the serendipitous career

In June this year, at the University of Sheffield Engineering Symposium (USES), PVC Professor Tony Ryan gave a wonderful talk on collaboration and one of his pearls of wisdom was “Serendipity favours the prepared and open mind”. Serendipity has been described as “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune; or luck.” How true I thought of my life, when several times it has seemed an opportunity has just fallen into my lap! On reflection the only reasons these were ‘lucky’ was, because of the range of experience I already had, from not following a structured career path. “The harder I work, the luckier I get” said Samuel Goldwyn, so perhaps opportunities only come when we have worked hard to ensure we are ready! Can we be prepared for the opportunities that come our way?

This is not easy in a world where there are no longer ‘career ladders’ and new job roles are emerging all the time. We cannot take advantage of every opportunity and go on every training course available. We need to be selective. But how do we plan for the unknown? The best advice I can give is, first of all, know yourself. Reflect on what you really want from your career. We may all think we want fame and fortune but will these really bring you happiness or just make misery more comfortable!


What motivates you and what is not acceptable? Do you like to work on your own or in a team? Do you want responsibility, to manage people, variety, job security or to stay in a particular area? Once you have your ‘shopping list’ of job requirements, you can start to look at the kind of roles you may be seeking in the future. Being aware of similar current opportunities and their requirements can guide you in the areas you need to develop for the future. You will then be prepared for them when they arise. Mitchell et al (1999) discuss the difficulty of career paths in a time when persoanl goals are always subjected to change as one grows and learns and as the world changes. They advise that serendipity can be used to one’s advantage if individuals develop skills to recognise, create and use these chance occurrences as they think about their career. To take advantage of these opportunities we need to adopt certain characteristics, Krumboltz & Levin (2010) think these include curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk taking. “If only” are two very sad words. Make sure you do not miss out by ensuring you develop yourself for your next role. aliceday04 Mitchell, Levin and Krumboltz (1999). Planned happenstance, Journal of Counselling & Development, 77: 116-124 Krumboltz and Levin (2010) Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career (2nd ed.) Atascadero, CA: Impact Publishers


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