Do you ever look at people who have really interesting or cool jobs or businesses and think, “How in the world did you get into this kind of work???”
Maybe I’m a bit odd, but I’ve always been obsessed with folks who have “off-the-beaten path” interesting jobs. I want the back story, you know? I love hearing the twists and turns of how someone’s work ends up coming to them through all kinds of chance encounters.
And that’s why this week, we’re going to get a little bit nerdy and deep dive into my absolute favorite career development theory - Planned Happenstance - and why I think its lessons are crucial for anyone who wants to create a more meaningful and interesting life and career.
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Read it on the blog here!: https://www.staciemitchell.com/blog/interesting-job
Do you ever look at people who have really interesting or cool jobs or businesses and think, “How in the world did you get this kind of work???”
Maybe I’m a bit odd, but I’ve always been obsessed with folks who have “off-the-beaten path” interesting jobs. I want the story, you know? How did you end up as a celebrity wedding planner, or a personalist stylist, or a life coach, or owning your own pottery studio? I love hearing the twists and turns of how someone’s work ends up coming to them through all kinds of chance encounters.
And that’s why this week, we’re going to get a little bit nerdy and deep dive into my absolute favorite career development theory - Planned Happenstance - and why I think its lessons are crucial for anyone who wants to create a more meaningful and interesting life and career. And let me go ahead and say that I promise that even though I just said the word “theory,” this will be more interesting than your typical lecture, I promise!
So let’s dig right into it:
What is Planned Happenstance Theory and how does it help you get a more interesting job?
Planned Happenstance Theory was created by John Krumboltz, a Stanford Psychologist whose most recent book and course was called, “Fail Fast, Fail Often” which you know I totally agree with as a solid career and business philosophy. Krumboltz passed away in 2019 but left a legacy of helping others find their right work by NOT planning so much and by taking action instead.
At its core, Planned Happenstance Theory states that there is no way to perfectly plan one’s career path and that to have the most meaningful career, you must stay open to chance and unplanned events. And even more, you want to provide yourself with more of these kinds of opportunities.
This is why Planned Happenstance has always been my favorite theory. Because it rejects the idea of one-and-done career matching. You know what I’m talking about: the assessments you probably took in high school and maybe college that gave you a list of 50 careers and told you the 5-10 you’d be best at, leaving out the thousands of paths that aren’t standard as well as all the super interesting jobs you can’t even imagine existing just a few years in the future. We know those assessments never really work for most folks. And to be honest, many of my clients have come from following those assessments and then absolutely hating their work as lawyers, accountants, or teachers or whatever other mainstream career path they were told to follow.
But this theory also rejects something else too: the idea that all of us have total, full control of our careers, which in reality, we just don’t. I’m not saying that we don’t have control of our reactions to obstacles, but more that those obstacles are real, and sometimes, we can’t actually overcome them. Sometimes we can pivot, sometimes we have to be willing to let go.
Sometimes things are totally outside of our own control, which makes it that much more important not to get tunnel vision about our career paths. If we’re so focused on “one right path”, we may miss a more interesting opportunity, or get so sucked into working all the time that we don’t create connections outside of our narrow field, or we never try anything new and thus have absolutely zero idea of what other work we’d ever want to do if our chosen career path goes away someday. Or if we someday just hate the career path we chose!
Now that we know the basics of the theory, let’s talk about its application in our real lives.
Give yourself the gift of work-life balance. If you don’t have time for friends and hobbies outside of your current work, you could be cutting off an opportunity for your most interesting work. Whatever you choose to do outside of your job, there are possibilities for chance encounters that could change your life. You could join a softball league and make friends with someone who works in an industry you didn’t even know existed, but that you find fascinating.
And you already have an in...don’t discount the importance of life outside of your work!
It also lessens the blow should you be laid off, or if you decide to walk away. Your identity is so much more than your work. And this is true even if you already love your work. It’s dangerous not to have a life outside of work and puts you at a much higher risk for burnout and other mental health issues should you hit bumps in your career path, which the majority of us will at some point.
