A holistic perspective on career reflection
A holistic career examination implies that the development that has led to the current situation, as well as a future outlook, shall be taken into account in a reflective way. A whole person approach includes personal traits and socio-cognitive facets. Personal identity extends to life-story considerations, cultural context, and life purpose (Nilsson, 2014). Besides using the biopsychosocial model, biographical learning provides for a concept that is including both formal and informal learning processes, emotional, existential, and cognitive aspects (Hallqvist, 2014, p. 499). This post reflects on a (mid-life) professional career transition from a personal point of view.
Questioning the meaning of work
My career reveals a diverse range of experiences that may appear chaotic without further explanation. For me, the journey from being a high-school teacher, changing career towards information technology in the financial services industry, while serving part-time as a communication trainer in the Swiss Army, is traceable as a series of results from personal conditions and development. Teaching a variety of subjects as a class tutor at a high-school reflected well my broad interest in different topics and the wish to work together with people. As a curious young man, instead of taking over the next class and continuing the ‘teacher treadmill,’ I felt urged to develop towards a more dynamic career and followed my interest in economics and IT when I got an according opportunity. Further studies in pedagogics or psychology I had considered as well as I’ve always valued soft skills for personal and professional reasons. However, the die was cast for the finance IT career. Within a couple of years, I went through three different employments in insurance and banking IT; experience that helped me to start at a big international accounting and professional services firm as an IT advisor. There I had found the environment that met my career ambitions for professional and social status. Retrospectively, I feel that what mattered to keep me motivated was the feeling of progress overall, rather than the fascination of specific content. However, communication and collaboration with clients as well as the leadership of my teams contributed a lot to my work satisfaction in a genuine way. Still, I never could identify myself, from a whole person standpoint, to be just the title of an IT auditor and advisor or the function of a senior manager. There always remained a distinction between the private and professional life. It took time to realize that this type of career let me with an incomplete sense of self and a negative work-life balance, what contributed to increasing questioning of the meaningfulness of my work situation (Barabasch, 2014). I was open for a new adventure and to visit Japan, the country of origin of my partner. I welcomed this opportunity as a time to reflect.
Full of self-confidence, with some savings, and excited about getting time away from professional and social expectations, I studied the Japanese language and culture during a year of sabbatical. Facing declining financial resources and soon fatherhood, a selectively positive picture of my former position caused me to accept a similar employment in Tokyo. As it turned out, though, this was a jump out of the frying pan into the fire. Due to the Japanese market and labor conditions, the previously so motivating aspects of leadership and entrepreneurship in the same role back in Switzerland weren’t as present anymore. Most critically, a client situation caused me a severe inner ethical conflict. This type of work revealed its naked and extreme face, one irreconcilable with my values. I was struck with concern as my value system revolted vehemently against any insufficient compromises that I was supposed to make to meet client and firm expectations. Far away from home and having left so many things behind already, from material possessions to relationships, social status, and cultural identification, I had started to explore more deeply my inner world and to clarify goals and mental and spiritual needs since a while already. Life purpose and the goal to be over anything else a good human being, as well as the will to pursue a truly meaningful occupation already has become first priority. As the consequence of an unbridgeable gap between different value systems at the work place, I quit the firm without having established a safety net beyond some savings from the choice of a relatively modest and frugal lifestyle.
Through a liminal career stage
Ibarra and Obodaru (2016) build on the concept of liminality, in social sciences historically meaning the ritual initiation of life transitions, such as e.g. from being a ‘boy’ to becoming a ’man.’ The construct of a liminal stage I consider helpful to locate my current process in between the past and future social positions that are marked by a pre-liminal phase of ‘separation’ and a post-liminal phase of ‘reincorporation’ (Ibarra and Obodaru, 2016). The separation from my previously chosen career as an IT auditor and advisor in minimum preconsciously commenced back in Switzerland even before the decision to leave for Japan was taken. The move to abroad was accompanied by “both formal and informal learning processes, binding emotional, existential and cognitive aspects, and uniting preconscious and conscious dimensions” (Hallqvist, 2014, p. 499). Interestingly, it is the radical break with lifestyle patterns, the cessation of related distractions, the distancing of relationships, and the removal of comfort zones that the move to Japan brought, which caused me to evaluate my situation more clearly and thoroughly from an even existential point of view. I already had overcome some strong fears of loss after having left my familiar environment and the disconnection from accustomed support from my social network in Switzerland required some revision of my belief system. The retirement from the job needed emotional recovery and analysis. Figuring out the next steps represented an additional cognitive challenge.
Career transitions of a ‘strange attractor’
Pryor and Bright (2014) describe the function of attractors in their chaos theory of careers (CTC). One of them they call ‘strange attractor,’ which, compared to the other types of attractors, stands for a more complex, self-similarly but always in some different way repeating change pattern (Pryor and Bright, 2014). Indeed, throughout my adult life, around every two years some professional change occurred, be it in the form of a further education, an additional responsibility or promotion, or a change in employment or career direction. This time, the changes are farther reaching in their scope though, and they are impacting my person across the whole biopsychosocial spectrum.
