Find Career Satisfaction through Planned Happenstance

“We do not always need a plan to create a career. Instead, we need a plan to act on happenstance – to transform unplanned events into career opportunity.”

–From “In praise of uncertainty” by Kathleen Mitchell, October 25, 1998 (SF Examiner).

The concept of “planned happenstance” first addressed by Mitchell, Levin and Krumboltz has always been a philosophy in how I have approached working with clients with indecision around their careers and direction. My take on this concept is that how can you realistically decide on a career path if you don’t know your options? Those options are all around you if you pay attention, and put yourself “out there” to run into opportunities.

Some simple important steps to take are what I call Pat’s four P’s toward a satisfying career, planned happenstance being the first “P”

The next three “P’s” are to be Pro-Active, Persistent and Positive in your approach to finding the right career path for yourself.

Pro-Active is all about the concept of pursuing planned happenstance in a mindful, planned approach. Some examples are:

a. If you talk to the person sitting next to you on a plane, bus or light rail, you might find out that they are in a career you never knew existed, but it could really be an exciting opportunity.

b. If you attend DU Career and Internship Fairs and actually speak with the 50 to 70 employers at that event you might find there are possibly many career paths awaiting you.

c. If you attend a social gathering, professional association function, alumni event, or really any opportunity where people gather, be inquisitive, ask questions about their career paths or the industries they are in, you will discover many areas to research more.

d. If you reach out to numerous people in different careers or industries for an informational interview and have a meaningful conversation as to how they found their career, you will gain lots of insights to draw from in helping decide a path for yourself. One excellent resource is to use the Pioneer Career Network from the Career Center website Take advantage of a database of over 1900 people who have agreed to speak with DU students and alumni about their careers and the industries in which they are working.

There are many more examples of this approach to basically just being curious, inquisitive and putting yourself in circumstances that will allow you to discover “what’s out there” in terms of career options. The other P’s, Persistence to keep at it constantly, and Positive, to always keep a positive attitude with the people you meet along the way.

I bold you intentionally in all of the above examples because it all starts with YOU actually doing something to create the circumstance that might change your life for the better and put you on a path to career satisfaction.


By Pat O'Keefe
Pat O'Keefe Assistant Director