ERIC Identifier: ED358378
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Lankard, Bettina A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Career Development through Self-Renewal. ERIC Digest.
A young married mother decides to give up her prestigious full-time job with
a Big 8 accounting firm and do consulting part time out of her home so she can
spend more time with her baby. A 38-year-old chemical analyst with a research
company decides to start his own business when he encounters roadblocks to his
career advancement. A man in his fifties chooses to retire from the university
after 20 years and join a small company as training director when he finds
himself increasingly disillusioned with his changing faculty role. A woman in
her late forties decides to leave her role as full-time homemaker, return to
school, and pursue a job as a nurse. These adults experienced discomfort in
their life situations, which propelled them to reconsider their careers and
readjust their career expectations. Learning how to move from situations we
consider negative to positive ones is an outcome of self-renewal. This Digest
examines several perspectives on life cycles and change and presents strategies
for negotiating change through self-renewal. It suggests a process for applying
these strategies to career development.
CHANGING CAREER EXPECTATIONS
Economic and cultural changes
in society, technological and organizational changes in the workplace, and
changes in business operations--management processes and customer
orientations--are creating frustrations for many workers. Adding to frustrations
from external changes are frustrations caused by the internal changes in
personal needs, values, and life events. Many adults who had their career and
personal lives planned to retirement are finding those plans no longer viable
and are recognizing the need to readjust their career expectations as a means of
satisfying their needs for work and love--the two domains viewed by Freud as
essential to healthy, mature adulthood (Merriam and Clark 1991).
CHANGING LIFE VIEWS
Many people have a linear view of life,
especially those whose lives to date have paralleled their desires. These
individuals see life as progressing steadily upward through hard work and
perseverance. Because they subconsciously (or consciously) believe that good
works and deeds will lead to success and happiness, they are not prepared for
the unexpected events that interfere with their life plans. The cyclical view of
life suggests that there is a time for everything--that patterns are repeated
but have different meanings at different times in our lives and that the
challenge is to move through these patterns with grace. A cyclical view of adult
life promotes self-renewal. It is characterized as follows (Hudson 1991, pp.
It portrays life as a complex, pluralistic, varied flow, with ongoing cycles in
nature, societies, and people.
It assumes that life "develops" through cycles of change and continuity rather
than in progressive, straight lines.
It portrays human systems as flexible, interactive, and resilient, permitting
It considers continuous learning to be essential to the constant improvement of
The cyclical view demands that adults let go of old, outmoded habits and
learn new ways to live effectively. It recognizes that "adults need not only
knowledge and training to make the changing external world work but
self-knowledge and training to make the internal world effective" (Hudson 1991,
Most adults today can identify with the cyclical view of life. They have been
touched by significant life events regarding jobs, family, and health. They have
established one life structure only to find they must move to a new life
structure. It is in the transition from one life structure to another that many
Transitions are difficult, often because
they are necessitated by circumstances that are beyond our control and not of
our own choosing. Hudson (1991) proposes that all transitions follow a
predictable pattern and that adults can be trained to anticipate and facilitate
them. He suggests that the first step toward making a transition is recognizing
and accepting that transition is necessary and has positive functions. "Many
would say that it is better to do your best to make a worn out, dysfunctional
life structure work and to tough it out than to face a life transition. That
very attitude, erroneous as it is, keeps thousands of people locked into life
structures that have died and into routines that are lifeless" (ibid., p. 95).
When change is viewed as positive, the door to self-renewal is opened.
Another step toward transition, possibly the most difficult one for adults,
is overcoming fear of the unknown. Hudson quotes E. Y. Siegelman, who portrays
the dilemma created by fear of change:
Being stuck, being depressed is awful. But it's safe. It's like walking
around in the dark in a familiar room which may be ugly and drab but is
familiar. But when you change--when you take a risk or do something that's way
out of character for you--it's different. It's like being thrust in the dark
into a furnished room that is unfamiliar. This is probably a more interesting
room, one you may get to like because it's going to be all yours. But the
furniture is strange. You don't know where anything is yet. You might bump into
something; you might trip and fall (p. 99).
Making life choices takes courage: courage to change, courage to learn,
courage to make mistakes. "People who avoid choosing and float along on
possibilities--trying to avoid the pain of making mistakes--are committing a big
error in judgment. In their fear of the future and of the tasks of adult life,
they are refusing to live fully" (Hardin 1992, p. 133).
Knowing when change is necessary for well-being and a sense of fulfillment
requires honest reflection and self-assessment. In their personal lives,
reflective adults examine their changing roles as spouses, lovers, parents,
children of aging parents, citizens, and volunteers as they strive to combine
and learn from the two elements of love and work. In their work lives,
reflective adults assess their careers and consider new options in a job market
characterized by unexpected layoffs due to downsizing and government cutbacks,
the introduction of new technologies that require new skills, new management
patterns that require teamwork and customer orientation, and the diversity of
the work force. In deciding whether there is a need for change or transition, it
is helpful to consider the following questions (Hardin 1992, p. 10): What will
probably happen if I continue this path? Is that what I really want for myself?
