Research shows that most people find their careers through serendipity, not through planned career change.
Serendipity is not “woo-woo.” It’s not the same as synchronicity, which means that things appear coincidental but actually are joined together for a reason. Serendipity means you stumble across something by accident.
We all know people who were going about their own business. They received a message encouraging them to move in new directions.
I think many of us receive messages, but we ignore them. Almost every time you get an invitation out of the blue, you’re getting a message.
Career coaching or counseling can’t help you plan for serendipity but can make you more aware of messages you might have ignored. An experienced guide can also help you interpret your environment more realistically.
Real-Life Examples of Serendipitous Career Change
Charles found his career in junior high school, when he literally fell from the choir loft into the church organ. He was so fascinated by the repairs that the specialist invited him to work in his shop.
Through high school, Charles did small chores and later graduated to apprentice repair. He never bothered with college. Now his firm repairs church organs all over the region
According to a story I heard long ago, the California Highway Patrol stopped a man for speeding. Noting that he handled the car exceptionally well at high speeds, they suggested he apply to the CHP. Now he can drive ninety miles an hour all day long.
In her book Fighting Fire, Caroline Paul describes the birth of her career. During one of her workouts in a gym, a man greeted her, complimented her strength, and handed her a Fire Department recruiting pamphlet. Caroline, a Stanford graduate who had planned graduate study in fine arts, went on to become one of the first women fire fighters in San Francisco.
A particularly good story comes from the owners of Three Dog Bakery, a popular chain that may have been sold recently. When Dan Dye’s dog, a Great Dane named Gracie, refused to eat, the vet suggested, “Why don’t you cook for her?”
Dan no idea where to begin. He modified a cookie recipe, removing the sugar and adding some garlic, and the dog wolfed it down. That was the beginning of an empire.
In an audiotape about work, author Thomas Moore says he had just decided to stop teaching psychology when someone asked him, “Will you be my therapist?” That question gave him a new career.
Do the rest of us ignore those messages?
I’m trying to collect more serendipity stories, but people who fall into work they love do not read self-help books or call career coaches. I suspect the rest of us also receive messages, but we ignore them.
A professor says to a student, “You have a knack for this subject and you should major in it.” A neighbor says, “You ought to consider making a career out of your talent.” And the conversation is forgotten half an hour later.
Sometimes the message should be heard as, “Keep this talent somewhere in your life, not necessarily as a profit center.” Nina gives pottery as Christmas presents, but she will not give up her lucrative day job in advertising. She realizes the need to market her wares would overwhelm her love of the clay.
True messages leave you feeling as if you’ve been hit on the head by a flying two-by-four. They reach your heart. They feel “right.” You hear them as invitations, not advice.
And you can’t force them. I named my own dog Gracie in hopes that she’d uncover a new source of wealth and business success. Alas, she only uncovered old bones in the dog park.