Is your career path a result of a plan, or pure dumb luck?

career path

By Mark Schaefer

Last year my smart friend James Hahn suggested that I read a book called The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World.

I hesitated because it sounds like some sort of boring SEO book but, in fact, it’s an interesting tale that is a lot different from what the title portrays. The book describes in great detail how almost every great business leader and company is in our world due to pure dumb luck. Strategy and planning don’t really mean anything … it’s who you met, where you were, some accident that created a business epiphany.

For example, both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had unique access to early computer prototypes as teens. The author uses their example — and many others — to show that extraordinary opportunities, not some visionary talent, create the people and products we respect today.

I decided to test this with some of my friends, colleagues and social media personalities we know and love. Did they get to where they are today by following a plan, or was it plain old luck.

In the order I received them. Check it out …

Mari Smith, Premier Facebook Marketing Expert

mari smithThe day I set foot in the US on January 11th, 1999 — emigrating from Scotland with a mere £50 GBP in my wallet — a series of synchronistic events unfolded that was definitely a catalyst in my entrepreneurial career.

Prior to emigrating, I’d always been an employee. But, I’d spent all of 1998 putting together a business plan to launch a speaking and training business. Out of the blue, I got an invitation to emigrate to San Diego, CA and I just knew I was meant to establish my new business in America.

I was blessed with numerous resources within a short period of time, but it was when I met a specific person around month two that my life and career took off. I will forever be grateful to my dear friend, Carol Dysart for sponsoring me into the US, introducing me to numerous fellow entrepreneurial leaders and giving me my jump start!

Tom Webster, Vice president – research, Edison Research

Image result for tom websterMy career was definitely not a plan.

I’ve been with my current company for 15 years, but I went through a period a while back where I wanted to leave and do something different—anything. Turns out, the imbalance was in my personal life, not my professional life, but changing jobs felt a lot easier than changing everything else.

Eventually, though, I addressed the real problem. Once my personal life was congruent with who I really am, my “list of grievances” about my job evaporated. I realized I was in exactly the right place at the right time, and I doubled down on that. My success in my current role is down to sticking with it and building something, year by year. But I wasn’t ever going to do that if I wasn’t a happy person. Today I am a happy person.

Jeff Bullas, Social media blogger and speaker

Achieving a goal is or succeeding in life is mostly seen as a planned event.

But life is full of random events and my current place and location in life was due to the intersection of a few obscure and unplanned adventures.

These included a marriage breakup, a business failure, the emerging of the social media revolution and reading the right books.

These all happened in close succession.

But it was a whisper that I barely heard in the middle of that chaos and noise but I acted on that changed my life. So listen for that quiet voice that can be the messenger to finding your life’s passionate purpose.

Dionne Buckingham-Brown, career coach

At the age of 41, I was burned out and passionless after 22 years as a police officer. I needed to find something new that lit my fire. Problem was, I had no clue what that “something” was … so I took a leap and thought “I’ll figure it out.” So, no plan!

I initially set up a business as a commercial energy broker, but my sales training was poor. I had a pretty pitiful and inconsistent income stream.

The discovery of networking on LinkedIn enabled me to build my personal brand, achieve consistent sales and an increasing income so I figured that I could help others do this, too — plus it was so much more fun than energy procurement!

I now run my business helping those wanting to move out of a corporate / institution career to create sales and business opportunities using LinkedIn, but it really was a result of series of events.

Dorie Clark, strategist and professional speaker

Dorie ClarkMy career path was shaped by three major rejections and setbacks in my early 20s.

I had always enjoyed school and done well at it, so I had planned on a career in academia – which was rudely interrupted when I was rejected by *every single doctoral program I applied to* after I finished my master’s degree. I literally had no Plan B, because it hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t get in anywhere.

Eventually, I stumbled into journalism, which was — I thought — a good alternative for someone who liked to read and write. But after a year working as a political journalist, I got laid off, as the newspaper industry began its slow, precipitous decline. To make matters worse, I was laid off on Monday, September 10, 2001 – bringing my plans to go job hunting the next day to a crashing halt.

I couldn’t find another job in journalism, so I ultimately took two jobs working on political campaigns. I was the spokesperson for a governor’s race, and then for a presidential campaign. Both were exciting, high-profile races – and we lost both of them. If things had gone right, I might well be an academic, or a journalist, or a political operative today. But instead, I ended up self-employed, because I realized it was the way I could control my own destiny and build career and financial security for myself.

Natchi Lazarus, Agency founder, consultant

My success was definitely due to a life event rather than a plan. Actually, it has been through a series of life events that continue to impact my life over time.

However, any life event would not have had any significance if I did not follow it up with a plan, aiming at a goal. So, for me it is a combination of the two — a life event followed by a plan. The former triggers a new path and the latter propels it to give it momentum.

For example: One life-event that was a turning-point in my career is the conversation I had with you (Mark Schaefer) in Bangalore several years ago. You encouraged me to write a book based on my story and experience. This was a life-changing conversation. But I had to follow it up with a disciplined plan to actually finish my book and the ensuing courses, consulting service offering, creating a business model around a vision.

A conversation with Mark in a park changed my life. My plan made it actionable and real.

So what we see here is that a person’s success is almost tied more to a life event than a plan. I suppose the lesson is, pay attention to your life events!

I once had the opportunity to meet the legendary PR industry pioneer Harold Burson. He was working on his life story at the time and told me his success was attributed to recognizing the doors that were opening before him and knowing which ones to open, and which ones to close.

Wise advice.

And me?

My early career was definitely a plan. During college, I recognized a career goal and took all the right steps to achieve it.

But today, I can trace my “second career” — and how you know me today — to a single event. I reached a level of intense dissatisfaction with my corporate career, and in particular, with a boss known as Beelzebub. I decided to try a new career path but honestly, if it weren’t for the jerk of a boss, I might have stayed a few more years and missed the social media career door that was opening.

If I hadn’t left at that exact time, I would have been much later to the consulting game and I certainly would not have written at least my first two books. Who knows … maybe I wouldn’t have even started a blog.

So in a way, my greatest career success and joy was directly attributable to having the worst boss of my life!

What about you? A plan or an event?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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