This phrase has always filled me with a kind of despair – or at least, a niggling irritation.
It’s something you hear often in our plugged in, career-focused world. I think it goes with the millennial way of things, implying a freeing, unstructured synchronicity that happily befalls those shiny people who are doing everything right. Apart from the phrase being all about luck. Let’s cut to the chase; it’s misleading!
People who say it
The people from whom I’ve heard this phrase uttered include:
- The editor of a literary magazine being interviewed as part of a creative writing lecture at Melbourne University:
Long dark hair, immaculate, only 27. Gorman shawl cloaked sumptuously around her, still holding her 9am coffee cup – body faced towards her interviewer but polished boots toward the meek, bespectacled audience.
“Well thanks, Marie, but actually I never even studied creative writing. I was just an avid reader, writer, critic, tutor, art historian – the lot – you know! (laughs) All just for fun. Really, when David approached me tentatively for the position of editor, I just happened to be at my waitressing at my colleague’s jazz gig. He really rivals Brubeck, honestly. (laughs) Anyway I was at the gig, cleaning a smear of late-night espresso off the tablecloth… and David just came up to me in the interval, out of the abyss you could say, holding two glasses of champagne. And I never waited tables ever again! (laughs) I was simply in the right place at the right time.”
- World-champion barista on a tv show about high-achieving Australians:
White dude, also only 27. Short back and sides, gleaming brown man-bun and laughably stereotypical hipster tattoos. Smugness disguised as a casual grin emanating from his cheeks.
“Yeah, man. I was just bumming around Byron and after a jaunt in New York working in several cafes, and I realised I just bloody loved coffee. I took a proper barista course, and realised my dreams in the form of the best bloody crema you can imagine. One day, who else but my mate Matt Preston sauntered into where I was working on Flinders Lane in Melbourne, and we just took it from there. You just have to be there in the right place at the right time. You know, man?”
What it implies
When heard, the phrase implies a kind of carefree drifting about in the creative ethosphere waiting for something to happen, a kind of entanglement with fate – where you catch it on the right side of the dial, the sunny side up, the aha! moment of time where all the good things align in your favour. However, it also implies that you know where the right place is and what the right time is, for your particular pursuit. That, through your careful scrutiny of the vagaries of your particular pursuit, you’ve listed all the possible places and all the possible times that ~ something amazing ~ could occur.
You’ve listed them all, maybe in an excel spreadsheet on your perfectly matte MacBook, or written them laboriously out in a neatly gridded Kikki. K notebook. With your silly, squinty monocle or your tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, you’ve deciphered – out of the thousands of possibilities – that you’d better be in Brooklyn on the 23rd May 2018 in the newly-opened tequila ‘n’ tacos bar, standing casually next to the owner. Or loitering stylishly in the Deloitte lobby in Paris on the 15th June. Or talking loudly but articulately on the phone to your boyfriend about the script you’re writing (it totally takes Arthur Miller to a whole new, 21st century level) on the train from Edinburgh to London on the 9th December in two years’ time.
This way, you’ll have the best opportunity of bumping into the right people under the right circumstances – IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME. Omg you did it.
As I was cycling home in the rain last night, I realised that I was a freelance writer.
What a ridiculous sentence – sorry. But anyway, as part of this realisation, I traced the journey in my head: how did this happen? Okay, I did an arts degree. Then honours. I applied for internships. I did them. I socialised with people. I am here. Was I ever really in the right place at the right time? I was!
So, why do I feel indignant towards the magazine editor and the champion barista? It’s because the phrase makes it seem like I always missed out, and I was destined to miss out, and I am still destined to miss out and never quite scheme the schmoozy date with the publisher of my acquaintance’s poetry collection where I just stumble into her on the street (and not spill soy latte all over her).
No, it’ll happen through simply doing the things you like, working moderately hard, and having a healthy modicum of nervous energy and social skills. I don’t think you need to try to be in the right place at the right time. Just… be yourself, man!
(And go easy on the italics next time.)