How do you feel about going to the dentist? For me I’m not that big a fan and my attendance record proves it. My problem is I sit down at the dentists, am told of because of the wait since I last attended, get someone prod around in my mouth, often have them drill into my touth, am told of for my brushing technique, told to floss, told to come back in 3 months time and then charged more than my monthly utilities bill for the privilege. Unsurprisingly I rarely come back inside 3 months, I admit this is a flaw on my behalf but I feel dentists have an issue in how they promote their services, guilt and horror stories tend not to positively engage people.
What does this have to do with careers work? Well I fear careers work increasingly justifies itself and engages with it’s clients on a similar basis. Some of the catch phrases I hear bandied around (HE) careers work bare this out. We are constantly telling people that “a degree is not enough”, they need to “brand themselves” and focus on “their unique selling point” they they need to “get experience”, “build a network”, “get on LinkedIn” that we are here to help (implication – you’re not ok!) that we can help people make a “realistic choice” and that “there are jobs out there for the right candidate.” It could all be boiled down to “jobs are hard (but not impossible) to get, you almost certainly don’t know how to get one, we can help you get a job (probably) if you do what we say, and if you don’t… job center (plus?!) for you my friend.”
I think there are a number of things that have created this situation. Firstly targets, destination figures which are taken as a one off census in the UK, 6 months after graduation, creates pressure and a particularly time frame around student career development. We feel the fear factor that students aren’t progressing towards targets and so often pass this on to students. Secondly the positioning of careers inside education. Most careers workers I know feel marginalised and squeezed for time, they don’t see enough of students, they’re not supported enough by other staff, no-one knows what they should be doing. This is often leads to careers workers wanting to shout “I’m Important! Take me seriously!” The problem is this call for importance can often be linked to some vision of student’s futures beset by unemployment and failure. “I’m important” very quickly slips into “ignore me at your peril.” Finally a matching paradigm of careers. Matching paradigms focus on the rational, what a realistic choice is. This approach tends to focus on limits, on narrowing down options, converging on the one “right” answer. This often comes across as implying that most decisions are wrong and most career ideas are out right wrong or have been arrived at using the wrong method. Again this is negative, encouraging students to be realistic, narrowing in on the few possible options that fit all of the data. If you’re a careers adviser just ask yourself this, are their certain careers you wince at inside when people mention them? Do you just wish less people would want to get into film/ journalism/ clinical psychology/ the civil service or whatever else it might be? If this happens you are probably being affected by some of the ideas above.
So what might the alternative be? if you are interested in challenging some of these ideas what form what that take?
This is a bit of a hunch I have but I feel that the self is often lost in the careers work I come across. When you are looking at matching models we tend to focus in on how the individual can fit into work (not the other way round, how work can fitted to the individual) this makes work the fixed object and the individual the bit that moves. Everything is therefore based on work and how the individual understands themselves in relation to it.
I think a subtle but significant shift can be made to move away from discovering options to discovering your self or potential selves which you can develop. Paraphrasing Savickas then career becomes a prop in how you develop a meaningful life rather than a place you must be adjusted to and most fit with. Again the difference is subtle but significant.
I recently came across the excellent work of Career Cycles, which I may blog more about in the future. Career Cycles aims in part to use Positive Psychology to build a new approach to working with clients. To quote from Zikic and Kranklic disucssing Career Cycles,
“ …the [Career Cycles] method’s unique emphasis on positive psychology is based on supporting ways clients can attract, rather than seek, career and life enrichment possibilities. Second, it frames these possibilities as positive statements of what clients desire, rather than focusing on barriers and career obstacles. In using positivism, the [Career Cycles] method examines clients’ life spans and moves away from objectivity and job matching toward self-defining stories that reflect the fulfillment of developmental tasks and occupational transitions”
Positive Psychology contends that psychology can be in danger of just looking at negative aspects of the individual and just looking to cure their big problems rather than looking at the individual as a whole and trying to encourage them to flourish by considering how they can bring their strengths, values, relationships and wisdom to bare to achieve a full and flourishy life. This focus to help people focus on their strengths and become the best they can may seem a bit trite and disney-ish but I feel it can be a healthy antidote to often negative approaches to clients and careers work that focus on problems, lowers expectations of people and aims for people to get somewhere rather than become all they can be.
I wonder if positive psychology is an area that can be explored more in careers work?
A genuine developmental perspective can be of use here. Developmental perspectives are concerned with change and what you want to become. The key question is not what assets do you have but what you want to develop. There has been a raft of popular books recently looking at habits and skill development that support the idea that humans have a great capacity to develop themselves given the right time and motivation. This should be a significant to matching paradigms as it moves the question from “what can you do?” to “what do you want to become?”
This approach isn’t about throwing realism out the window or being naive but having a positive view of human potential when given opportunity and motivation.
Creativity/ Lateral Thinking
Finally I’ve talked about creativity before but I feel it can create a new perspective on decision making which is based on broadening out your options, thinking divergently and non-laterally to generate new possibilities. This is about thinking about the many things someone could do and then innovating new ways of getting there. Again this is about possibilities over limits, about the many things someone could do rathern than the one thing they should do and about how we can create meaning rather than have find a “right” answer.
So what do you think? Is career work too negative? Could re-examining this aspect open up new avenues of practice?