Serendipitous Career Moments

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“Somehow I knew this chance encounter was going to change my life” – Kathleen Flinn

Have you ever experienced chance events or encounters that have occurred in your life that have opened unexpected opportunities? You know, those “Sliding Doors” moments when later on you might look back and say “Oh, I just got lucky” or “I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Perhaps this serendipitous moment was:

  • A chance meeting or conversation with someone that provided an opportunity.
  • Spotting a course advertised when you weren’t really looking to undertake any training.
  • Developing a skill that leads to a change in career direction whilst pursuing a personal interest.
  • Meeting someone who casually tells you of an interesting job opening up, perhaps even in a different location.

John Krumboltz, Kathleen Mitchell et al, developed Planned Happenstance theory, as an approach to career development which looks at how serendipitous moments or events can influence our careers, and how we can be proactive in being open to noticing & acting on such events in the future.

As part of my own self-reflective practice & professional development, I asked myself recently how planned happenstance has shaped my career journey, in particular in relation to career coaching and working with military members and their spouses during and post transition from the military to civilian life.

My Serendipitous Career Moments

Looking back, the following events/conversations have been instrumental in shaping my experience and passion for supporting people going through midcareer transitions in particularly with military personnel, in Australia and abroad.

  • Unplanned Job Opportunity – Working in the British Army Education Centre, in Münster Germany.  When I arrived in Germany in 2009, as a Spouse/Dependant of a British soldier, I had by then given up my teaching career and had spent 16 months working with the Royal Engineers Association which had exposed me to the positive and negative experiences of military transitions, and subsequent potential effects transitions can have on an individual and family unit. 

    As a Dependant, it was difficult to find work in the British Forces Germany units (too few jobs – too many Dependants).   I happened to go to the camp one day just after I arrived to find out about upcoming basic German language courses and “life in Germany” familiarisation pamphlets. I hadn’t expected to see a job advertised for an E-Learning advisor in the education centre.  This job led me to making some amazing life long friendships including with my manager, who really opened my eyes to the issues relating to pre and post transition support.

    When they moved onto the role of Resettlement Officer, I was further inspired to support those who were impacted by transitions. They also introduced me to how involved and the level of understanding of labour market information, job role information etc was required from a Career Coach to support successful transitions.
  • Chance Conversation – Redundancy to Employability Skills Delivery Training.  After being made redundant from my Learning Coach role with an RTO, a senior LLN position that was being created for me by a start-up RTO fell through.  In all honesty, that didn’t really upset me except for the need to find other work, as for some time, I hadn’t felt that adult learning support truly align with my interests and passions.

    I remember having a conversation with my former team leader about my situation, and they happened to mention that another colleague in an executive position was looking for people to teach digital literacy skills to adult job seekers, on a short term casual basis, and would I like them to pass on my details.  I took up this opportunity which further led to the delivery and assessment of Employability Skills training for a diverse group of clients in multiple locations.
  • Chance Meeting – Unplanned Job Opportunity. Whilst delivering employability skills training, I was made aware of a Town Hall meeting for the company I was working for, and where we were encouraged to attend if possible, even though most of the topics didn’t really affect what I was doing.  During this meeting, it was casually mentioned how a pilot program had been trialled and was being further developed to mentor ADF transitions staff as they moved to a more client based centred approach. This project was been headed up by the person who bought me on board with the digital literacy/employability skills training.

    My heart sang when I heard about the project, as working with veterans who are transitioning, to help others avoid or at least minimise what I and my then partner had experienced during his transition, is what I am passionate about.  I decided to take the risk and emailed my expression of interest to part of this project. I’m so glad that I sent that email, because as a result, after several years I had the opportunity to once again resume supporting military members during transition.
  • Chance Encounter and Conversation. For personal reasons, after 18 months I needed at the time to step away from the transitions contracting role, in order to have the security of permanent full-time work.  However, although I enjoy working where I am, with a really great supportive team, my passion still lies in the role of a Career Development Practitioner.  I met purely by chance last year someone from Germany on a flight back from visiting my mother in Sydney for her birthday, and over dinner a chance conversation has proven pivotal to shaping my potential future career pathway plans. It also has helped me consider supporting clients on a broader level outside of Australia. I have written previously about this pivotal chance encounter and how it has helped shaped my career plans. If you are interested, you can read the post here , or the article on LinkedIn.

    It’s funny to think how one unplanned conversation during a brief moment in time, could have such a positive and powerful impact on my vision for my future. This chance meeting was such a serendipitous moment. One I will never forget and who knows, maybe one day our paths may cross again, and I can let them know in person, how they unknowingly helped me find my purpose.
  • Developing Your Support Network.  Of course, all of the above chance events/conversations have given me opportunities to develop skills and experience as a career development practitioner, as well as considering broadening my scope of how I could support people in transitions. I have over the last 18 months or so, met other people who have supported me, and encouraged me to follow my plans by introducing me to others in a broader network.

    They believe in my vision, and what I have to offer as a career development practitioner, encouraging me to think outside of the box and being receptive in terms of future work opportunities. This includes considering the feasibility for potential relocating to a different location if the opportunity arises.
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What questions did I ask during my self-reflection practice?

  1. How have unplanned events influenced my career in the past?
  2. How did I enable each event to influence my career development?
  3. How do I feel about encountering unplanned events in the future?

All of these questions, helped me to identify and consider how the listed planned happenstance moments/conversations led to shaping my career as a Career Development Practitioner who has a passion for working with mid-life career change including military transitions. 

Why not try and see if you can think of moments that were unplanned, and how these have had an impact on you career journey.

Skills to develop and maintain to take advantage of unplanned events:

  • Curiosity
  • Open mind
  • Transferable Skills
  • Networking
  • Persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Optimism
  • Willingness to take risks

Some ways a Career Development Practitioner might help:

  • Encourage you to be more curious and become aware of having more than one idea
  • Share labour market information that show hoe things have changed
  • Evaluate and teach a client how to develop networks
  • Plan the development of new skills
  • Develop a more positive and motivated mindset using a variety of client specific tools and strategies

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