Having decided to start writing a blog about career it makes sense to start having a look at what “career” actually is. I’ve decided to write a series of posts around what career is using Kerr Inkson’s metaphorical approach to defining career.
Most of us have a vague sense the career is somehow different to just having a job but beyond that I recon most people think that career is just one of those common sense terms that you just know what it is. Why bother actually trying to pin it down? You may feel that working hard at definitions is for academics, bloggers, ivory tower philosophers and other types with too much time on their hands who try and justify their existence by mucking around with terms. Why bother actually trying to define career?
Though you may not be interested in technical discussions about defining career you are more almost certainly interested in your own career. We tend to be more interested in the personal than in the abstract. So what happens if we ask personal questions such as “what is your personal theory of career?”, “what does career mean in your life?” or “how would you describe what your career is and how it relates to the rest of your life?” Asking these sorts of questions makes the discussion immediately relevant. Thease questions are concerned with how we see the world and how we live. They also recognises that we have different lives. Different things are important to us. We live in different contexts and we approach and make our lives in different ways using different means. It may be tempting to say that some definitions of career are better than others and a universal definition of career allows us to sift the good from the bad. I do think there is such a thing as a bad or unhelpful definition of career but I think its important to start with where people are at. This allows us to keep what matters to us and keep what makes us different intact as we work out what a good definition of career might be. Rather than asking what is career I want this series to look at a way of working out what your personal theory of career is.
How then do we approach this task? Its quite a hard thing just to ask what does career mean and expect a good response. I think its worthwhile looking at a range of descriptions of career and rather than just choosing one at the exclusion of the others and then look to see how they might combine to provide a variety of perspectives. This is what Kerr Inkson does in his book “Understanding Careers: The Metaphors of Working Lives.” Inkson describes nine metaphors for career which each provide a different perspective. Working with metaphors allows people to ask what they like and don’t like about a point of view, it can highlight what already exists in their theory of career, it can show what could be added to it to make it richer, it can reveal where blind spots are and what new possibilities exist for engaging with career as a subject. Inkson’s approach partly recognises that career is a complicated subject and so best handled through a number of perspectives. It also recongises that people are different and so a variety of metaphors put together helps us avoid a unrealistic one-size-fits all approach.
How is this useful? One of my hopes with this blog is to try and keep theory connected to practice. So what is the advantage of defining career and using Inkson’s method to do so?
Firstly though theory may not be that interesting the practice of career is interesting to everyone. Given this its important to note that new and better practice mostly comes from different perspectives. For someone stuck in their career in some way looking at new perspectives on career opens up new ways of acting, of approaching problems differently and may open up new possibilities for moving forwaed. Linked to this as a careers adviser I’m concerned with my own professional practice. This will always come out of my view of what career is. This will determine how I act in my job and how I try to help people. So considering other metaphors of career opens up new ways of acting as a professional, it may confirm or enhance some of my current practice or create new alternatives.
Secondly a lot of career problems are created by other people. No man is an island and no-one lives out their career by themselves. People are frustrated in education, feel limited by their employers, angry at the quality of career advice their school gave, held back by their parents and so on. This often happens because different theories of career exist between people. When a father wants his son to take over the family business because “its what has always happened” while the son wants to travel “to find himself” the conflict has happened because different theories of career exist. Getting down to these different theories exposes why the conflict exists and helps people appreciate the other persons viewpoint and then navigate and negotiate in these relationships. This is a negative take on relationships, and I want to avoid just seeing other people as a nuisance in an individuals career. So it is equally helpful to ask where different theories from different people have influenced us and helped us. This is useful for the professional as well. A lot of professional frustration comes out of the views of clients about their careers or the limits imposed upon professionals by their employers. Again asking what different theories of career are in play may be of great use here. If your headmaster just wants you to get sixth formers to progress onto uni while you want to properly explore what your students want from life this friction is again underpinned by different theories of career. Therefore understanding these theories helps you see what the other person you are working with is assuming and aiming at and helps you to respond.
Inkson has nine metaphors for career which are inheritance, construction, cycle, matching, journey, encounters and relationships, roles, resource, and story. I’m going to write a post on each metaphor and see where that leads. I haven’t decided on the exact order but I’m going to use start with “matching” as I think it is probably the most common view of career. That’s all for now. As this is my first post, please, please leave comments, be brutal, I can take it.