Wednesday 13 June 2018

Proactive serendipity

Simon Clark [prevlier] has finished his PhD and thinks he must decide forever whether to post-doc and continue in academia OR go all media on himself and turn left into vloggin' and explaining science rather than doing it. Fairy nuff but it doesn't have to be all or nought. Here he is explaining where The Luck comes from and quoting his Dad with proactive serendipity.  I think I agree, although I wouldn't put it is quite the same way. I've suggested that my mother and The Beloved made their own luck by being in the right place at the right time . . . but that only worked because they realised that the place and time was Here and Now. It will sound very Protestant of me if I complain about the state Lotto and the mentality it engenders. If the most effort you can make to bettering your condition is to heave yourself off the sofa and drive [Jaysus! man can't you walk or run 1,000 m for your Lotto fix?] down to the corner shop to buy a 1-in-72 chance of getting your money back and a 1-in-11million chance of winning the price of a house in Dublin 4, then you are not exercising your luck. You have to take your luck out for a run occasionally or it gets rusty and you are unable to see the opportunity that presents itself.

Proactive serendipity is a game of two halves: the proactive is about working hard to accumulate knowledge and skills which are then available to make you aware of possibilities. Young Simon booted his final exams at Oxford and so was ineligible to carry on doing his PhD at same-old-same-old Oxford . . . but he went to U. Exeter where he had a great time anyway. I worked really hard in my final two years as an undergraduate student in TCD.  But I wasn't working at all at the correct coal-face to ace my exams. Indeed I was doing independent research off with the fairies, pursuing evolutionary unicorns in UCD [hey, wrong U, dude] library and making a family tree of the Habsburgs to work out their inbreeding coefficients. Like Simon's, my marks were just below a IIi, the minimal qualification for post-graduate work in these islands. Quite rightly, if unimaginatively, the TCD Faculty didn't see sufficient reason to inch me over the threshold (off with the fairies etc.) and I had to go out into this dark world and wide to earn a living . . . in a zoo in the Netherlands. I worked really hard there and could have stayed to become post-opposser [staff-sergeant] Afdeling Vissen. But I was made an offer I found it hard to refuse - to enroll in the PhD program in Boston University with the bloke who'd supervised my final year research project. There were a few roads diverging in my yellow wood back then but you can only ever go down one at a time and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

If you think it's about being lucky in my choices, as Simon Clark felt fortunate to have washed up in Exeter, then I don't think that's quite the issue - for either of us. If you frame it right, any road is the right road, because it is less about the destination than about the journey. I'll quote here an enigmatic verse from a Ithaka by the Alexandrine Greek poet C.P.Cafavy.
Greek by Cafavy Tr: Edm Keeley/Ph Sherrard
Πάντα στον νου σου νάχεις την Ιθάκη. Το φθάσιμον εκεί είν’ ο προορισμός σου. Aλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξείδι διόλου. Καλλίτερα χρόνια πολλά να διαρκέσει· και γέρος πια ν’ αράξεις στο νησί, πλούσιος με όσα κέρδισες στον δρόμο, μη προσδοκώντας πλούτη να σε δώσει η Ιθάκη. Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
If that's a tad too pretentious for before breakfast, try this description of life: we are born, shit happens, then we die. Might as well make compost of the stuff in the middle!

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