Chance favours the prepared mind

How often have you heard someone talk about their career history and say something like “but that was just luck” or “I was just in the right place at the right time”?

French chemist Louis Pasteur coined the above phrase to describe how scientists need to be clear on what they are looking for if they are going to make that “chance” discovery.

So too in career exploration, where you need to have “a prepared mind”:  to maximise any opportunities that might come along by chance; to generate more “chances”; to be able to judge the relevance and value to you of the opportunity…

The prepared mind has two components:

  1. Knowing yourself – this includes knowing your values, your definition of success or purpose, your strengths, your interests and your preferences for type of role, boss/manager or workplace
  2. Developing the skills to explore career options and navigate your career on an ongoing basis.  These include curiosity, persistence, resilience, flexibility, optimism and risk-taking.  Each of these is a continuum from “not great” to “I’ve got heaps of that”

What to do next?

Apply to you – Look at each skill in the list and reflect on which is your greatest strength and which is the most challenging.

The “Role Trap” in our Career Development

What “role” are you currently in?  What name does it have?  Does the role description really capture all that you are capable of?  It does not have to be “once an engineer, always an engineer”

When you are exploring your career and seeking to make change, it is critical not to get caught in the Role Trap.  Thinking only in terms of roles can box you in.  Instead, looking at “skills and experiences” rather than being limited to “roles” can open out your thinking.  It also helps you build an effective CV full of skills that can be useful for a broader range of roles than you previously thought.

So, the tip is to write down all the skills and experiences you have, as if an interviewer asked you “what can you do for us?”.   Think laterally. Then, you can work out two things:

  1. What roles need those skills and experiences?
  2. What are the skills and experiences that I need to “collect” from here on to enhance my CV and help me meet my longer-term career goals?

What to do next?

Apply to you. Take some time to actually look at your role, and how it not only affects you, but how you perceive it to affect your choices.

Do you really know how to ask yourself the right questions? It might seem simple and yet if you start with the wrong question, you’ll end up with the wrong answer. Ask the wrong questions about your career and you’ll stay stuck or find yourself in the wrong job.

Someone who has inspired me about the value of questions is Nancy Kline. In her book, Nancy introduces a tool that she has called the incisive question. It is actually a series of questions, but they can be incredibly powerful in getting you to think past things that may be blocking your progress.

Here’s how it works.

Step One

Start by thinking about something that you really want but that you are struggling to make happen.

Example: I want to change direction in my job or career.


Step Two

Then ask yourself this question. What might I be assuming that is holding me back from doing this? (You may come up with a whole list of underlying assumptions at this point.)

Examples: I am too old; I daren’t take the risk; It’ll never work; I can’t afford to drop my income; I don’t know how…


Step Three

Think about which of these assumptions feels the most fundamental for you. Which one is really the key barrier? Now, what would be the positive opposite of that assumption?


Limiting assumption: I daren’t take the risk

Positive opposites: I have taken risks before and learned a lot from them, even if they didn’t turn out quite how I expected. I have got the courage to step out of my comfort zone.

Limiting assumption: I am too old

Positive opposites: I am just the right age. Experience of both life and work gives me a great advantage. I have got maturity that will be valued in my new career.


Step Four

Frame an incisive question like this, using the positive opposite you have come up with to your limiting assumptions.


If I absolutely knew it to be true that [I have got the courage to step out of my comfort zone], what ideas would I have about changing my job or career?

If I absolutely knew it for a fact that [experience of both life and work gives me a great advantage], what would I do to get on with applying for new jobs?

This is something to be a bit playful with. Try out different ‘positive opposites’ and see which ones help to unlock your blocked thinking and allow you to generate a range of inspiring ideas and actions.

As ever, making progress with your career change, turning your dreams into realities is all about finding ways of getting a new perspective on the matter. It is about thinking outside the box to both generate ideas and also to show you ways round the ‘yes, but…’ thinking that may have got you frozen into inactivity.