On Being A Serendipitious Learner

I was, in fact, a mediocre student. I didn’t mind my grades, or my experience, but I remember that I absolutely hated the reviews that routinely told me that I had potential I wasn’t living up to.

I can recall a very specific event in my high school career when I realized that I simply didn’t learn the same way other people did. Of course, I couldn’t explain that at the time, and I was too young to understand that learning, in a school setting, has to be done one way, and one way only (even in the posh private girls’ prep school I attended). The fact was, though, that I instinctively knew there was a better way for me than the one I’d been experiencing for nearly 12 years–why didn’t anyone else?

I thought, for sure, I would find "the better way" in college. I suspected that there, where my focus on any one subject would last only a single semester before I could change and focus on something else, would be where I would really be able to shine. And things were better for me there, but still” something was off about learning there for me, as well.

It wasn’t until I was set loose upon the "real" world that I can say I actually began to thrive as a learner. Why? Because I was free to do things that felt right to me, free to learn about my own interests rather than those that had been thrust upon me, free to follow my own path, hunting down my own leads. Mostly, I was free to stop when I felt I’d had enough.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m absolutely grateful for everything that was rammed down my silly little throat as a child. I wouldn’t be who I am today without having gotten that foundation. But wow”what joy I experienced when free to learn in a way that actually felt good to me!

With that freedom, I tried anything and just about everything that came in to my head that I wanted to learn how to do. There were actual lists of things—and I have to say, I managed to learn/experience many of them. Ticking things off the lists had me do some pretty amazing things in my 20s and 30s—some of which I look back on with amazement at what can only be called my unmitigated temerity! Those experiences taught me many things, including how to set standards for myself and boundaries for others; valuable lessons, all.

And now, hopefully a bit wiser (definitely a bit older!), and more settled, I find that the best way for me to learn is what I’ve come to call "serendipitously." Although it’s random, and mostly unplanned, what it’s not is coincidental; I don’t happen to believe in coincidence, and know in my soul that there are reasons for everything—including the things that come to me serendipitously.

There’s now an ease to my learning. I no longer look for things to learn. Instead, I focus on, and learn that which unexpectedly comes to me and calls me to learn more.

I’m convinced that we all encounter the spark for this kind of learning all the time. It’s sparked when watching TV and hearing about something you never knew before then, in overhearing a stranger’s conversation about a product or service used with great results, by seeing an ad in a magazine for something that looks cool and different, or in reading an interesting blog with links to other places that just call to be followed. The spark shows up in many ways as you do nothing more than move throughout your day.

As convinced as I am that this spark shows up, I’m even more convinced that most people walk through life unaware of it, or with only the most fleeting notice of it. I can’t do that. Once sparked, I’m absolutely moved to light the flame—to go find out more about it—whatever "it" is (thank God I have great research skills!).

In this way, I learn enough (for me) about whatever catches my fancy, but never feel pushed to learn. This absolutely coincides with my want to "be" more than "do," and to end the stress of the push for more in my life.

Will I die without knowing stuff? You betcha. Does it bother me? Not a whit. I’ve made peace with it by realizing that I could learn 500 new things every day for the rest of my life and still never know it all. In fact, for me, it isn’t folly to choose serendipitous learning, but it would be folly, at this point, to push myself to learn.

In the end, what’s most powerful for me is the knowledge and promise that there’s always more to learn, and that I will continue to learn my whole life long if I am open, present, and willing to follow the serendipitous paths that show up around me.

Stacy Brice lives life on her own terms, and passionately supports others in doing the same through her work with AssistU, and as the Moxie Coach. For more from Stacy, visit her blogs: Virtualosophy, Virtual Moxie, and Living the Luxe Life.


  1. says

    Stacy, this is such a magnificent statement of being. In your self-awareness, putting yourself in the path of intention, you have become what every parent wishes for their child, and what every coach and teacher prays they can manage to inspire in their students.
    Perhaps this is more profound for me because I know of examples, and some of those things you have learned: I very vividly remember our first phone call, meeting each other in a connection of sound, voice, and heart, and I remember being amazed and in awe of the life’s experiences I was able to draw out of you in asking for more, and more, and more in introduction. Thank you so much for sharing this today with the rest of our Ho‘ohana Community as well.

  2. says

    I guess I am a “Serendipitious Learner” as I am always on the watch for a learning opportunity. I also go after those things that interest me especially if I know nothing about it – I jump in with both feet – I can really relate to your ‘spark’ comment. Fascinating topic…

  3. says

    Stacy, thank you so much for this post. This has inspired me to have a chat with each of my children about how they learn, and how they are expected to learn whilst they are at school. And how to make the most of that learning in order to give them the best options when they leave school and head out into that big, exciting world!
    (You’re right Rosa – this IS what every parent wishes for their child!)

  4. says

    Stacy! I read thru your story here, building upon a thought for conversation – until I read Karen’s comment. Talk about suddden impact! To have elicited such inspiration is one-hundred font headline!
    The form of learning that you talk about is so adventure-packed and stimulating! To envision one trail-blazing along the path of life using the compass of curiousity is most panoramic.