The “Happenstance” approach to life can help.
- COVID has created the era of The Great Discontent, but there are no guidelines on how to best cope.
- A great deal of happiness and success in life is predicated upon “luck.”
- Applying happenstance theory can help you find out how lucky you can be and prepare you to prosper from serendipity.
“In the shadow of the pandemic…a new singular narrative has emerged: one of calamitous decline and fall. The Great Discontent has led to The Great Resignation or Reshuffle, a set of titles that puts people leaving jobs they don’t like on a level with plague, depression, war…” (Hitchens, 2022).
In the shadow of the pandemic also loom crises of an existential nature. Another “new normal” is clearly emerging. Such verbiage merely sums up what many have known for several years: People are not happy with their careers, and perhaps their lives, and they are “voting with their feet.” The transportation, retail, and hospitality industries are especially hard hit, with employers claiming they simply cannot get enough employees. But many other industries complain of workforce shortages as well. A general dissatisfaction among workers has even given rise to a revitalization of the organized labor movement.
But the Great Discontent appears to reach beyond the workplace and may be affecting post-COVID life in general. Below I discuss not what employers could or should do to retain talent, but what you, the talent, can do to help yourself in the Great Reshuffle.
Life Is Dynamic
The aphorism “Life is a journey, not a destination” first appeared in the 1920s in a theological context. Secularly, Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” Gone are the days of the one-job career. More recently, careers are dynamic journeys often consisting of three or more employers over the course of a lifetime. Recent data show that employees want more than a fair wage and other financial benefits (extrinsic factors), they want jobs that support their lifestyle and their well-being (intrinsic factors).
No longer does lifestyle support work; rather we appear to be in an era in which work should support lifestyle, and both are accepted as dynamic processes. The Great Discontentment is also being followed by the Great Relocation, facilitated in part by declining quality-of-life issues in certain parts of the country but fueled largely by the potential for work-from-home.
Happenstance is usually defined as a circumstance that occurs by chance, serendipity, or luck. The Roman philosopher Seneca once noted that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Indeed, Louis Pasteur once famously said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Psychologist John Krumboltz created the Happenstance Theory of career development, but I believe it applies to life in general (Krumboltz and Levin, 2004). The theory acknowledges the reality that chance plays an important role in everyone’s career and life trajectory. Sadly, career counselors and life coaches seldom acknowledge this or prepare their clients to seize the opportunities as yet unknown. Worse yet, career counseling and life coaching are often processes designed to eliminate the influence of chance. Happenstance embraces chance and all of the unknown opportunities it may bring. It urges you to prepare to be lucky.
Increasing Your “Luck”
But how does one prepare for opportunities yet unknown? Based on the work of Krumboltz, and that of Yuval Harari (2004) in his masterpiece Sapiens, we can gain insight into how to increase your chances of serendipity.
- Engage in a variety of interesting and potential beneficial activities, remaining alert to alternative opportunities.
- In academics, seek training in horizontally integrated fields, not just progressive vertically integrated silos.
- Be curious. It is the lifeblood of discovery and growth.
- Uncertainty is sometimes called “the creeping dread.” Embrace it. Be willing to enter situations in which you have less control than you would normally desire. Only then can you possibly reap the harvest of unknown opportunities. One of the original Grimms’ fairytales (Grimm & Grimm, 1884) tells the story of a boy who repeatedly finds himself in uncertain and even frightening situations, yet never once experiences fear. This fairytale causes us to challenge our preconceived notion that fear is a necessary and inescapable consequence of threatening or uncertain situations.
- Overcome complacency with a belief in your own abilities. W. I. Thomas asserted, “If a person perceives a situation as real, it is real in its consequences” (Thomas & Thomas, 1928). Actions and outcomes often follow beliefs. If you believe you are destined for a better life, so it shall be.
- Create supportive networks. The connection to others has consistently been shown to predict health, longevity, opportunity, and resilience, while the absence of connection to others predicts depression
- Become Protean: Develop flexibility and tolerance of change yourself so as to adapt to any situation.
Increasing your chances of encountering serendipity means preparing for opportunities that have not yet revealed themselves. The 19th Century French author Victor Cherbuliez noted, “What helps luck is a habit of watching for opportunities, of having a patient but restless mind, of sacrificing one’s ease or vanity, or uniting a love of detail to foresight, and of passing through hard times bravely and cheerfully.”