As careers become increasingly demanding and transitory, individuals entering the workforce are faced with numerous opportunities along with potential challenges and threats. Recent interest in the concepts of career self-management (the protean career), and career adaptability reflects a greater focus on career building as a dynamic process of individual change.
I discovered this myself whilst completing my Master’s degree at the age of 41. The prospect of a complete career change at this stage of my life was both empowering and frightening. Whilst I did (eventually) make the transition from a comfortable but uninspired 9-5 employee to an academically minded student, the process exhausted all of my available resources. I was required to develop my skills of time management, goal-setting, and managing the boundaries between work and home.
What helped me navigate these transitions and subsequently find rewarding work in Occupational Psychology was a greater awareness of my own career life ‘story’ or self-narrative. In the process of completing a career story-telling exercise with a colleague, I was able to finally connect the seemingly haphazard events and decisions of my life into a coherent whole. The exercise helped me see the big-picture; although my career trajectory hadn’t been linear or planned to perfection, I saw that previous skills and experiences had been leading up to my late career change.
The concept of our narrative identity is central to the Career Construction Theory (Savickas, 2005) which takes into account an individuals’ subjective experiences, and how they use their own language and meaning system to construct their own self-narrative. By exploring existential needs, early memories, or critical life incidents, an individual can “actively master what she or he has passively experienced” (Savickas, 2001, p.11).
Our self-narratives are important because we rely on our self-knowledge or identity to make informed career decisions. Story-telling enables us to maintain a coherent identity as we transition through various jobs and roles across the lifespan. As Del Corso & Rehfuss (2011) argue, if the only consistent and stable structure in an individual’s life is themselves, it is critical that one has a solid sense of self through a cohesive story. Perhaps then we could, as Cochran (1997) suggests, become the hero in our life story.
Cochran, L. (1997). Career counseling: A narrative approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
Del Corso, J., Rehfuss, M., & Glavin, K. (in press). Striving to adapt: Addressing Adler’s work task in the 21st century. Journal of Individual Psychology.
Savickas, M. L. (2001). Toward a comprehensive theory of career development, dispositions, concerns, and narratives. In F. T. L. Leong, & A. Barak (Eds.),
Contemporary models in vocational psychology (pp. 295–320). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Savickas, M. L. (2005). The theory and practice of career construction. In S. D. Brown, & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling (pp. 42–70).
New Jersey: Wiley.
Kristian Lees-Bell is a business psychologist, therapist and executive coach with a track record of helping professionals and organisations make lasting and fundamental shifts in how they approach their work and their colleagues. Combining his skills in coaching psychology, hypnotherapy, CBT, and an academic background in Occupational Psychology, Kristian’s coaching addresses the root cause of people-related issues. He coaches with directness and compassion, and provokes his clients to generate new insights that they can apply immediately.