From "There Are No Accidents." Used by permission.

In many of the stories concerning synchronicity and work that I have been privileged to hear, many of the people I talked to had fully intended to proceed in one direction professionally when a synchronistic event derailed them, leading them mysteriously into an entirely different line of work altogether. In response to the question, "How do I work with synchronicity?" I extend the apparently paradoxical advice to "expect the unexpected."

A singer I'll call Elise told me the story of her big break. Like most professional singers, Elise had spent much of her life in voice, acting and movement classes, all at her own expense and with the full knowledge that the possibility of earning a decent living from performing was a gamble against poor odds. Like artists in any field, though, she did what she did because she loved it, despite the difficulties, frustrations and uncertainties.

Because she was classically trained as an opera singer, her interest in appearing in musical comedy productions was not especially strong, though her coach and colleagues had often urged her to try out for such roles, given her sparkling, naturally comic personality and the remarkable versatility of her voice. But, in spite of such advice, Elise resisted their encouragement and continued trying to break into the very small and highly competitive world of opera, going to audition after audition with middling success, landing a small part here and there in local companies, while working her day job to pay the rent.

For a small but well-regarded opera company's production of a popular opera, Elise spent a good month polishing her audition aria and, when scheduling the try-out, had specifically requested one of the last audition appointments, knowing she sounded better later in the day. When she arrived at the community center where the auditions were being held, however, it was immediately clear from the deserted air that a mistake had been made. Anxiously approaching a woman who seemed to be an assistant and who was in the process of packing up her papers at the end of the hall where "Auditions" were indicated, Elise said with as much self-control as possible, "Don't tell me auditions are over. I had a five o'clock appointment."

The woman seemed taken aback. "Actually, they are," she said, "but the committee hasn't left. Let me see if they'll hear you."

After a brief consultation behind closed doors, the woman returned and led Elise into the room. Elise told me she did remember the pianist giving her an odd glance when she gave him her music. Two men and a woman sat behind the desk, looking, as always, impassive but attentive, and after centering herself, she launched into her audition piece, a coloratura aria in Italian. She felt it went very well, and at the end she thanked the committee a little more graciously than usual, given their indulgence of her lateness. As she was preparing to leave, one of the committee asked her, strangely, if she had prepared anything in English.

Not understanding, she answered that she hadn't thought the show was being performed in translation.

"Candide?" the man responded, referring to Leonard Bernstein's quasi-operatic musical comedy, which, of course, had an English libretto.

That was the moment Elise realized that she had stumbled into, of all things, the wrong audition entirely. "Oh. I really don't know what to say. I thought I was auditioning for another company and another show."

The woman at the door laughed. "Their auditions are tomorrow, Sunday."

But the director of the show motioned to the pianist and asked Elise if she was willing to sight-read a bit.

Somewhere between mortified and game for a challenge, Elise went forward with the unfamiliar music, and at the end realized they were interested in her for the difficult role of Cunegonde, Candide's wife, which she indeed got, finding out later that she was one of only three sopranos they had heard that day who were capable of actually singing the role. Most of the others either hadn't had the sort of musical background Elise had or couldn't adequately sing the music Bernstein had written.

From her performance in this musical, Elise received a great deal of attention in the press, from which came other offers for performances locally then regionally, in musical theater rather than opera. "It took going to the wrong audition to make we wake up and do what I guess I should have been doing all along. I'm working steadily, I'm happy. That's what counts, no?"

Accidents happen every day...It is not the event itself but its place in the narrative of our lives which determines whether or not an accident is synchronistic.

What is interesting, though, in so many of these stories about the meaningful coincidences that occur in people's work lives is the admission of defeat that seems almost required before they are able to move forward, an admission forced upon them by apparent misfortune...

Elise's blunder led her to have to admit her own mistake in keeping her eye so narrowly on a single sort of musical career. The expression "accidentally on purpose" comes to mind when thinking about accidents of these sorts, for in the arc of the professional lives of these people, the accidents they suffered and the sacrifice of previous attitudes that such mishaps forced on them actually were the hinge upon which the plot of their work lives turned.

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