James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

Blog of marketing and branding ideas

Opinions, ideas and ramblings

How a Perfect Stranger Can Grow Your Career

I can’t even remember the name of the most important person in shaping my career. Chalk it up to aging or my general forgetfulness.

What I do recall is that she was a kind stranger, and without her I may not be typing these words. Without kindness, maybe you wouldn’t be so successful either.

She was a distant acquaintance of my then-girlfriend who somehow heard I was a budding writer. “I know about a start-up that needs help. Isn’t your boyfriend a writer or something?”

Although I had crawled along some pebbles, that gig provided firm footing on the first major stepping stone of my career.

This era of my life occasionally comes to mind. And when you get to a certain number of birthdays, you can look back and connect the series of dots that grew your career.

But from my vantage point, the path of success isn’t necessarily paved with good jobs leading to better jobs. Instead, it’s people who hook their arm inside your elbow and guide you on an otherwise unsteady road.

I don’t mean mentors or co-workers, professors or parents. I mean those who seemingly entered your life at random. People who were nice “just because” and gave you their attention, if only for a few minutes.

Maybe they gave you practical advice about an upcoming interview, or shifted your perspective about a career choice. Maybe they put you on the inside track to a job opening that hadn’t yet been officially posted.

Of course, to leap from one stepping stone to the next, you have to put yourself in the right position. Build up your skills, network, remain persistent, use a little ingenuity, and above all get better at recognizing opportunities.

But the promise of the American work ethic is part mythology. Many work as hard - or harder - than successful people (however you define it), yet they still don’t get close to their goals. Blame it on bad breaks or no breaks at all.

How much control do we have over our lives? Who knows. It’s the stuff of philosophical treatises, new-age best sellers, and late-night rap sessions over glasses of scotch.

What’s clear is that we all have chance encounters with people every day. Being kind is its own reward. If we can help someone with their goals, all the better.