Why story is not the only narrative in careers development

Source: Flickr, @Brett Jordan

Source: Flickr, @Brett Jordan

Is the story the only narrative going? What are the other ways we can think about “career”. I was recently struck a post on the The Day Job blog looking at how pervasive the beginning, middle and end metaphor for how we see the world around us. This basic plot structure was intitally picked up upon by Aristotle and has been popularized in modern Philisophical thought by Ricoeur.

I wanted to run through a few metaphors for how we can see our careers especially focussing on the issue of movement. Movement seems to be a fundamental way we talk about out careers and it is probably this that creates such a strong link between careers and narratives. It seems therefore worthwhile to concider what metaphors there are for a career and what alternatives we have to the narrative.

Story/ Narrative – This is an obvious way of talking about our careers as we have pointed out. Narratives focus on how we travel thorugh time and how events relate to each other (beginning, middle, end or before, during and after).

Ladder – The ladder is a common career metahpor with strong corporate overtones. Rather than just travelling through you move up a ladder. This focuses on how our different experiences have different values and how we hope to move upwards through increasingly better vocational experiences probably linked to promotion, recongition and increase in earnings.

Cycle – The cycle talks about change and continuity. It points out how events tend to repeat themselves. This may be because we are in some sense stuck, for example in unemployment or in a series of similar jobs with similar negative outcomes. Or it may just be because of the cylical nature of much of work whether it is moving thorugh a work cycle such as the school year or through a less fixed cycle such as through different projects which start and finish in some sort of ordered manner.

Rainbow – Donald Super uses the multi dimensional nature of the rainbow to illustrate a career as a whole. This partly recongises how as a whole our career rises through our education and early career progression to a highpoint before falling away through retirement and eventually death. But he also points out to how we have different dimensions to our careers (as in the different colours of the rainbow) where we play different roles. Thease areas include vocation, education, being a child, being a parent, our hobbies etc. Thease may all go through their own cycles of rise and fall as different aspects of our identity are important at different times.

Statue – The statue is in many ways the opposie of the story. Unlike the characters in a story who change as time progresses the statue stays the same, only it’s environment changes. This can be a powerful way of thinking about matching based models of careers work. In thease models the person is fixed and so most be placed in the best environment. Interestingly John Holland personally opposed developmental models of careers, he preffered to focus on what he saw as the unchanging essence of our identities.

Map – What I find interesting about the map metaphor is how it opens up a different dimension to discussing change. Maps record the relationship between things, hence our common use of them to get from A to B. Over time maps also change as new objects arrive in an area, are repalced or removed. If you would look at a map of where I live 5, 10, 50, 100 years ago you would see different things. This can be used as a metaphor for our career focussing on the different relationships we have over our life and how people, organisations, institutions and general social forces like the economy and politics effect our lives. The map metaphor encourages us to look around us at our relationships and not just forward to our future. It also encourages us to discuss our past, present and future in terms of changing relationships.

Rhizome – The Rhizome is a metaphor used by Deleuze and Guttari and recently I have got intersted in it due to the work of Dave Cormier. Rhizomes are classically put in opposition to the metaphor of the tree which focusses on growth around straight lines (think about the ladder in our discussion). Rhizomes are used as a metaphor to describe how our lives often have multiple parts to them all of which move in inconsistant and non-linear directions. In this sense the metaphor takes the multi-dimensional nature of the rainbow and adds a sense of the unplanned and the unpreditable. I find it a powerful metaphor for how confused and stretched our mdoern lives can feel especially dominated by their multiple dimensions and the chaotic nature of those directions.

Camp Fire – The camp fire metaphor tries to look at time and experience in a different manner. A camp fire has clear before, during and after but rather than focussing on the (happily ever) after it focuses on the during. A camp fire going out is a bad thing, it is while the camp fire is alight that it is experienced positively. During this time it sheds light, creates heat and creates a point for people to come together and have community with each other. The camp fire therefore can be a metaphor describing how often in our careers it is the relationships and experiences we have in the moment that are most important and it is not always about getting somewhere. It is the journey and not the destination that is important. Sometimes being in the moment and enjoying the relationships and experiences we are having is significant as where we hope our careers are going.

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