I was prompted to think again about the role of luck in people’s career by a recent article in the Guardian, – The secret of success? Believe in luck’.
I often hear people talking about the role luck has played in their career – statements such as ‘Oh, I was just lucky to get that job / talk to that person / be in the right place at the right time….etc’. However, if you unpick stories a bit more, I usually find that yes, luck has played a part, but so also has the fact that someone has been prepared to take an opportunity, talk to someone and follow up on that conversation, do something different. To make the most of ‘lucky breaks’ it helps to have some idea of:
- what interests you
- what you’re good at doing
- and be positive about trying things that fit with these interests and abilities, without necessarily knowing where this may lead.
Careers happen in different ways – there’s the more obvious route of deciding on the career you want to get into – clinical psychology, law, marketing etc – and putting into place all the pieces of the jigsaw you need to get there – research, talking to people, gaining experience, vocational courses, applications and interviews etc. You’ll find lots of examples of people who do just that.
However, that doesn’t work for everyone – it can be hard to work out where you want to end up – there’s just so many jobs out there.
So there’s also the route without a known destination – working out what you’re good at and what interests you, and following any opportunities which meet or develop your strengths and interests and seeing where that takes you. This is something we Careers people know as Planned Happenstance. It’s not about being passive and waiting for things to happen to you, it’s about going out there and finding your own opportunities through:
- Following your curiosity and identifying your interests.
- Being positive – wondering “how I can” rather than “I can’t because…”
- Being prepared to take advantage of chance opportunities, such as unexpected phone calls, chance encounters, impromptu conversations and new experiences.
- Learning, developing skills, remaining open and following up on chance events.
You only have to have a brief browse through the PPLS-grad case-studies to find plenty of instances where PPLS grads have done just this:
- Laura got her first break into marketing via a chance conversation at a wedding which she followed up on (read her section on My Career Decisions in her case study)
- Hannah took a stepping stone role in a recruitment agency which helped her land a role in talent recruitment with Skyscanner. Key to this was Hannah’s clarity about what she was good at, and being able to talk about why she would be good for the role at Skyscanner – listen to Hannah’s thoughts on this.
- Rosie never thought she’d end up working as a team leader for VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). A friend spotted the ad and thought the skills needed matched Rosie’s, gained from leading a team or Saturday staff at Boots, among other thing. As Rosie concludes ‘Do not limit yourself to what you once wanted, what you’ve been told you should be, or what your degree naturally inclines you to. Find that thing that makes you light up, and then find a job that pays you to do it.‘
In reality – most people’s career path owes something to both preparedness and luck. The key to being able to make the most of lucky or chance encounters, is to be prepared!