What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

March 17, 2014

Image of a green four leaf cloverIn celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to take another look at what luck really looks like.  If you search the word “luck” on this very career blog, many of the results include interviews with NIH alumni who have attributed some part of their career to luck. This is a small example which reflects a larger sentiment.  Many individuals feel that their career path has unfolded by chance and they somehow just got lucky.

In fact, there is actually a Career Development Theory of Planned Happenstance pioneered by Dr. John Krumboltz which supports this. You can read more about this theory in his book, Luck Is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career; however, this approach emphasizes the role of chance and taking advantage of unplanned opportunities that come your way.

The previously held belief that a career path unfolds as a set of steps within a linear process is constantly being challenged by today’s job market. So, how can you use planned happenstance to help create your own luck and turn seemingly random events into productive opportunities? According to Krumboltz’s theory, there are five critical skills to develop and utilize:

  1. Curiosity
    Explore learning opportunities — topics, occupations, hobbies and activities that are of interest to you.  Attend a presentation, sign up for a class, or do an informational interview. Increasing your exposure to more things increases your chances of discovering a new opportunity.
  2. Persistence
    There will be many barriers along the way — both internal (indecision, self-doubt) and external (job rejections, layoffs). The key is how you persist in your career exploration.
  3. Flexibility
    Sometimes the dream job appears at the wrong time or in an inconceivable location. Being flexible means being open to opportunities even when they don’t match our preconceived “ideal.”
  4. Optimism
    Avoid negative language that is global in nature such as “Things never work out for me…” or “I can’t ever do that because…” Verbalizing negativity contributes to reinforcing a cycle of despair.
  5. Risk Taking
    Challenge yourself to take risks that are manageable (but somewhat scary) to you. Taking a risk can mean any number of things to different people. For some, it could be changing their career path entirely; for others, it could mean talking to someone they consider intimidating. Whatever risk means to you, realize it is often a necessary aspect within self-discovery and a job search as well.
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