Biosocial manifestations beyond self-actualization
Relationships between parents and adolescents and his testosterone level can determine risk-taking behavior, a bidirectional systematic to keep in mind too (White, Thornhill, and Hampson, 2007). My first career change from education to finance IT was an expression of adventure seeking and the dream to explore the world of free markets and possibilities. I wanted to demonstrate my ability for success also in other areas and had a desire for rewards in the form of higher social status and a lifestyle of more possibilities thanks to increased mobility and financial resources. The successful transition to that envisioned lifestyle reinforced my extroverted and driving behavior. While I wanted to have a high degree of extroversion as a believed career success factor, I also felt to have to develop this personality trait with significant effort. Openness to experience on the other side, I’ve perceived as a much more natural characteristic of mine. Research finds that extroversion tends to increase its heritable effect until ca. the age of 40 (Kandler, n.d.), what may have helped me to sustain my relatively high level of extraversion without heightening levels of self-discipline. On the other hand, according to Kandler (n.d.), the heritability of neuroticism after age 30 is decreasing. According to my current age, the biological constellation of declining extraversion, reducing neuroticism and the ongoing reinforcement of openness to experience may well explain my mid-life sensitivity for the current turning point in life. After the age of 30 the personality traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness are considered to increase (McCrae et al., 2000), what, in combination with family and fatherhood, I regard to be a contributory factor for the timing of my voluntary career change too. However, to a great extent environmental influences and ever-growing external experiences, the so-called nurture aspect of the nature-nurture debate, for sure have significantly shaped my personality and readiness to change too (Kandler, n.d.). As described earlier, the relatively high social rank, parenthood, expatriation, exposure to a different culture, as well as (related) changes in relationships and identity are exogenous social circumstances triggering and surrounding my current career change.
From a psychological perspective, the career change from technical consulting in the financial services industry to human services such as social work, learning and development, and coaching represents an adjustment of professional identity with increasingly emphasized personal values such as compassion, moral, and freedom. Negative emotions and personal ethical conflicts at my former workplace resulted in anger and risked to lower self-esteem in the long-term. Changes in thoughts and actions were required to solidly establish the new sense of purpose. I am currently engaging in volunteering at an NGO, partnering with a small business and helping course participants in global communication and personal development. I am establishing new connections and friendships that meet my values. I have enrolled in the MSc program in Psychology at the University of Liverpool. All these efforts aim to build the skills and knowledge to bring me into positions where I can effectively contribute to increased peace and justice for all. To serve a higher good, to move from egoistic to altruistic goals, and to allow oneself and others the opportunity to live up to the highest potential and address unsolved problems (Huebner and Royal, 2013) is a great motivation to continuously invest in formal and informal learning opportunities for my second half of life. These new goals also help me to practice a good life beyond materialist attachments. As Huebner and Royal (2013) put it aptly, “midlife career changes are a reaction to both experience and mortality” (p. 39).
I think I have set up my emotional strategies, cognitive processes, and behavioral attitudes to personally grow in line with my values. At the same time, I’m confident to continue to be successful in what I do to make a living for my family and create a work that will testify my efforts to be my best version. I know that I will not regret to having tried to contribute to a healthier and happier world for my daughter, my entourage, and everybody. The future isn’t sure at all, and I may face further financial and relationship constraints due to personal and circumstantial changes in general and the transition phase investments and privations in concrete. However, increasing consistency of purpose and identity, resilient mental strength, and matured spiritual sense are my trustful sources of inspiration, courage, and enjoyment for following through on the new track. Ongoing reflection is an important means for the practice of gratefulness. I am grateful for the great opportunity of this truly fulfilling journey.
This was an attempt for a short but holistic reflection on seemingly chaotic life events, pre-disposing biosocial patterns, personal traits and mental processes, as well as new types of engagements and work and continuous education factors. Awareness about these building blocks allows working on the mastery of the art of living and becoming who I am: A mindful human being striving to find solutions to touch people at the heart level so happiness, peace, equality, and justice may ensue. The study of Psychology with its human-centered and multi-disciplinary aspects between Biology and Philosophy helps to understand better the human mind in its specific contexts, the ultimate human reality we learn and create for and from. Understanding better what I can control and what not, I can also deliberately accept unpredictable dimensions (Pryor and Bright, 2014) of the unfolding of my future career.
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It sounds like your personal experiences and growth have you on a trajectory you seek. This provides a strong foundation able to withstand dynamic changes in the unknown future. Wishing you all the success.
Thank you! Indeed, strong foundations are important as one needs to choose and decide on direction always again. All the best to you too!