The little apartment that fell from the sky
November 21, 2017 9:28 PM   Subscribe

Seeking stories of serendipity that saved people at the end of their rope - that were actually made possible by people laying the seeds of their own salvation

I'm seeking stories like fraula's in the random acts of kindness thread. At the end of a year-long housing search where failure meant having to leave the country, a place to live just arrived in her e-mail inbox one day. But that e-mail never would have come had fraula not created and maintained a blog (the landlords of the new place to live were long-time readers and fans). There was also the entire year before this that she spent looking for a place to live. We focus on the end of the story but there was quite a slog and many dead ends along the way, I'm sure.

I'm sorry if this is Chatfilter, but I ask because I find these personal stories so comforting. I just had two Big Life Things fall through in two separate Big Life Areas. It looked like the stars were aligning, my chickens coming home to roost, to the point where I was so hopeful and optimistic as to get excited about them happening. (I blame myself for being so attached to the outcome.) I'm so far from anything else developing on either of these fronts that I can't bring myself to do any of the things that I need to do to make these things happen for me. I just don't see how they can ever happen, so what's the point? To top it off, my birthday is in a few weeks, and all I can think about is how I'm running out of time and chances. I believe in manufactured luck, but I'm so despondent, overwhelmed and pessimistic that I can't move from the couch.

The stories can be about anything - jobs, housing, love, friends, money, health, you name it. Thanks.
posted by unannihilated to Human Relations (5 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Not quite the same in that one thing led directly (rather than somewhat indirectly) to another, but I posted this ask in May this year wanting to hear stories that kept up my motivation to go on dates, since I really did want a partner but I was starting to feel hopeless after a year of uninspiring (or worse) online dates and a long time before that being single. A week and a half after I posted that ask I got back in the saddle and went on another date with a guy I'd messaged online. I remember heading off to the date thinking "why do I even put myself through this? It'll be a big bunch of awkward for nothing. I'd much rather spend the afternoon at home." He was incredibly easy to talk to and it was just lovely. We have a similar sense of humour and values and goals and I like who I am around him. We're still together and it's the best relationship I've ever been in, even if it ended tomorrow (which it shows no sign of) I'd be so grateful to have had the privilege of spending this time together.

Had I had not gone on a whole heap of dates and made myself persist when it started feeling pretty crap (and gotten a bit of pep from the ask) I never would have met him.
posted by hotcoroner at 10:31 PM on November 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

When I was starting my master's degree I was really worried about being able to make ends meet. My department's standard stipend amount was calculated assuming students would pick up at least one teaching assignment, but I'd applied and registered late, and so all the TA slots that I was qualified for, being a first-year master's student, had already been taken. I had no choice but to go back to my old part-time job from undergrad and hope it wouldn't mess with my studies too much (it was a fairly high-stress public-facing job). I talked to them and they told me they'd email me a new offer letter and contract for me to sign. On my way back to the office, I see one of my old professors from undergrad in the hall; we wave to each other distractedly as we pass by each other; I am mildly surprised that he still recognizes me (I was not a super keen student).

I get back to the office and there are two new emails in my inbox - one from my former employers at [high-stress public-facing job] with my offer letter, and one from the prof I'd passed in the hall 20 minutes ago, saying "Dear btfreek, I found out just now that you had come back for grad school. I am launching a brand-new course this year and am looking for a few more TAs - I think you would be perfect for the job!". Turns out he actually recognized me from [high-stress public-facing job], and for his new-fangled course he was looking for people who were at least vaguely personable and able to operate under pressure, which I'd apparently demonstrated in my old job. I obviously took the TAship, which was way better than the alternative AND more fun than any of the TA jobs I'd originally been after (ie teaching Calc I to disinterested undergrads forever). I ended up staying on that teaching team for the entirety of my degree. All of this was because of that one serendipitous encounter in the hallway - but in order for that to have happened, I had to slog it out in my crappy old job in the first place.

I also have a second story, about how I got the job I'm starting in January - I first met my future boss two years ago because he was my former landlord's son and had come by to help his parents move a fridge, and then my old/current boss died suddenly and I was super distraught and demotivated for a few months, and I ran into FutureBoss at the memorial for OldBoss, and eventually a job offer came out of that but not right away because that would have been gauche - but that one is convoluted enough I can barely keep the facts straight in my head, much less form them into a coherent narrative... Life is weird. I hope you feel better soon, and that things start to break in your favor!
posted by btfreek at 11:50 PM on November 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Aw thanks, I'm glad that story helped, and I like how you saw the seeds in it. I wasn't really focusing on them with a long-term view – there's a lot behind the blog as well!

It was indeed such a long slog that I rarely (if ever?) tell it all in one sitting. I've been in therapy for nearly a decade now, so there's a running joke with my therapist when I start enjoying the company of new people, where the new person inevitably remarks on how unflappable I am in the face of rotten stuff, and I tell my therapist "unfortunately I can't recommend they spend twenty years with a mother who wants to murder you, a pathologically narcissist father who couldn't care less, abusive maternal grandparents, abusive uncles and aunts, and all of it within fundamentalist evangelical churches. Just pull that off without dying one way or another and you too can be unflappable when a boss screams at you for no good reason."

