Very few people change careers by the book: listing their strengths, identifying options and aggressively pursuing choices. When career specialists conduct research on life change, they find that most people can point to a chance encounter or a moment when everything came together. The word "serendipity" has begun to appear in staid research journals. Experts have begun to realize that career choice is about being open to what lands – sometimes literally – in your lap.

So how can you attract – not attack – your next career?

1. Listen. Messages typically appear as gentle invitations, not strong advice. Three Dog Bakery, a successful franchise chain selling gourmet cat and dog products, began when a dog refused to eat. The vet suggested, "Why don't you cook for her?" The dog's owner had no idea where to begin. He modified a cookie recipe and the dog wolfed it down. When he gave out samples at a New Year’s party, guests called to ask where they could buy more.

2. Stay flexible. Serendipity often disrupts your self-concept and your career plans. Caroline Paul, newly graduated from Stanford, worked in public radio while planning to pursue a film career.

In her book, Fighting Fire, she recalls meeting a stranger while she worked out in her gym. Noting her strength, he handed Caroline a Fire Department recruiting pamphlet. She became one of the first women fire fighters in San Francisco.

3. Pay attention to what holds your interest. "Ed" literally fell into his new career at age twelve, when he crashed into a church organ from a choir loft. Watching the organ repair, Ed became fascinated and asked if he could learn more. Forty years later, Ed makes a good living repairing church organs all over the region.

4. Don’t confuse an invitation with a command. Some invitations lead people into costly, time-consuming and frustrating detours. If an invitation doesn’t feel right, take time to investigate before accepting. And when you’re faced with a totally new opportunity, go slow.

5. Learn who’s holding out the invitation. Caroline and Ed responded to knowledgeable experts. Dan Dye responded to firm offers to spend money. A well-meaning friend who says, "You like to travel? Go work for the airlines!" probably isn’t helping you attract your next career.

Once you begin practicing these principles, you’ll find your next career – and perhaps a whole new life – arriving with less effort than you ever anticipated. You may end up working harder than before but, most likely, you’ll be moving confidently in a direction that brings reward.

Author's Bio: 

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. Author, Speaker, Career Consultant
*How to attract -- not attack -- your next career"* 
"Ten secrets of mastering a major life change"