Am I ready to accept the consequences of what I am choosing, for both myself and
Three strategies to help adults in their quest for career satisfaction are
presented by Stevens (1991, p. 144):
Analyze the current situation. Consider changing expectations, expected and
unexpected events, aging, expectations of others, burnout, redundancy, midcareer
crises, and other qualities or situations that influence staying in or altering
your current situation.
Consider ways to resolve job dissatisfaction. Consider risk taking, stress,
promotions, ambition, career plateau, financial appraisal, work and leisure, and
job requirements and tasks.
Determine what you want to do. Engage in self-assessment, goal formation,
information gathering, and decision making.
Planning a life transition requires that we "HOLD ON to what is working, LET
GO of what is not working, TAKE ON new learning and exploration of options, and
MOVE ON to new commitments. All four of these are normal and necessary for
growth and development" (Hudson 1991, p. 98).
Managing the change cycle is a
self-renewing process. It empowers adults to be self-confident and generative.
Generativity is defined by Hardin (1992) as a process whereby we learn to follow
our deeper interests and longings and bring about change. It helps us to "avoid
the dangers of self-absorption and stagnation because we learn to live in new
ways that expand our horizons" (p. 28). Hudson (1991) presents 10 skills for
managing the change cycle, pointing out that "each skill has a time in the cycle
when it performs a critical function but that all 10 are important at all times
because to some degree parts of our lives are simultaneously at various places
in the cycle" (p. 68):
Visioning or dreaming the plan. The dream or vision is the "driving force for
the life structure, a source of passion and values. The plan is the plot for
making the dream happen" (p. 72).
Launching. Launching puts the plan to action; it requires "commitment and
personal mission" (p. 78).
Plateauing. Plateauing is the "art of sustaining a successful life structure....
It is knowing how to keep enriching the dream/plan for as long as it makes sense
to do so" (p. 81).
Managing the doldrums. This requires coming to terms with "decline, negative
emotions, and feeling trapped in an increasingly dysfunctional life structure"
Sorting things out. Choosing "what to keep, what to eliminate or change, what to
add, and how to proceed into a revitalized life structure" is the task of this
step of the change cycle (p. 69).
Ending a life structure. This requires an ability to say farewell with gratitude
and clarity, which frees you to consider your next options.
Restructuring. This minitransition can be used if the life structure could be
improved through some specific changes.
Cocooning. The transition into a new life structure requires "turning inward to
take stock, to find your own basic values, and to disengage emotionally and
mentally from the former life structure" (p. 69).
Self-renewal. Following successful cocooning, this step involves a rebirth of
self-esteem, a reevaluation of core issues and beliefs, and the recovery of hope
Experimenting. Creativity, learning, risk taking, and networking give one a
sense of purpose and power in creating a new life structure.
SELF-RENEWAL FOR CAREER DEVELOPMENT
Finding meaning in our
work is critical if we are to avoid stagnation and boredom (Bergquist et al.
1993). It is the responsibility of each individual to effect the change
necessary to reinvent work so that it has personal relevance. Companies are
requiring that employees take responsibility for their own careers. Grossman and
Blitzer (1992) suggest strategies for career survival: (1) honest assessment of
self and skills; (2) motivation and drive to establish and pursue a goal; (3)
awareness and knowledge of the strategic challenges of business in the 1990s
(e.g., improving quality and customer service); and (4) establishing an action
plan that is built upon realistic expectations and that draws upon available
resources, both within and outside the company.
Being able to accomplish successful career transitions within an existing
organization/life structure or a new organization/life structure requires
personal motivation. Successful transition is linked with one's sense of
autonomy or internal locus of control, and manifested in a willingness to learn
and a positive attitude. It is the force that propels individuals to take the
initiative in directing their own lives and careers.
Many people find value in their work as a source of new learning and
challenge. "They return to school, enter training programs, or enroll in
workshops and seminars to keep up to date in their current jobs or strike out on
their own" (Bergquist et al. 1993, p. 122). Others, hampered by lack of drive,
fear of failure, or reluctance to exit company retirement plans by terminating
employment, stay in unsatisfying and/or stressful jobs. Bergquist et al. ask if
the sacrifice is necessary or worthwhile. "When does the time come for us to
cease deferring gratification for the future and begin actually living the
fabled future?" (p. 125). Whatever their age, adults must find meaning and
community in their work if they want to be generative and alive. Therefore, they
must look toward continued opportunities to "reinvent work as a central part of
reinventing themselves" (p. 135).
Bergquist, W. H.; Greenberg, E. M.; and Klaum,
G. A. IN OUR FIFTIES: VOICES OF MEN AND WOMEN REINVENTING THEIR LIVES. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Grossman, B. B., and Blitzer, R. J. "Choreographing Careers." TRAINING AND
DEVELOPMENT 46, no. 1 (January 1992): 67-69.
Hardin, P. P. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? CHOICES IN
MIDLIFE. San Rafael, CA: New World Library, May 1992.
Hudson, F. M. THE ADULT YEARS: MASTERING THE ART OF SELF-RENEWAL. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
Merriam, S. B., and Clark, M. C. LIFELINES: PATTERNS OF WORK, LOVE, AND
LEARNING IN ADULTHOOD. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991. (ED 353 466)
Stevens, P. STOP POSTPONING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. 4TH EDITION. Sydney,
Australia: Centre for Worklife Counseling, 1991. (ED 341 817)