If knowing more of the seeds would help, I'm happy to share. For me it started young; I was blessed with a good mind. I figured out in elementary school that succeeding in my studies would be how I escaped. The thing is, I also realized I needed a reason to live – if I just chose subjects that were promising according to society, it would be nothing more than another area in which external values imposed upon my own life. So I've always held to the "follow your bliss" thing that many scoff at. I recognize that they're able to scoff at it because they have bliss elsewhere in their lives. With my family and their forbidding me to ever have friends over to our place, it was really hard to keep friends – I'd get invited to their places, but could never reciprocate or explain why I couldn't reciprocate. I couldn't explain because the few times I tried, friends would talk to their parents about it, who would then talk to mine, who would blow a gasket about what a horrible child I was to say such awful things, and would tell friends' parents: of course I could have friends over any time! Once we were alone I was punished for it and, yes, forbidden to have friends over.

So I threw myself into school and music. Music was a way for me to spend time with friends outside of parental influence. I chose piano and French as my subjects at university because they were the two I realized I couldn't live without. Choosing French allowed me to work my way towards a full-ride scholarship for a year-long study abroad program. And that allowed me to start my life on my own, totally out of the reach of my family.

Throughout my childhood, I was also fascinated by computers. They were a long-time hobby, but I never wanted to study coding; I just loved fiddling with them. I was on the internet with a telnet account (to a UNIX system) at age 14. I used gopher to browse the Sorbonne's library. At university I taught myself HTML and created the first marching band website ever. I also started blogging at the same time, but it wasn't even called "journaling" then (1994) – I just called it a website I updated with personal writing.

Because I was so used to doing things on my own, freelancing came naturally and I started my own teaching and translating business. Being on the web was a huge boost; my web presence got me the vast majority of my clients, and I was able to get a lot of work doing IT translations. That went well for a decade, until I broke up with my abusive ex. The atypical relationships of my childhood are very likely another reason I'm not so good at intimate relationships; it wasn't just the model of abuse throughout my family, it was also not being able to explore friendship fully. But – I had made a dear friend with my ex-not-quite-mother-in-law, who I call belle-mère because it's a lot more flexible, and she asked me to. Heh. We've known each other for twenty years now; she truly is a belle-mère to me.

While I still kind of flail with intimacy (single ever since that breakup 14 years ago), I do genuinely love people, and following the breadcrumbs of bliss with my career has indeed paid off. I love what I do, without identifying with it – my career isn't who I am, but it is something I've created and enjoy. So that attracts the best kind of people, and those people are a huge reason I've managed to succeed.

I relate a lot to Taoism and it's helped me view my life as ever-changing, and feeling secure in that so long as I'm in touch with Tao (following my own truth) and balanced (not taking anything to extremes), whatever comes at me in life will be okay. And I'm saying that as someone who's had several very, very dear people be brutally murdered or otherwise die well before their time. That's not okay. But being surrounded by friends who talk about it, is.

Life is shit, but people and the infinite variations on love that we're able to share in are pretty great.
posted by fraula at 3:44 AM on November 22, 2017 [19 favorites]

I'm trying to remember the name of a book I read previously. I think it's The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman, but there's also a book with the same title by Max Gunther. Anyway, it's about how people who consider themselves "lucky" actually act in different ways from other people. The example I remember was one where people went into a coffee shop and those who thought of themselves as lucky struck up conversations with random strangers that sometimes led to connections (and in one case a job offer). The authors also did an experiment where people chose lottery numbers, and the ones who considered themselves lucky were no different from anyone else. So the basic upshot is that we can make our own luck, which seems to be part of what you're getting at here.
posted by FencingGal at 6:58 AM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

My constant advice to students/people in general is, in pursuing your dreams/goals/whatever, to keep slamming your head against the wall until you break through to the other side. I think this is what luck really is – you make the best decisions you can, and you take absolutely every scrap of opportunity you even suspect is poking its head up over your horizon. I have a few little stories about this, but I think this one will suffice:

I studied graphic design in college, and your first year is a foundations year. At the end of the first year, you interview and hopefully get into your chosen program with a limited number of students. If you don't make the cutoff, well, you can try again next year. I did NOT make the cut, unlike most of my friends. I was pretty upset at the idea of shelling out a full year of college tuition just to take a second crack at the program I knew I wanted to do and knew 100% I was capable of doing. I was also pretty devastated to be cut out of my established friend group as they all went into the program together.

I figured I might as well start laying the groundwork for next year now, since I absolutely wanted to make sure I got in the next year. I started setting up meetings with one of the program professors asking what I could do to improve for next year. Could I do an independent study in the meantime? We met several times to discuss options about setting up an independent study for credit and I went on summer break.

The first day of the next year, I went up to the professor's office to finalize the details and was unceremoniously booted out of the office—they came out about an hour later and told me, screw the independent study, you're in the program. I feel SO, SO lucky to this day that I got to graduate on time, in a class with my friends, and didn't lose an entire year of college tuition because I was persistent and vocal about what I wanted to do. I didn't remotely expect this outcome, but if I'd just given it up and taken the delayed year, I would never have gotten that chance.

Over the course of my life, I've also learned that my best-laid plans pretty much never come to fruition, and yet I almost always end up in better situations than I probably would have if they had. Life is funny like that; your biggest disappointments can genuinely lead you to better places. If you're constantly ramming against the wall looking for weak points, you'll eventually find them. My college program example seems small in comparison to some of these more life-changing events, but I give it because I think it's a good example of how this stuff can randomly benefit you—it definitely wasn't my intention to convince them to let me in, but it happened, and all because I chose not to let it lie. You can't predict how these things shake out, but you can absolutely grab onto every thread you're given and see if it leads anywhere. I've had many emails go unanswered, many meetings with people go nowhere, many embarrassing or goofy moments in pursuit of my goals, but way more importantly I've had a lot of successes, met a lot of cool new people, gotten to do things I never would have done if I just didn't bother reaching out in the first place.
posted by caitcadieux at 7:54 AM on November 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

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