Louise O'Sullivan was looking for day care for her beloved pooch. Searching in her neighbourhood on Auckland's North Shore, she couldn't find anywhere suitable to leave her dog during the day while she worked as a corporate senior manager in the city.

Anyone else would probably just have found something in another location. But for O'Sullivan, it was the beginning of a process which led to an exciting new career path.

Now, two-and-a-half years down the track, O'Sullivan tells the story of how she established DogHQ, her day-care centre for dogs.

People like O'Sullivan, who spot and seize an opportunity, are different to most of us. Psychologists such as John Krumboltz, the father of Planned Happenstance theory, believes "serendipity is not serendipitous but rather it is ubiquitous: everywhere".


Psychologists like Krumboltz are interested in the ways some people take a chance occurrence and use it to their advantage. Their insights can help us all to bring some more luck into our lives.

Risk-taking: saying yes

Serendipitous people are prepared to take a risk; to not be put off by failure. "My personal experiences in life have taught me that big changes that feel scary always result in something good," O'Sullivan says. "For me there was definitely a question of 'am I happy if this is where I stay for the next 10 years?' The answer was a resounding 'no' and I'm a firm believer in 'if you don't like something, do something about it'.

"Sure, there were risks about saying yes to this move. Fears about stepping off the ladder, giving up the comforts of a nice salary. Plus the prospect you might fail miserably - not good for the ego or the finances.

"However, all fears aside, I am now putting my money where my mouth is and both success and failure stand to mean so much more."

Curiosity: primed for chance

Serendipity is everywhere, but some people are open and relaxed enough to see the possibility in one of life's twists or turns. A closed person might just see a lack of a needed service, an open person like O'Sullivan sees a new career opportunity and investigates further.

"It all happened because I was just a dog-owner in need and couldn't find a decent option on the North Shore. At first, yes, I was just curious. I was interested to find out what was on offer elsewhere.

"Gradually the idea of starting something of my own began to form. It took a good 18 months of exploring before we opened our doors just under a year ago.

"I was totally ready for a new challenge to just come along. The corporate circus act I had been performing for years was cramping my style, I was really open for change: it's as if my opportunity simply arrived, I really was ready to jump."

Optimism: accentuate positive

Most of us have trouble keeping our overactive minds from telling us we're not good enough to get that new job, not confident enough to make a success of that business challenge. Asking ourselves: "what's the worst that can happen?" or "will I really regret it if I don't run with this?" can help in decision-making.

"I could see that the skills I have developed over my years of sales and marketing roles mean I am not really doing anything I haven't done before," O'Sullivan says. "I have good experience in sales, marketing, people management, budgeting, planning and customer service, which cover most of the small business bases, plus I am lucky enough to have a 'numbers' man as a partner.

"I think you need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. If you still want to push ahead when you have considered what the worst thing that can happen is ... you've got nothing to lose and the worst thing is less likely to happen.

"Also, you should always believe it is possible to do something better than someone else. Virtually every service has room for improvement."

Flexibility: okay to be different

Serendipitous people are comfortable with doing something completely different. Rather than being anxious about a change, they frame it as "That looks interesting, I wonder what it would be like to give it a try?"

O'Sullivan comments: "It might seem a really unusual career change, but essentially I'm working with dogs because I love them and had one. I needed a day-care service and there wasn't one. Dogs were the subject of the opportunity that happened to present itself."

Persistence: never give up

"Managing dogs in groups is a very complex job," O'Sullivan says. "The dynamic is different every day and changes throughout the day, so being able to roll with the punches and keep a smile on your face is vital. There were plenty of barriers in the initial stages, but one by one as I worked on the things I could and parked the things I couldn't, the barriers disappeared."

Like all serendipitous people, O'Sullivan is resilient - she had to be prepared to go after her happenstance occurrence and stick with it.

Margie Elley-Brown is an Auckland career consultant and writer. margieeb@gmail.com