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I received some advice as a young person: Study what you love, because the job you’ll have probably hasn’t been invented yet.” If that was true 20 years ago, it’s even truer today. My current job title is “Director of Executive Storytelling.” Where’s the degree for that? The flowchart to qualify me for a role like that would probably be several pages long and bear no resemblance to what I was envisioning as a 17-year-old choosing a college major.
How do you prepare for a mystery?
Experts have estimated that potentially 85% of jobs that today’s college students will hold in 2030 do not exist yet. And with an average tenure of 2.8 years for workers aged 25-34, even those who have graduated are unlikely to accurately predict where they’ll end up. Current and aspiring entrepreneurs know this all too well, paving roads where there was previously only wilderness.
If you can’t predict the future, what good is there in training for anything? What can you predict anyway? Planned happenstance.
Planned happenstance theory, articulated in 1999 by Stanford University professor John Krumboltz, encompasses the idea that we can “plan” the unplanned events that play a pivotal role in where we end up. Transformative (and lucrative) opportunities can come from “accidental” or “coincidental” connections — but how often do we put ourselves in situations where this can occur? What we know and who we know fall largely in our own hands, and both of these things load the cannons for planned happenstance to pay off.
Related: This is the Strategy to Getting Any Job You Want
Your travel route should include some bushwhacking — the bulk of our discoveries happen when we find ourselves in the weeds. It’s only a distraction when it’s not intentional.
Learning should be a lifestyle. Watch educational videos online for fun. You never know when your “random knowledge” will furnish an instant bond with a potential client or business partner. Keep audiobooks running in your ears, and scan Wikipedia pages. These diversions, when done on purpose, can release fresh wind into our sails.
Look for opportunities to perform new functions or take on new roles at work. You’ll get paid to learn something, and your coworkers will see you learn it. They’ll know what you’re capable of and maybe even vouch for you later.
Reflect on the most enjoyable part of your current job, and make sure you’re doing enough of it. Figure out ways to do more of it, and do it better. Many business leaders and entrepreneurs are great at process improvement, except when it comes to their own lives. Take the skills you use in the workplace and examine how you’d use them in your career journey. What advice would you give someone else?
Study the marketplace. Read job listings to figure out what others who share your skill set are doing and to identify gaps in your own skills. Keep an eye out for startups to see what other entrepreneurs are up to.
Meet everyone. Talk to people who are smarter than you. Buy them drinks. Follow them on social media. Other human beings are arguably your most important resource. If you’re introverted, get creative. The digital age allows us to connect with others in new ways that are less socially taxing. Even joining like-minded people in social media groups (and populating your daily feeds with their content) can put you in the right place at the right time. Who knew scrolling could be so strategic?
Learning is where hobby and career meet — when we can marry the two, we’re golden. At least introduce them!
Related: A Successful Career Path Doesn’t Have to Be Linear
Cultivate a journey mindset
Embracing planned happenstance includes how you respond to bends in the road, also known as inflection points. In mathematics, an inflection point is the point on a graph where the line begins to head another direction. In business, it doesn’t look much different. When I started my content writing business in 2020, I wasn’t expecting a full-time job opportunity and definitely wasn’t looking for one. When one of my clients offered me a role, I had to wonder: Is this a step in the wrong direction? Some entrepreneurs may resist the idea of full-time employment at all costs, citing it as a diversion from what they’re trying to build. I deemed it a building block. As I evaluated the opportunities for growth and networking the position would offer me, I decided to step “off” the path and join the organization.
At the time, I had no idea that my family would encounter unexpected changes only a few months later, including a decision for my husband to stay home full-time to school and care for our children. Buying a house when you’re self-employed with a single income is tricky, to say the least. Regardless of those circumstances, the job has made me better at absolutely everything I was doing on my own, while allowing me to maintain my entrepreneurial endeavors on the side.
Related: Thinking of a Career Change? Take It From Possibility to Reality
Every prudent explorer charts a course. But a journey mindset is marked by a willingness to change course as needed. The destination that you imagined at the beginning of the journey is not likely to be identical to the dreams you pinned to your vision board of ten years ago. So, embrace planned happenstance, be curious, and cultivate a journey mindset. Doing so will prepare you for the job you want, instead of the job you have.