I remained open to volunteer opportunities, job offers, and further education, which slowly carved a path for me - Aniko Zaha
A career theorist named Krumboltz developed the theory of planned happenstance. He believed it's not possible to create a linear, perfect career path in this ever changing world. Instead, we can act on events that come into our lives, unplanned, and transform them into personal opportunities that we feel are worth pursuing. I think up to this point, my career pathway has been a complete series of planned happenstance. If you asked me five years ago where I was going to be in my career today, I certainly wouldn't have told you I'd end up here!
Discovering my career interests in university - at home and abroad
When I chose to pursue a bachelor of arts in psychology, I was following a curiosity about people. I didn't know what I'd do with the degree, but like many others in my class, I felt university was the direct next step after high school, and I imagined I'd figure out what I wanted to do with my life eventually. By chance, one of my undergraduate friends mentioned that the psychology student association needed volunteers, so I signed up to get involved on campus and learn a bit more about my major.
And boy, did I learn. Here, other members introduced me to the types of courses offered in upper years, different kinds of graduate degrees, and career options. There were options I'd never even thought of. I had no idea there was a whole world of possibilities that I could explore, without needing to pursue graduate studies, since I never really wanted to study more than what was required to complete my degree. My interest in careers and in psychology grew. As I participated more in the student association, I began to assist other psychology students in figuring out how their favourite course(s) could translate to a career, a post graduate degree, or just a dream worth fulfilling.
One of my own dreams I wanted to fulfill was studying abroad, so I spent my 3rd year of university living in Spain and learning psychology through a new perspective. Amazingly, while there, a student from back home curiously inquired why I wasn't working in the psychology office anymore, and asked for help. Since I had that afternoon off school, I offered to help through webcam and chat. After two to three hours of the most energized, exciting, thorough conversation discussing this student's career options and pathways, I finished the conversation feeling invigorated.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that although I knew nothing about my own career path, I'd been helping others find theirs for over a year, and I loved it. It was then that I realized I should be able to do this for a living. A student reaching out to me had inspired the pursuit of my own career.
Building my own career pathway
Now it was time to focus on how I could make this happen. Luckily, one of the few career counselling diploma programs in Canada was just one city over from my home, in Toronto. I immediately applied, was accepted, and thrived. The program offered the perfect link between counselling and helping, finding career resources, and understanding career theory. Finally, I'd found a path of my own.
As part of my program, I had to do an internship. I applied to a whole bunch of places, and interviewed as best as I could, until I was hired by a non-for-profit employment agency. I eagerly took on the challenge. Unexpectedly, I realized it wasn't quite the right fit. I did not feel I was making the difference I wanted to, or connecting with clients in the same way I had with students. I began to question my career choice. Where did I go wrong?
I tried to focus on removing this doubt that I felt. I reminded myself of why I chose career counselling in the first place, and I soon remembered all the students I'd helped during my undergrad. I loved working with students who were excited about picking courses, felt ready to do more school if necessary, and were full of dreams and aspirations. The more I remembered this educational environment and its students, the more I felt re-invigorated. Maybe all I needed was a different population to engage with. If I hadn't worked a practicum in the non-for-profit sector, I might have never figured out that post secondary was where I really wanted to be.
My program required one more internship, which could be waived if I found a paid job in the industry instead. Determined, I met with student advisors and counsellors for informational interviews and joined professional associations in an effort to gather more ideas. I followed my interest in education, and was working hard to find opportunities.
Finding success along the way
By coincidence, I received an email from my undergraduate alumni association reminding me I still had access to their career posting website for one more year. I had forgotten all about that website! In there, I found a part-time position open to alumni, to work for a pilot project that was creating a co-op program. Incredulously, I got the job. It was a part time contract position, but it was my foot in the door. In this position I learned more than I ever could have imagined. Not only about educational administration, but how to connect and relate to students as an advisor and counsellor. I worked with deans, associate deans, professors, advisors, counsellors, administrators, and a whole world of people who helped me develop some amazing skills, and made me feel I could really thrive in education. Had I turned the position down because it was part-time, who knows when I would have learned and been exposed to all of these opportunities.
It was made clear to me, however, that in order to get the positions I wanted in the future, I would require a master's degree. I'd never planned on going to graduate school, and there was a time in my life when I was adamantly opposed to it, but suddenly it seemed like a perfect idea. The problem was that I finally had a job in the industry that I loved, yet the master's program I liked the most was out of province. I spent months deciding if I should even apply for the program, and when I did, I spent months deciding what I would do if I got in! Then, unexpectedly, the decision was made for me. Funding was pulled for the co-op pilot program, and I was out of a job. Looks like I was meant to do that master's degree after all.
I moved to Quebec, began my degree in educational psychology (focusing on the science of learning and connecting workplace learning), and was hired as a career counsellor assistant at my university. I've just completed one full year of my two year degree, and I'm loving it more than ever.
Reflecting on planned happenstance
When I look back on all the decisions I've made, so many of them have been a result of me taking the reigns of an unplanned situation. I followed my interests and curiosities in psychology, careers, and education; I focused on "how can I get there?"; I took action on unexpected chance opportunities. Looking back, the path I took seems linear. Every job and educational opportunity I took part in seems to have been leading me to be a career counsellor for students. Yet, when any opportunity came my way, I took it in stride, and learned everything I could about it. I remained open to volunteer opportunities, job offers, and further education, which slowly carved a path for me. Even the jobs and opportunities that didn't work out in the end taught me something valuable, and I encourage you to allow the things you both like and dislike about jobs you work or experiences you have to guide you.
When we engage in planned happenstance we are following our interests, we expect the unexpected, and we take action on chance events. We never know the power of each experience in what it can teach us, or which experience will be the one that inspires the rest of our lives. It's all about having an open mind, and being ready to learn when opportunity knocks.
After becoming a career counsellor, Aniko Zaha is completing her master's degree in educational psychology.