anticipating the next few hours. As we talked about hidden talents, personal challenges and cycles of my life, my snap smile softened, but not into that familiar gaping grin. It moved lower and deeper, as I shared hopes and fears that melted into her predictions. She nodded with her hands over her heart, draping them out, over and around the air and sighed. With a deep, knowing smile.

My face softened and slowed (a relief to my sore, over-used cheeks), and I realized that I was smiling without moving a muscle. Just falling into the slowness and lightness I felt swirling through me. Our conversations moved deeper, to a point of that gripping softness that often precedes a tear. But it wasn’t a tear of extremes, like sadness or joy, just simple presence and purpose that settled into a wordless, toothless upturn.

Through my many temple visits, I’ve seen a lot of Buddhas and have wondered more than a few times why there aren’t more grinning, giggling statues for a teacher so happy and enlightened. But from settling into the deeper, more balanced, less ecstatic smile, I stumbled upon that smile that’s authentic connection. I felt that deep smile when I hugged a fifteen year old who shared with me what she was going through with her friends and family, and when I fell into deep relaxation during yoga nidra (also known as yogic napping… or my new favorite type of yoga!). I felt it as my unexpected companions and I giggled over a smorgasbord of raw desserts and social media mental-health pacts. (I have promised to only “like” ugly pictures if I Instagram before meditation.) I felt it as the brightness of a rising full moon drew me to the window in the middle of the night.

A day full of smiling doesn’t mean constant euphoria. It can be a happy, giggly high. A way to get out of yourself and into a conversation. Armor in an uncomfortable situation. Genuine compassion and care. Inner knowledge and understanding. Softness so guttural that it cracks perception and expectation.

In all these roles, it’s an alchemist. Resentment breaks into a glint of gratitude. Skepticism melts into a modicum of compassion. Fear sprouts into the seeds of new friendships. So smile at your smiles… See what happens and what you discover from smiling for the entire day. Either way, it’s good for the soul and sagging jowls!

Originally published on yestoexcess.com

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My Serenflipity Moment

My final 48 hours in India led me to see how these flips are greater than the sum of their daily missions: they’ve started to chisel away at how I think and act, slapped me right into the middle of India’s delicious and chaotic onslaught when I wanted to hover on the curb, and have even woven a giant, fate-like web to fall into.

Let’s rewind to last Tuesday, when I received a call from my friend Neet who happened to be in Delhi. “You should delay your trip to Bhutan and come to the Golden Temple in Amritsar with my family. I promise it will be an amazing experience.” As I wavered over what path to take, I remembered Zoe Settle’s and Dave Allan’s challenges to zig at zag and my resolution to kill that indecisive part of myself (a nod is due to Mike Rothman.) I scrolled through texts over the past few weeks from Samta (my chai victim and new friend, thanks to Becky Straw), encouraging a trip to visit her in Amritsar. All signs pointed to Punjab. Now it was time to just take the action, let go, and see what would happen.

The First Yes

On Friday morning, instead of landing in Paro, I arrived in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab, and Neet’s hometown. I got to see the city through his eyes, including the Rock Garden, a labyrinth dreamed up from a local’s backyard into acres of winding paths and waterfalls, mosaic-like walls and villages of figures made from everything from broken bangles to ceramic from discarded sinks and toilets. Families, friends and scrambling boys explored every corner, and I began to imagine Neet and his friends hiding in a lost alley years ago, playing cards and eating samosas.

“It’s a lot like India and life in general,” we laughed. “You take the old things that don’t work, smash them, mash them together, and repurpose them into something beautiful.”

Day fell into dusk and the four of us were well into our five hour drive to Amritsar. Slowly, the broad highways and fields became dusty, bustling mazes, and trucks and cars were replaced by tuk tuks and clusters of locals snacking in the city’s savory streets. As we started to approach the temple, that nervous, awkward, you’re-not-a-member-of-this-holy-place feeling started to rumble. I quickly learned that Sikhism stems from the teachings of different religions and views all beings as equal, evident in its open temple doors and langar, whereby visitors from all castes and creeds can sit side by side on the dining hall floor and enjoy food prepared by the communal kitchen.

After washing our hands and feet, we descended down through the white entranceway and into an expansive marble courtyard, a frame to the holy pool, in the center of which floats the gleaming Golden Temple. Families laid together under the archways, friends huddled together in a low hum, and men cleansed and meditated in the waters. Singing of the day’s lesson was shared (and translated) over a giant screen and a loud speaker. Underneath, the reverent sounds of prayer and reading mixed with the soft paces of bare soles on polished marble. A calm but eager crowd spilled out over the bridge to the temple, waiting to get in after a long pilgrimage. I felt deeply grounded and lifted beyond myself at the seem time.

“This place is busy 24 hours a day,” I was told. “At any time, there are people sleeping, volunteering, praying, waiting. You’ll never not find a crowd.”

