This week, we will look at how to approach spontaneous opportunities. Career coaches often work with students and clients on constructing a specific plan.

While we still recommend planning, it is also essential to understand the power of unplanned opportunities and how unexpected moments can affect your overall career.

A planned trajectory combined with a willingness to be selectively opportunistic can be a practical approach to career management.

Planned Happenstance

At the risk of oversimplifying, we will briefly delve into the “Theory of Planned Happenstance” by John Krumboltz.

The research paper says you can do things in the general direction you want. By being active and curious, you will create unplanned opportunities.

Planning to be active, curious, and optimistic will create unplanned opportunities.

Play in Traffic

In a New York Times article, “How to be a CEO, From a Decade’s Worth of Them” by Joseph Plumeri, the Vice Chairman of First Data recommends to “play in traffic.”

“It means that if you push yourself out there and you see people and do things and participate and get involved, something happens,” he said.

“Both of my great occasions happened accidentally simply because I showed up.” Here are a few ideas of how to “play in traffic.”

The first is meeting people in your target and related industries without any agenda. Quite simply, go out there and talk to people without expecting anything specific.

If you are curious and optimistic, the worst-case scenario is that you will meet many interesting people and learn. It may lead to a career opportunity as well.

Position From a Stepping Stone

Another idea is to accept a stepping-stone position different from what you wanted.

By doing this, you may not be playing at your desired traffic intersection, but you are at least out in the traffic—meeting people, learning, and demonstrating the value you can bring.

Careers are a long journey; there is time for stepping stones and maybe even a detour.

Push in Your Comfort Zone

Our final idea is to have a healthy social life outside work or school.

Volunteering, playing sports, or being active in a hobby creates opportunities to accidentally bump into people doing exciting things.

Several interesting conversations and opportunities can come from unexpected places throughout a career.


To recap, the planned happenstance theory means that you do an activity in a general area of interest with an open and optimistic mind, and unplanned opportunities will present themselves.

It is okay to be opportunistic if it points you in the general direction you want to go. This weekend, go “play in traffic, and you might be surprised what opportunities present themselves.

Learn more about developing a winning résumé, building a solid network, and other insights on professional growth from our regular Career Tips series.