The Garrulous Jay – Accidental Opportunities

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This week I was introduced to the work of American psychologist, John D Krumboltdz, and his Planned Happenstance Learning Theory. At last, I felt, I had found some form of academic justification for the winding path my working life has taken.

When I left University I was determined to pursue a career in advertising and marketing. It didn’t happen.

After 16 months of sending out endless CVs and covering letters, a handful of interviews and a couple of ‘assessment days’ (urgh!) I capitulated. I gave up my part-time work paint-stripping the doors in a mate’s parents’ flat, and took a job I was introduced to by a cousin in reinsurance broking.

I didn’t know what reinsurance was… Insurance for insurance companies: is that even a thing?! “But, hey”, I thought to myself, “if they start me on £12k I’m all in”. I started on £10.5k.

After 4 years I still hankered after that coveted marketing role, so I headed to Warwick to complete the MBA I hoped would springboard me back to the future, and get me out of financial services.

Eighteen months later I joined Datamonitor as a Consultant…in their Insurance Practice. This took two attempts: I applied in the autumn of 1997 and got rejected. But when I saw the same job advertised the following January I applied again: same CV, same covering letter. They didn’t notice; I got the gig.

In 2001 an ex-Datamonitor colleague, who had gone on to a career in investment banking, called me up to say his team at ABN AMRO were looking for a Marketing Analyst and I should apply…

“What’s that”, I asked.

“You’d be the link between the sell-side and the buy-side”, he said.

“Ah!” I replied. After a pause I then asked, “What’s the sell-side and what’s the buy-side?”

Anyway, I did enough to lead me into the weird world of institutional investment banking, aka professional pontification.

And finally, from there, after 15 years I sort of made the proactive decision to move into financial planning, thanks in part to a banking client telling me about the SJP Academy.

Full disclosure: early on I turned down a last-minute place on the ID&V (now Diageo) graduate training assessment day as I had a skiing holiday booked. Oh! And I discovered when interviewing at Rank Hovis McDougall that telling the head of their Bakeries Division that I “hated bread” was unwise, but it was a joke.*

So thank you, Dr Krumboldtz: I feel validated and vindicated.

I also think there’s a lesson here, and it goes beyond the relatively narrow sphere of career development. Much of what happens to us in life, both personally and professionally, is down to happenstance, or luck.

Being able to recognise and take the accidental opportunities when they come along, and being constantly open to learning at the same time, can be as critical to building a business as they can be to a career.

*Mum/Dad – apologies, I’m not sure I ever told you about these.