to What Should I Do With My Life?
Meaning in Coincidence
James had never gone to college, so she felt very lucky that the long boom
years carried her up into the ranks of successful professionals. She
worked for a public relations agency in London. The hours were long and
demanding, and shed often wonder, What am I after? What do I
want? Her rote answer: someday, one of her clients would offer her a
big salary and a Vice Presidency. She wanted to move up or assumed she
did. Didnt everyone?
The hope of getting a job like this sustained her through the many
leadership changes at her agency. It was for this that she endured the
two-hour commute each morning and evening, from her home in Brighton to
her office in London.
A year and a half ago, at a time when many people in high-tech felt
lucky to have any job at all, Kat was offered a job running the P.R.
department at one of the hottest telecoms in the UK. To convince her, they
offered to double her salary. Double it!
At first she said yes, instinctively.
But the offer to double her salary had an unintended effect. It
made it crystal clear that if she were to take this job, she would be
doing it for the money. Not because it would be fun and interesting. For
the money, plain and simple.
Over the next three weeks, she stalled. She told the telecom she
She thought, if I accept this, where will it end?
This was not what she wanted the rest of her life.
Her heart held her back.
The thing was, Kat never really cared about money. She didnt
spend much and had little desire to acquire possessions. The idea that she
needed more money to be free wasnt her idea, it was an ethos of
the industry she worked in. Shed listened to it rather than to herself.
She told the telecom no thanks and instead bought tickets to go out
to California. San Francisco was like Brighton, right on the ocean,
without the two-hour commute to London. She wished she worked closer to
the sea and nature. She didnt know what she would do when she arrived,
but shed let that work itself out.
She made her plan, but as her travel date approached, she got a
very sick feeling in her gut. So strong was this feeling of anxiety that
she had to cancel her plans.
What was going on? What would she do?
She had one thought. She barely let herself consider it. Ever since
she was six years old, Kat had said that if money were no object, and if
status didnt matter, and if there were nothing in the way
be a landscape gardener.
Why not go do the thing shed always wanted to do?
This was a laughable notion. She was not a horticultural hobbyist.
She didnt even have a garden at her home! And she did not come from a
family that encouraged such leaps of fancy. Her family worked in offices,
not in gardens. Her mother had been employed by the same firm for 32
years. Her grandfather had worked for a single firm for 50 years.
A few days later, she went to a music festival, and between bands
she had a Tarot card reading performed, somewhat as a joke. Kat didnt
believe in that stuff. Up turned goddess cards and earth cards. The Tarot
reader looked at these cards and pronounced, You would be really good
at tending peoples gardens.
Wow! Was it that obvious, that a complete stranger could see this
The next day, she recounted the amazing coincidence to a neighbor.
Are you thinking about doing it?, the neighbor asked.
Im thinking, Kat said.
The neighbor said she had just thrown into the trash a catalog for
courses at Brighton City College. Ill go get it, she offered.
Kat took the catalog into her house. The College offered an
extensive horticulture program that awarded two-year vocational
certification. The first class began the next week, and the enrollment
session for the class was that very afternoon.
Guided by another in the string of coincidences, Kat went down to
enroll immediately. She felt light and happy and excited about what she
Classes were from nine a.m. to five p.m., three days a week. A
third of each day was spent in the classroom, two thirds outdoors. She
loved it. There were two other former professional women in the program,
so Kat didnt feel like an outsider. She rented two of the three
bedrooms in her house to cover her mortgage. But what of her expenses?
There was a big 100-year-old nursery in Brighton that would be ideal to
work for because it was only a ten minute walk from home. She called to
ask for employment. She was told they had no jobs available until
Christmas season, but they suggested she stop by in person sometime. She
walked over right away, and they hired her on the spot to start
More synchronicity. If she hadnt been offered that job
she hadnt gone to the music festival
if she had waited one more day
to chat with her neighbor
if she hadnt walked over to the nursery
it felt like the universe had conspired to make this new path in life
easy for her, offering a vote of confidence from some mysterious force to
counteract her inherent doubts.
