Metaphors of Career 6: Journey

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 7: 1966-1974

I tend to think of a journey as travelling between places or the process of moving from a beginning to a destination. This  idea of movement between places comes up a lot in everyday talk about career. We hear people say things such as “I’m not sure where my career’s going at the moment” or “in my career I’m aiming to get to…” and ideas such as the corporate ladder and expressions about moving up or moving through positions all have the same idea of travelling between places. The idea of careers guidance itself implies that people are travelling and need help with reaching their destination. If we look at the metaphor of a journey like this then it has three primary points. Firstly a place where we begin, secondly the process through which we move from this position and finally when we arrive at our new destination. Let’s look at these three in turn.

Beginning


All journeys begin with leaving somewhere. In the case of a career journey this can be a conscious decision such as when someone decides they no longer want to be in a particularly job or it could be more general when someone changes their aspirations or desires for their career. But it can also be when someone is forced to leave somewhere, for example because of unemployment or a change in someone’s life outside of work. Either way the journey begins when we leave a situation of rest. A journey starts when we are forced to face change either by our actions or others. We “leave” where we are in life and set off on a journey.

Moving


Having left a position of rest the next stage is about moving to somewhere else. This can be categorized by a sense of not being where we want to be but trying to get there. How clear a sense of where we need to be can vary. For some there may be a very definite goal in mind (e.g. becoming a doctor) for others their may be a more general sense of what they want to find at the end of their journey (e.g. more job satisfaction, better work life balance etc.) In my mind the key to this stage is how the individuals activity and the outside world come together. The idea of a journey sees the individual as a traveller moving through terrain. This firstly focuses on the action we take. It is possible to have a motionless career where people talk about being “stuck” or that their “career is going nowhere” but to be on a journey is to actively strive to change this situation. A journey is also more than just deciding to get somewhere but is about actually moving through terrain seen as the obstacles we overcome to arrive at a destination. Like in a great adventure story (e.g. The Hobbit, The Odyssey) the destination may be set before the journey starts but the hero gets there through overcoming various obstacles. These obstacles may be predictable, hidden, or the product of chance but the key is the destination is only reached by overcoming them. A traveller will both need to identify expected obstacles and plan how to overcome them but also to have the skills and abilities to react to unexpected situations and overcome something unexpected as it occurs.

Arriving?

Journeys have ends, or at least we feel they should do. Arriving somewhere else is what propels a journey forward. In both of The Hobbit and The Odyssey the hero returns home at the end of the story. The problem with our lives is that though a book stops on the last page our lives continue after it. Does the child who wanted to be an astronaut stop their journey when they first fly into space? Often having a career journey is like walking up a mountain when whenever we reach the summit we just find another peek beyond it. I think this can be a powerful way of thinking of our careers as we set challenges, move towards them and then having completed them set new ones. Ultimately though arriving is about giving meaning to something. It is about how we talk about the changes we go through. The metaphor of a journey talks about how we move from rest through a state of disruption and change to another state of rest. But wether the state we arrive at is a state of rest or not is matter of the meaning we give to the experience.

Strengths and Weaknesses

What are the advantages/ weaknesses of thinking of your career in terms of a journey? The real advantage is how simply it orders our experiences and allows to focus on what action to take. It focuses on where we want to be in our careers and how we are going to get there. Asking questions like where do I want to be in my career? What would move me forward? What do I need to do to get to where I want to be? What is holding me back are all questions that focus us on movement and how we can travel to where we want to be. I think though their are a couple of problems with the metaphor, firstly it can be deceptive. Their is temptation to think that moving is better. But the problem is that our destinations may not take us to where we want to be. Success and happiness are elusive concepts. It is easier to set a destination than it is to ensure it will provide for us what we want. We may actually make things worse for ourselves or repeat old mistakes. Change is not beneficial in and of itself. The other problem with the metaphor is that it can prefer the destination over the journey. Focusing on a particular outcome and seeing that as significant can blind us to other things that may be happening around us. For example just doing work experience to build our CV can blind us to the enjoyment had from that experience in an of itself. We are in effect putting all our eggs in one basket rather than being prepared to look around us and find satisfaction in multiple sometimes unexpected places.

References

Inkson, K. (2002). Thinking creatively about careers: The use of metaphor. In M. Peiperl, M. B. Arthur,
R. Goffee, & N. Anand (Eds.), Career creativity: Explorations in the re-making of work.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nin, A. The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 7: 1966-1974

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