Happenstance: Can Not Planning be Considered Career Development?
Have you ever heard advice like this?
- “Make a career decision and stick with it.”
- “Finish your education.”
- “Don't let chance events disrupt your plan.”
- “Take action only when you're sure of the outcome.”
Statements like this make things sound as though you should know the exact path you will take in your life and career. But what if you're less than completely certain about what path you want to take? What if you are still wrestling with several competing interests? How can you move forward when you're not sure of your direction?
Well, to start, don't be too alarmed - you're in the majority. There are very few people who know exactly what they want to do in their careers; much less how to achieve their goals. Instead, many of us are unsure. Luckily, there is a job searching approach that acknowledges this uncertainty and views it as an asset. It's called Happenstance.
What is Happenstance?
The premise of this theory is that people can take unplanned events and transform them into career opportunities. Both planned and chance events are involved. Most people are taught that they should overcome indecision quickly and minimize any chance events that can interrupt their plans. Happenstance adopts a different view where people welcome indecision as a sensible approach to a complex and unpredictable future, and also actively look to capitalize on chance events.
The key to this approach is an attitude shift that embraces the fact that uncertainty is normal. Unplanned events are a normal and necessary component of every career. Similarly, anxiety about the future is normal but can be replaced with a sense of adventure.
We've all been through unexpected changes in life, some good and some bad. However, even some of our negative changes have resulted in new opportunities. Here are a few examples:
- You may have been laid off from a job, but this event was the spark you needed to focus on starting a home-based business;
- You weren't selected for the job you wanted, but instead you decided to explore a new career area you previously knew nothing about; and/or
- You have to go to a party you're dreading, and while there you end up meeting someone who becomes an important business contact.
In each of these examples, something positive takes places in what first appeared to be a negative and/or unplanned situation. Paraphrasing Louis Pasteur, "Chance favors the prepared mind." It is not enough to wait for good things to happen to you. While you may not actively seek out new opportunities or situations, you must be prepared for the ones that you encounter. Remember that your career development is a life-long learning process that requires you to make decisions in response to unexpected events.
There are lots of things that you can do to prepare yourself for Happenstance, such as:
- Get more education - Enroll in workshops, seminars, online learning courses, as well as college classes
- Build and maintain a professional network of contacts
- Volunteer for different projects and assignments at work to increase your skills and knowledge as well as your visibility among coworkers and managers
- Join a professional association and become active on various committees
- Volunteer with community and civic groups to increase your network of social and professional contacts
- Work with a career coach to update your resume
Here are some specific mindsets you can cultivate to make the most of unplanned events:
- Optimism - viewing new opportunities as possible and attainable
- Curiosity - exploring new learning and opportunities
- Risk Taking - taking action in the face of uncertain outcomes
- Persistence - trying to succee in spite of setbacks
- Flexibility - changing beliefs, ideas, attitudes and behaviors
Remember that Happenstance helps broaden your horizons.
You can move forward with an expansive spirit, taking actions to discover new outcomes and learning from your mistakes. Within this new way of thinking, you are not indecisive - you are open minded!
For more on Happenstance, see the book “Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career” by John D. Krumboltz and Al S. Levin (2004).