Careers

4 Pillars For Career Development


When successful people tell the story of their lives, it can be extremely tempting to assume that things progressed in a neat, orderly, and largely linear pattern as they marched inexorably towards the level of success that granted them the opportunity to tell the rest of us how they did it.

Of course, the reality is extremely unlikely to be like that, with both their lives and indeed our own, far more chaotic in nature and heavily influenced by chance. It’s an approach nicely encapsulated in the University of New South Wales’ Jim Bright and his colleague Robert Pryor’s work on the “chaos theory of careers”, which was documented first in research form and then in book form.

“Most contemporary theories of career development have difficulty taking into account current realities of career decision-making including complexity, change, constructivism and chance,” the pair explain.

Adapting to the chaos

While it’s easy to frame chaos in a negative way, Pryor and Bright outline four key approaches we can take to our career development that can help us to cope with the chaos and uncertainty and progress our careers successfully.

  • Open-mindedness and curiosity for new opportunities – The first mantra they advocate is a fundamental openness to new experiences and the opportunities that can arise from them. Often, we can adopt a rigid view of our career that limits how it might evolve and adapt to the changing nature of the world around us. A better approach is to be curious and explorative to any potential opportunities that may arise, and indeed be proactive in making opportunities emerge.
  • Risk orientation It can be difficult, and possibly impossible, to be proactive without being willing to take risks. By being open to new opportunities you will inevitably be heading into the unknown and doing things that you’re not familiar with. As such, it’s vital that we are able to take a more positive approach and attitude towards risk and uncertainty so that chance encounters can be engineered. In career terms, it can be tempting to stick with the tried and tested, but if we are to adapt to the unknown, we have to become far more comfortable with the unfamiliar.
  • Self-reliance – While obviously none of us is an island, and our career will be heavily dependent on those around us for opportunities and progression, when we encounter difficult times, and we will certainly encounter them, then having a deep well of grit and resilience to call upon will be crucial to help us get through those times. Similarly, our drive and motivation are also likely to come from within, as well as our courage to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
  • Supportive relationships – Of course, this should not diminish the support of those around you, either in providing you with advice, helping you explore new opportunities, giving you moral support during your journey, or any of the other ways in which those around us can provide invaluable support during our careers.

A matter of chance

While accepting the importance of chaos and uncertainty may create the impression of leaving things completely to chance, there are numerous ways in which we can work to give ourselves a better chance of “good luck” occurring. As Christian Busch explains in Connecting the Dots there are various life skills we can all develop that help us to capitalize on serendipity and greatly increase the likelihood of appearing lucky.

For instance, if we can increase our ability to truly pay attention to our surroundings, including both big and small things, then we become much better at questioning our assumptions and identifying when things are wrong, while also opening our minds to new ways of operating.

Similarly, if we can develop a way to de-risk ideas so that we’re enabling a safe, yet effective, form of risk-taking, then we greatly increase the chances of effectively cross-pollinating ideas and learning from failure. This often requires a strong element of trust to help support such risk-taking and an awareness that not everything will go right.

The last few years have given us numerous examples of things that are largely outside of our control, but which nonetheless play a crucial role in our lives and our careers. There are many factors that can influence our career development that make achieving certainty in our view of the future impossible. The key, Bright and Pryor believe, is to accept that it’s okay to function on limited information and that setbacks are very much opportunities to learn. If we can develop that mindset, then hopefully we’ll be able to successfully ride whatever waves come our way.



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