Ask most people why they did the first job that they did, and the answers will usually reveal the power of family messages. Middle class families often have direct role modelling – think of acting dynasties, or the generations of doctors, lawyers or teachers that are often found in one family.
For working class families the influences are often more aspirational: the desire to have a doctor, lawyer or teacher in the family. For both groups the story they have created is one that has often been given to them. It is only with increased distance and maturity that that such narratives begin to be questioned.
Often it is in the 20’s that the story begins to feel uncomfortable. A tension can emerge between doing what others want for you and your own growing sense of unease. Working with GPS I was struck by how often their story was one of following a career that gained considerable approval from others, only to find that the reality of living the role was not what they expected. Discovering that what you do does not meet your own needs, although it may meet others is a difficult place to be. Marcia B Baxter Magolda in her book Authoring a Life interviewed 35 adults over a 20 year period, and found that facing a career crossroad was a significant feature of her interviewees. At some point, individuals began to hear an inner voice which told them that their needs were different from what they had come to believe. That voice was often suppressed because it opened up fears of disapproval, but at some point the individual had to make a decision. Do I continue on this path that has been set for me, or do I start to risk listening to and trusting my inner voice? The process of building trust in that voice as a guide to taking action was not one of linear progression. Often the interviews reveal how people moved towards and then away from accepting their own values and beliefs over a number of years. Gradually and tentatively they came to recognise the strength of that inner voice. They moved towards what Magolda calls ’self authorship’. Becoming one’s own author provided a compass point for dealing with life’s challenges in both work and relationships. It was not that their lives were any easier because of developing that voice, but that they had something they could call on to get them through the vicissitudes of life, and to help in decision making on career issues.
A starting point for developing that voice is to examine your own career narrative.
Sit down and write your career story so far – not as a cv story, but in terms of the following questions:
- Think of the role models you were presented with in childhood and early adulthood and how they influenced your decisions about work?
- Has there been a point when you were challenged by something in life that changed your perspective on your career?
- If you have passed over a career crossroad, which road did you take and why?
- What has resulted from the road you chose?
- If you are currently at a crossroad, what is the tension you are caught between?
- How much of what you are doing now is guided by your own inner voice?
- If you are on a journey towards developing that inner voice – then when is it at its strongest, and when does it get drowned out?
In a world where careers are constantly changing in response to global, economic, social and technological shifts, creating self authorship will become ever more important. A starting point is to take time to reflect on how well your career narrative is working for you, in order to check if a different story needs to be written.