Unlocking opportunity: The role of serendipity & career coaching

Have you ever felt lost on your career path? In her insightful book, The Career Coaching Handbook, Julia Yates discusses the 'serendipity metaphor', which encapsulates career theories pertaining to luck and chance - theories like Mitchell et al.'s planned happenstance and Gelatt and Gelatt's notion of positive uncertainty. These theories suggest that, while the future is uncertain, we can prepare to make the most of it by being open to and ready for unexpected opportunities.


Take my own journey as an example. At the age of 20, after completing a BA (Hons) in Psychology, I was working from one waitressing job to another. I knew I wanted to do something different but was unsure how to take that next step. A casual conversation with a friend who was temping at a local jobcentre led me to apply for a similar job. When I was invited for interview, it just so happened that this temping role was to be in the Employment Service Psychology Division, which gloriously housed all of the Occupational Psychologists working in government. What luck!

What began as a three-month stint as an Administrative Assistant evolved into a 12-year career, during which time I qualified as a Chartered Psychologist and developed a network of colleagues, experts and and friends. I then changed track and ventured into primary school teaching for a number of years before returning to Occupational Psychology to establish my coaching and consultancy business, utilising the network I had gained throughout my career to grow and develop my business. 

So, was is it all just serendipity that led me to become a psychologist? While luck certainly played its part, proactive decisions were crucial in seizing opportunities. 

This aligns with the planned happenstance theory, which suggests five key skills needed to leverage chance events in one's career: 

  1. Curiosity: Actively seeking out new learning opportunities.
  2. Persistence: Maintaining effort despite setbacks.
  3. Flexibility: Adapting to changing circumstances and perspectives.
  4. Optimism: Believing in the feasibility of new opportunities.
  5. Risk-taking: Willingness to act despite uncertainties.

How can career coaching help?

Indecision in your career isn't necessarily an obstacle but an opportunity for open-minded exploration and career coaching can play a transformative role in this process. 

By supporting you in developing the aforementioned skills, a career coach can help you see and act upon opportunities, crafting both planned and unplanned career goals and advancements. They also aid in challenging and reframing limiting beliefs and attitudes that can prevent you from moving forward. 

My friend's story also speaks of the power of serendipity combined with action. I consistently see her exhibit curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism and risk-taking in both her personal and professional life which has, from a temporary six-week position in a jobcentre, led to becoming Deputy Director and earning an OBE for her contribution to to public service. Her journey underlines the unexpected paths our careers can take and the power of positive action.

In my opinion, career coaching isn't just about supporting people to make planned moves but also preparing them to thrive and flourish in the face of life's unpredictable twists and turns.

In conclusion, whether you're feeling uncertain or looking for a change, embracing the concept of positive uncertainty and engaging with a career coach can provide you with the tools to navigate and excel in your professional life. 

Remember, the next great opportunity could be just around the corner, and readiness is key.


Galett, H.B. & Galett, C. (2003) The power of positive uncertainty: Making creative career decisions. 

Kathleen E. Mitchell, Al S. Levin, and John D. Krumboltz (1999). Planned Happenstance: Constructing Unexpected Career Opportunities. Journal of Counselling & Development. 77 (2) 115 – 124

Yates, J. (2022) The Career Coaching Handbook. 2nd Ed. Routledge. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Lincoln, Lincolnshire, LN1
Written by Rachel Green, CPsychol., MISCP Accredited Coaching Psychologist, MAC
Lincoln, Lincolnshire, LN1

Rachel Green is a Chartered Coaching Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. She is passionate about empowering people to overcome psychological barriers to success and achieve their full potential.

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