How does someone encourage unexpected good fortune?
The benefits of experimentation can be plotted on the day planner.
Have you ever gotten into your car on a boring weekend afternoon and taken a random drive somewhere to see where you ended up? I did this once, and found a breathtakingly beautiful nature preserve less than ten miles from where I live that ran along a steep bluff with a shimmering, dark blue lake rimming it below, and a walking trail that followed the bluff’s edge. Though I had lived in the location for four years, no one had ever mentioned this nature preserve’s existence to me and I had no clue it was there. Using the trail was also free, where virtually all state parks and walking trails in my state charge a hefty daily fee for use.
They say that most scientific discoveries have been made by accident or through events beyond our control, everything from the discovery of Post It notes to how a microwave functions, or how the chemical benzene is structured, which was thought up in a dream. If you read a lot of new age type self-help books, most of them tell you to try doing random things a couple times a year, or to try to incorporate some level of experimentation into your life. They say this will lead you to new ways of looking at the world, or new business opportunities you didn’t know existed.
Yet we tend to avoid anything that involves trial and error or experimentation when we get to a certain age. Kids like to try new things, and adults into their twenties are always looking to go on exotic vacations or road trips. But when you reach your thirties or forties or later, this sort of behavior seems too risky or foolish, or a waste of money. Not to mention the fact that by this age you’re usually married, with a job you rely on to pay the mortgage and feed the munchkins. So experimentation just seems economically and philosophically unsound.
I think the real reason that we avoid experimentation as we get older however is that we have a more familiar acquaintance with the fear of death. Young adults and kids seem to think they will live forever, but when you get beyond this age, you start to witness the death or prolonged illnesses of relatives, parents, some friends who took “crazy” risks in their lives etc. Your health also starts to become suspect. You get the occasional unexplained ache or pain, or you gain weight and walking up three flights of stairs now seems to be all the adventure you can handle.
Some types of experimentation however don’t really involve any physical risk. Buying an empty canvas and some inexpensive paints and trying to let your inspiration flow, or talking to the pretty woman or man in front you in line at the coffee shop is really not going to be life threatening. So why do we avoid these types of risks? We say we don’t have the time, we don’t really want to do these things, or they are not practical. But our lives are otherwise often as boring as hell when we avoid them. Sticking to routine kills off many inspirational wonders of budding geniuses, so much so that the world is poorer for it in ways we cannot fathom.
We also tend to avoid these harmless types of experiments because they are a risk to our ego. If you take a random drive in the country, when gasoline is $4 a gallon, and come back two hours later, how do you explain that to the wife when she asks you where you’ve been and why the lawn isn't mowed? When you set up that canvas in the spare room, and it sits untouched for four months and collects dust while the paints next to it slowly harden and dry out, how do you justify wasting money on it?
We don’t experiment at a later age because we have bought into a social expectation for people in our group, that we should be productive members of society. It’s “okay” for a 20 year old to spend the summer in Daytona checking out the women in bikinis, but if you’re 40, that’s just creepy and weird, right? It’s okay for a five year old to finger paint, but if you’re doing this at the age of 32, maybe you should consider spending some real money and going to art school. What good is talent unless you're making money at it, or so the popular thinking goes...
Cultural expectations and norms often prevent us from living our lives fully. It takes effort to break away from the crowd, but if you can do it in a non-judgmental fashion and allow yourself to fail, its almost always personally rewarding in surprising ways.