I have found it fascinating when working with people whose careers are in transition how frequently the amazing pattern of ‘being in the right place at the right time’ emerges. It’s fascinating also to ‘see the lights come on’ so to speak as it dawns on them that perhaps these occasions weren’t just pure luck, but they had in fact been quite instrumental in engineering the opportunity to occur without realising it. Once they lock on to this, they can start to understand how they can ‘create their own luck’ through planned happenstance. They say there is nothing as practical as a good theory and one of my favourites is that of planned happenstance, a theory developed by the renowned career theorist, John Krumboltz. Many others have written and blogged about this theory because it makes so much sense and is so practical in today’s world so I will humbly add my contribution to the many others!
Planned happenstance focusses on seeing the positive aspects of uncertainty and unplanned events, a very helpful concept in today’s world of work. Many of us happily employed or working are oblivious to the fact that when opportunities present themselves this is generally a result of how we have been demonstrating the quality of our work and skills. What planned happenstance teaches us is that we can actually influence and even engineer this to happen by being more aware of these factors and opportunities and developing the skills to capitalise on them. Reflecting back and unpacking what actually happened at the times when ‘happenstance’ intervened and you were ‘in the right place at the right time’ can be a helpful learning tool to recreating these opportunities going forward. Rather than feel that we are at the mercy of others or situations that are not in our control, there are some key actions that Krumboltz’s theory offers that we can practice to help us make the most of unplanned events:
- Developing a sense of curiosity about opportunities and being open to exploring where they might lead
- Being genuinely interested in others that you meet in order to broaden your network and to learn from them and how you might be mutually beneficial to each other
- Developing persistence to deal with obstacles – often a way around or a hidden opportunity will eventually present itself
- Thinking laterally in order to see if there are opportunities that are not immediately obvious.
Sometimes these activities can seem nebulous if it is not your natural bent to operate this way, or if you feel a loss of control over your circumstances: How do I become ‘curious’? What does ‘thinking laterally’ really mean? I thought I was ‘persistent’? That is where the power of self-reflection and unpacking the steps you took and your behaviours at the time can be helpful. Most of us can adopt these behaviours in the right circumstances, the trick is learning how we have done it in the past and practising re-creating them in a more conscious manner. But there is more to this liberating theory than the points I have highlighted here which may be helpful to those feeling a bit ‘stuck’ particularly in their career. Happenstance occurs all around us and is an empowering and liberating thing. By learning how to consciously recognise it and harness this to create planned happenstance you can actually create your own luck!