And find a crowd we did, as we went to the langar hall to break chapatti. The banging of tin began to intersperse the reverent din, and as we arrived, we melded into a line to receive a metal plate to bring into the hall. Plates in hand, it was time to wait until the prior shift finished, and the doors opened to the next round. With a slow scuffle and a few sharp pushes, we spilled into the empty hall, where rows of mats acted as tables and chairs. Men and women with baskets of chapattis, ladles of dal and rice pudding made the rounds, and hundreds of us sat, knee to knee and spoon to spoon, eating quietly under the fluorescent light and watch of the gurus. Slowly the crowd filtered out, and a cleaning zamboni (oh yes!) hurdled through each row, removing the residue from the prior crowd to get ready for the next. As we left, we dropped our plates into a vat and into a whole new process where rows of volunteers cleaned, soaped, re-soaped, scrubbed, banged and dried the plates back to new. Effortlessly feeding 80,000 people a day, this place could also be a Six Sigma devotee’s dream.

Full of curiosity, connection and some of the more flavorful dal I’ve had over my six weeks in India, it was time to retire for the night so that we could return in the morning to offer prayers and a donation for Neet’s birthday. It’s hard to describe (and I will save you from a feeble attempt), but going to the holiest of sites with a devoted family, and being the sole redhead (shrouded, of course) in a sea of bright turbans was deeply humbling and inspiring. I was welcomed not only into a culture, but into a faith. I learned about my own faith, and how easy it can be to sit on the sidelines and wave at it, versus walking whole-heatedly into the fray. I saw selflessness and other-centeredness in everything from the Narulas sharing their family experience to the dal-dolers and devotees constantly giving of themselves to the community. I felt woven into the fabric of a country, state and sacred site that were wholly foreign.

The Second Yes

I was contented that this would be the apex of my Amritsar experience. Unable to get on a flight or train that evening, and having waved off Neet and his parents, I planned a quiet night in at the hotel before my morning trip to Delhi. A handful of texts and phone calls later, I was to be picked up by Samta to attend a family function that evening. (If you recall, Samta and her family were the lovely folks that Blair and I met on a long-winded tour-boat, whom we engaged in a rollicking conversation thanks to a great challenge to talk to a stranger on a deeper level.) I was whisked into her nephew’s first birthday party, where I was a sight to be seen, a redhead in my “nice” kurta, which looked like house-wear compared to the gorgeous, embroidered and bedazzled saris and dresses that Samta’s sisters and cousins wore. I bumbled through my toddler-level Hindi, smiled and waved and ate snacks.

And then the music started. I was pulled into the dancing area and into the middle of the shimmying, dancing and singing. I couldn’t quite tell if the entire family was laughing at me or enjoying the spectacle of a foreigner attempting to imitate their flawless moves in my pre-teen-at-the-eighth-grade-dance style. But even as my Bhangra skills got worse, the veil of my self-consciousness lifted, revealing a spirited family that I began to feel deeply connected to, as we shook together, embraced and giggled.

A sharp jerk at my arm, and I was pulled off the dance floor by Samta’s mother with a serious and purposeful look. Perhaps I had inadvertently offended them? Perhaps my dancing was so appalling that it had to be stopped at once? She said nothing, but continued to pull me harder and closer to the buffet. “Food! Eat!” What relief… and what deliciousness.

As the night continued, we all continued to laugh and eat until our stomachs were heavy and our cheeks were sore. Words were translated and gestured, scoops of cake and kulcha were put into my fingers or into my mouth, and pictures and poses were snapped and shared. As I went to say goodbye to Samta’s mother, I vainly attempted a respectful gesture that Samta had taught me earlier. “No!” she cried, as her mother laughed and took my face in her hands. “That’s for the daughter in law. Not for family. She says that you are her daughter.”

To label what the Narulas and the Bhatias shared with me as “hospitality” or “generosity” would be the equivalent to calling the Taj Mahal “pretty” or “inspiring.” My foundational beliefs in family, faith and friendship deepened. I re-discovered that old feeling of being at home after six weeks of being anywhere but in a hometown. Faith has taken the lead over fear, and I will step into my next adventure and the unknown, trusting that there’s always a net to hurdle into.

The Infinite Yes

It would have been easier and less risky to just say “no” and continue with the program as planned. But I always would have wondered what would have happened if I’d said “yes,” and, looking back, I would not have had the chance to experience how one yes leads to another, and to a path that I suppose only the travel gods get to giggle about, gossip on, and decide.

So the point of this long-winded tale, I suppose, is to just say yes today whether it seems small or far-fetched, mindless or gut-nagging. Break your plans and chisel and repurpose them into something new. Or even better, give someone else the opportunity to say yes.

Originally posted at yestoexcess.com.

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