Planning for Uncertainty

A picture of different ice cream flavours: strawberry, mango, bubble gum, cotton candy
I didn't plan to have ice cream today. But sometimes uncertainty can be a good thing.
When I signed up for the Career Centre’s Planning Your Career workshop, I was ready to plan. And planning I did. I plotted out my career goals for the next three years with the help of a nifty linear diagram. My plan even had a pretty good end goal: landing my dream job after university. This was all fine and dandy (I’ve been making colourful five year plans for the past ten years), until I remembered an underlying theme of the Planning Your Career workshop: it’s almost impossible to see the end goal of your career, since a lot of jobs are found through chance. In other words, plans are a good way to explore your career options and help develop your goals, but they don’t factor in all the unpredictable elements that go along with actually landing a job. This ideology belongs to the theory of planned happenstance: that finding a career is not a “logical and linear” process, as we were taught in high school, but is all about turning chance events into career opportunities. It’s more important to manipulate these unplanned events than to try to force an end goal that might not even be possible under changing economic and job market conditions. As someone who grew up making five year plans and tries as hard as she can to avoid uncertainty, this was horrible news.  Luckily, at the workshop, we learned five skills for planned happenstance:
  • Curiosity
  • Persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Optimism
  • Risk-taking
Most of these skills, in my interpretation, centred on learning to be comfortable with uncertainty. Curiosity is about seeking out the unknown and exploring new career options. Persistence keeps you focused and working toward your end goal, even if the end isn’t quite yet in sight. Flexibility accounts for the inevitable changes in the job search (such as a job rejection or an unexpected job offer) or even changes in your own attitudes or goals. To me, optimism means believing that your choices and your goals will lead somewhere. Planned happenstance also relies on taking action—or, taking risks; you have to expect, seek out, and respond to chance events.
A picture of the career capacity model: identity capacity, psychological capacity, human capacity, social capacity
Self-directed career management: career capacity model
In addition to the planned happenstance theory, we also discussed the Career Capacity Model, which encourages self-directed career management. As you can see from the diagram, there are four different aspects of career development:
  • Identity capacity – “knowing why”: knowing your goals
  • Psychological capacity – “knowing why”: resilience and believing in success
  • Human capacity – “knowing how”: having the right skills and academic knowledge
  • Social capacity – “knowing whom”: building mentors and networks
Following the Career Capacity Model was a lot less daunting than planned happenstance. The Career Capacity Model factored in more controllable features of career management than the planned happenstance theory, which mainly considered uncertain factors. Although the Career Capacity Model was a lot more friendly and familiar to my control-freak self, it was still important to recognize the uncontrollable aspects of career exploration. Evidently, the five skills for planned happenstance are ones I need to build upon, and uncertainty is something I need to plan for.

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