Stay curious and never stop learning. I don’t care if it’s through online courses, or books, or college courses, or podcasts, but it’s important to stay curious throughout your life.
Continuous learning is good for your brain, and it can reduce your chances of dementia. And whatever skills you learn or interests you pursue can potentially set you up for your most meaningful, interesting work ever -- even if you think the connection is impossible.
Case in point: I had no idea that my coaching background, my experiences teaching, all of my education in digital marketing and online business, would ultimately help me get a dream job.
Because that dream job has pretty much never existed really until now! There was no way to plan that, it only happened because I kept following my own interests and staying curious. And who knows what could come next, but I’ll keep following my interests and see what happens.
Which takes me to...
Get better at handling ambiguity and uncertainty.
This comes up with every person I’ve coached at least once. Uncertainty is scary. We all want an A to Z plan for getting what we want. We want to be 110% sure we’ll get what we want before we ever make the decision to go after it.
But life doesn’t work that way. Interesting jobs and careers definitely don’t work that way.
We have to get comfortable with our paths looking different than we expected when we first set out to walk them. That’s what happenstance really means: it’s all up to chance. We take actions to get what we want, we see the results, and we pivot as needed. It’s almost always messier than we’d like. And many, many times the goals we set initially shift as we take action.
There’s a saying that’s really common in coaching because it’s so true: Action brings clarity. Without action, everything is theoretical, it’s not real life. And if it’s not real life, it’s hard to know our real feelings and to make real decisions. Because we don’t have real data to go off.
I was so scared to quit my job because I couldn’t predict exactly what would happen. But what’s funny about that is that I thought I could predict exactly what would happen in my job. We all know we’re just fooling ourselves with these thoughts, but they still persist.
We love control, and I think Planned Happenstance is about giving some of that control back to where it’s always really been: chance.
When we embrace the messiness of life, we stop trying to force ourselves into a box that no longer fits. We know we will change over time. We know that nothing actually lasts forever, as hard as that is to face. And thus we never get overly attached to any one thing or one identity for ourselves, which is so important.
Community is everything.
Every time I pivot in my career, I ask for help from my community. When I started my coaching business, I asked friends and family to follow me on social media and promote my content.
I ask friends to come on my podcast. I ask friends to put in a good word when I apply for a job I really want if I know they have connections there.
But it’s not all about me either. I send my friends and even my acquaintances interesting jobs I think they’d like. I send them articles or podcasts they’d like. I return the favor of putting in a good word. I don’t use the word networking here because I think it brings up gross feelings of using people to get ahead and that’s not at all what I’m talking about.
It’s about having people you like and love to help you through transitions. And to make these kinds of connections, you want to take the same advice as above: make room for it in your life and try something new.
Join a book club, or a church, or a yoga class, or a hiking group, or whatever strikes you as fun and get out there and meet people. MeetUp is an excellent platform for finding groups like these to meet new people, if this is something you want to do. You won’t be BFFs with everyone of course, but creating your own community matters when it comes to increasing your chances at once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunities. And having a strong community provides some protection against mental health issues like depression and anxiety too.
If you want an interesting job, be an interesting person. Keep trying new things, explore things you’re curious about. It’s about chasing the fun, without forcing everything you try to become your next career move -- which I know that may sound counterintuitive. But so many of my clients have an attitude of, “Well, I’m only going to take that class or join that book club or start a podcast if I know it will help me make money, get a job…” you see where I’m going.
But it’s not actually about that at all. It’s about keeping doors open for yourself to explore, it’s about learning because you want to learn, taking action because it’s fun, and not making everything so serious. Remember what it was like to play as a child? It’s a bit like that!
And the side effect is not only a more interesting, meaningful work life, but a more interesting life, period. And what’s not to love about that?
If you enjoyed today’s podcast, I encourage you to think of one person who could benefit from listening and send it to them right now. Remember how I talked about creating a strong community? Start now by sharing this with someone who could use it!
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Thanks for listening!