Planned Happenstance

Guest writer: Anne Kirchgessner, LCPC, NCC, Career Counselor

The tower of dicesFeeling stuck in your current job? Not sure what your next career step is? Here are some tips to help you make your own good luck and take advantage of both planned and unplanned career opportunities.

John Krumboltz, a noted career development theorist, considers ways to take advantage of both chance and planned events. He calls this concept Happenstance Learning Theory. His work takes into account that the careers of most people have been impacted by chance happenings as well as planned events.

In a recent article in the Journal of Career Assessment (Vol. 17, No. 2, May 2009), Krumboltz writes:

“No one can predict the future – everyone’s career is influenced by many unplanned events.”

He encourages people to remain open to exploring opportunities in order to move ahead in a positive way toward their goals.

The three steps Krumboltz suggests in controlling unplanned events are:

1. Before the unplanned event, take actions that position you to experience it.

Application: Be active in many ways. Join walking groups, attend professional meetings, start a book club, etc.

2. During the event, remain alert and sensitive to recognize potential opportunities.

Application: Keep your mind open to meeting people and finding new opportunities ALL the time, not just at career-related events.

3. After the event, initiate actions that enable you to benefit from it.

Application: Follow up, keep in touch, explore related opportunities.

Rather than say something like “I can’t do this because…” he suggests asking: “How can I act now to increase the chance of a desirable future event?”

Following are four questions that Krumboltz poses that may help you to look ahead in a more positive way to explore a new or future direction:

1. What is a chance event that you wish would happen to you?

e.g. someone might say “I want to meet someone involved in public policy.”

2. How can you act now to increase the chance of a desirable future event?

e.g. “I could join a group affiliated with this field, and/or search on LinkedIn for people currently working in public policy.”

3. How would your life change if you acted?

e.g.  “I would learn more about public policy and probably make some good contacts in the field.”

4. How would your life change if you did nothing?

e.g. “Hard to say for sure…” (But it’s likely that you could miss some opportunities to explore and move ahead toward your goals)

Answering these questions might give you more knowledge and the flexibility to take advantage of chance opportunities.

Krumboltz also believes that the goal of career counseling is to help people “learn to take actions to achieve more satisfying career and personal lives – not just make a single career decision.” If you would like to meet with a career counselor in OITE to explore possibilities for your next career step, please e-mail OITE-Careers@od.nih.gov.

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