By Sam Berry
Do we choose our career or does it choose us? Is it possible to find our one true calling, or are we at the whim of the unpredictable world around us?
Rewind 60 years or so and it was common for people to work in the same occupation, industry, or company for the duration of their working lives. There was a sense that once you landed a job, either through choice or circumstance, you were stuck with it. The general assumption was that you would start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder until you reached the top of your profession or retired. Early models of career management paid little attention to influencers such as changes in society, economic fluctuations, new industries or an individual’s personal life.
In 2017 we know that the world of work has become fast-paced, global and more connected than ever via technology. What happens on the other side of the world can affect us almost instantaneously – change has become a key influencer in our everyday lives. We also know that changes in personal circumstances, family commitments and individual values are important factors in our careers. Modern career theories encourage us not only to accept change, but to anticipate it.
Chaos Career Theory
Chaos Career Theory suggests that because we live in a world which is constantly changing, where one event can influence another unexpectedly, career development is unpredictable.
According to this theory, finding one true calling and having a long-term plan for our career path is unrealistic. Instead, we’re best to develop strategies to deal with unplanned events, to be aware of what’s happening in the world and our industry so that we can be alert to changes and respond in a positive way. It’s like viewing our career as a series of projects that we take on according to opportunities that come our way – perhaps due to what’s happening in the market at the time, or because a chance meeting or event occurred. To thrive in these conditions the most important career management skills would include keeping our radar up for new opportunities, continuously adapting our know-how as we go, and being able to bounce back if things go wrong.
Planned Happenstance Theory
If the prospect of handing your career over to chance feels a little daunting, but you recognise that a linear career path is outdated, you may be more comfortable with the concept of another theory known as Planned Happenstance. This perspective is similar to Chaos Theory in that it accounts for the unpredictability and rapid change of today’s world, but it incorporates self-management, allowing for “planfulness” as well as serendipity. Planned Happenstance Career Theory encourages us to plan for what we can, but also to embrace unpredictable events and see them as unavoidable, yet desirable.
Take the example of Lina, a Law graduate with 18 months’ experience in a corporate law firm. Given a downturn in the industries that her department provided services to, she found her role was unexpectedly made redundant. Lina took the opportunity to reflect on her studies and her career so far and found that the most enjoyable components for her related more to winning clients and understanding different business models than to the legal work itself. She also took the extra spare time to explore her interest in yoga and joined some classes where she built a new network of contacts who held similar personal values. Over a period of time spent networking and reading in her areas of interest Lina discovered that she could combine her knowledge of business law, client relationship skills and passion for healthy living to help one of her new contacts develop their corporate well-being business. After some further networking and research into the market, this ultimately became her next career step.
Lina landed on her feet by embracing new opportunities and contacts, and planning how she could utilise recently developed skills and interests. She also realised that she could be better prepared for this type of life event in future by keeping a constant watch on industry changes, staying engaged with her passions, meeting new people and regularly assessing where she can further develop her skills and knowledge. She began to feel more comfortable with the idea that she could take a new direction again in the future when the opportunity presented itself.
Career management is complex and there is no secret recipe. Our paths will undoubtedly be influenced by the sometimes unpredictable world around us, but being aware of our own values, strengths and interests and being committed to continuous learning can help us navigate the twists and turns. Perhaps we can embrace the concepts of both destiny and chaos, by knowing ourselves and the value we offer, staying alert to our changing world and seizing unexpected opportunities.
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.