When I arrived in Brighton a year and a half later, on an
unseasonable hot day in April, it was the role of this synchronicity I
most wanted to explore. Did her confidence that this was the right
direction for her really depend on that alignment of good fortune? Id
heard many stories like it. If you believe in God, then believing in a
guiding hand often follows. But if youre not a religious person, (as
Kat wasnt), then how do you make sense of these beneficial
strings of coincidence?
Kats sense of this decision being right for her was still firmly
intact. She loved her new life. And she still put a tiny bit of stock in
that synchronicity that had guided her. We should at least acknowledge
these signs, even if we dont act on them. Theres often something in
them. But in the last 18 months, the benefits of synchronicity had been
replaced by the benefits of consistent hard work. Only a half hour
earlier, shed taken an exam on interior landscaping. In two months, she
would earn her Advanced Level in Garden Design, and she intended to
continue her training with the Royal Horticulture Societys grade 2
course next year. She was working at the nursery three days a week, and
just that week she had incorporated her own design company, called
Gardenscene2 (as in, Id like to have my garden seen to.) She had
her first contract, which was to design a garden 20 meters by 20.
She showed me her illustrations. She was turning a
flat, mossy mess into a patio retreat, separated from the house by a
pergola covered with aromatic climbing plants. The lawn would be returfed
and an herb garden added. Numerous plants of interesting shapes, forms and
textures framed the new seating area. She was also installing solar panels
to power the lighting and water heater. I was impressed by the scope. It
was a significant, big budget project that required managing contractors
for the construction. I didnt even know one could earn a degree in
This hard work had changed how she told her story. Her sense of
this choice being right no longer hinged on a Tarot reading and a
timely conversation with a neighbor. After all, it wasnt just luck that
steered her to a new life. Her heart told her not to take that dream job.
Her gut told her not to move to San Francisco. Shed wanted to design
gardens since she was six years old. She finally listened to that desire.
She would have got here, synchronicity or not. She now got her sense of
rightness from the joy in her life. She was fulfilled. She was proud
of her work. Every day, this rightness reaffirmed itself.
What then is the real role of coincidence and circumstance? Its
hard to say. Theres a tension there. We want to ascribe meaning to it,
stitching together that vote of confidence we need. From the pattern we
weave our story. The need to do this stitching comes from deep within;
its a way for our often-ignored longings to communicate with our
rational mind, a way to cry out. At the same time, we dont want to
attribute too much to the cosmos. We prefer to be actors upon our story.
So like Kat, our story evolves. In its early stages, its magic-realist.
Later, when we have more to go on, we draw on actual experience.
Kat and I spent the evening walking through Old Lanes, the historic
district of Brighton. I had another set of questions for her.
You kind of dropped out of the traditional status
framework, I said. Most people need the context of a company and an
industry and a title and a salary-level and regular performance reviews to
provide a measure of self-worth. How does one forego that, and dare go
Ive been bothered by that far less than I imagined, she
said. My life has plenty of structure and context. Between classes and
the nursery and my new company, Im very She paused. I was
going to say busy, but thats not right, because Im not
harried. Im very active. Im still pragmatic. I dont feel
like a dropout.
And how was she doing financially? Does she ever
regret not taking that doubled salary?
She said many people in her shoes would have taken the double
salary in order to save up for the leap into garden design, believing that
money is the path to freedom. She didnt, and shes found that true
freedom comes from the confidence she can live within her means, whatever
those means may be. Between her hourly pay and her rented bedrooms,
shes made it work. More importantly, her sense of purpose and meaning
arent tied to her pay, because shes getting so much psychic income
from her calling. Its been clarifying, releasing her from vanities.
Kat knew her job would change; she didnt realize how much
she would change, being surrounded by nature rather than
technology. High-tech celebrated new ideas and wanted to rewrite the
rulebook; horticulture honors wisdom passed down for centuries. The
internet treated the world as one big global market. Horticulture respects
that all gardening is local; what grows in the greenbelt of Brighton might
not grow in London, et cetera. Its a very different mindset and
approach to life. Katt believes nature can teach us, nurture our souls. It
makes what she does feel important.
Like one of her plants, Kats found a bit of rich soil that
nourishes her well. Shes taking better care of it now.