Have you had one job, then the next, and then the next … some great, some good, some not so wonderful? Or have you taken a more strategic view of your career, deciding where you wanted to go and how to get there? The former relies upon “serendipity” or, according to Webster, “the gift of finding valuable things not sought after” and the latter relies on having specific goals, a plan to reach them, and a process for measuring outcomes. Here are some additional considerations for making the most out of both approaches.
Academics A.M .Mitchell, A.S. Levin, and J.D. Krumboltz in the Journal of Counseling and Development (Spring 1999) coined the phrase “planned happenstance” defined as “constructing unexpected career opportunities.” They explain that one never has to decide what he or she will “be” in the future since despite setting goals at various times in one’s career, these goals are always subject to change as one grows and learns and as the world changes. Furthermore, unplanned events will inevitably have unexpected impacts upon career plans. They do, however, say that serendipity can be used to one’s advantage if individuals develop skills to recognize, create and use these chance occurrences as they think about their careers. Critical attributes for taking advantage of serendipitous events are curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk taking – according to Luck is No Accident by Krumboltz and Levin published in 2004.
Advocates of a more structured view of career planning advise individuals to take a page out of the strategic planning processes of organizations. Scott Span, President of Tolero Solutions writing in HR blog, TLNT, talks about why organizations need a strategy and how to create one, but the guidelines apply equally to your personal career strategy. Span suggests the steps are: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How will you measure progress? How will you get there? Just as for organizations, a strategy for your career will help you answer important questions and think about what success looks like. A structured career plan starts with the end in mind, tracks metrics and outlines specific actions. It’s like a compass that provides direction and guideposts.
In chapter 6 of Lewis Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice speaking to the Cheshire Cat says:
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
In thinking about your career, serendipity may be a long walk, but strategy requires thinking about where you want to get to.