Introducing The Planned Happenstance Project
By: Manveetha Muddaluru
Welcome back to a new semester Marauders and happy New Year! I hope you all had a relaxing winter break.
I’m excited to share some news about a project I got to work on last term as a Student Success Leader at the Student Success Centre. Working with a team of other students under the supervision of Kerri Latham, the undergraduate career counsellor, we gathered stories related to the academic and career journeys of McMaster undergraduate students from across campus.
This project originally started off as a Facebook campaign; but, since the stories students had to share with us contained some very helpful information, I thought it would be a great idea to share the full length interviews on the Stories From the Arch blog on a bi-weekly basis. These stories truly capture what this blog is: stories of students and their experiences during their time at Mac.
The project was inspired by the Humans of New York Facebook page. Kerri who works with undergraduate students in her role, explained that the idea behind the project was to recognize that students are a great resource because they have a wealth of knowledge that they’ve gained from their unique experiences. There is a lot that can be learned from students’ stories, which are filled with valuable lessons. This project captures these stories for other students to connect with, learn from, and recognize that they are not alone in their experience of navigating challenges in their career exploration.
Our interview questions were informed by the theory of Planned Happenstance, an approach to career development that has been around for over a decade. John Krumboltz, Al Levin, and Kathleen Mitchell, the theorists behind Planned Happenstance, describe it as “both an attitude that you gain and actions you take. It is the view that you can create opportunities by taking action on your curiosity and on chance events. It is not just luck or being in the right place at the right time. It is a conscious, purposeful, and on-going process that will help you to build a more satisfying and fulfilling career” (Krumboltz & Levin, 2004).
There are five key attitudes that the Planned Happenstance Theory encourages for navigating one’s career exploration journey. These are curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk-taking. The questions we asked our student interviewees were based on these five attitudes to understand how they have been useful in their lives thus far. When you read the student stories, as Kerri suggests, reflect on how you’ve used some of the five key attitudes in your career exploration.
To learn more about the theory of Planned Happenstance, I spoke with Jillian Perkins-Marsh, the alumni career counsellor. With the McMaster alumni she works with, Jillian often witnesses how many of the attitudes play out in their career exploration journeys post-graduation, whether it is in their job search, further education, a career transition, or a career change.
Often growing up we are led to believe that career paths are linear; however, this is often not the case and the theory debunks this myth. We might know the general direction we would like our lives to take, but since we are not fortune-tellers, we cannot 100% predict exactly what will happen in the future.
Jillian shares that embracing the Planned Happenstance style of thinking “means becoming comfortable with the uncertainties of the future and not knowing what will happen, but at the same time being open to unplanned events and opportunities and taking action to explore them. Although there is nothing wrong with planning for the future, the theory emphasizes the importance of the process and journey of career exploration and understanding having an open mindset combined with the five attitudes will lead you to a desired destination and success.”
The Planned Happenstance approach “puts you in a position of power as it is an active stance of career exploration.” By maintaining the attitudes of risk taking, curiosity, optimism, flexibility, and persistence you can create opportunities for yourself rather than waiting for them to come, such as by attending networking events, reaching out to contacts, and conducting informational interviews. In this way, you have more control over your career exploration.
As a student in my final year facing a lot of uncertainty, I really enjoyed participating in this project because it reminded me to be more open to unplanned events and opportunities. I was also able to learn so much from interviewing students and reading the interviews even if I did not know them personally and there was a part of each student’s story that resonated with me. It has made me realize the importance of taking a moment to have meaningful conversations with friends and peers at university, because you never know what you’ll learn from their stories!
Manveetha Muddaluru blogged about her student experience for the Student Success Centre from 2018 to 2019.