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How to recognize and resolve traditional (but ineffective) career beliefs.

There was a time not so long ago when a career was defined as a one-time commitment to an organization for a life time. This commitment usually evolved into a relationship that culminated with a retirement party and the presentation of a gold watch.

More than likely, those days are gone. Blame it on short-term profit goals. Blame it on changing management styles. Blame it on the global economy. It really doesn't matter whom or what you blame it on so long as you don't spend all of your time and energy blaming. What does matter, however, is whether you are attempting to implement your career with a set of attitudes or beliefs that are no longer applicable to today's world of work. And yet, many of the people today who experience difficulty in terms of bouncing back from a career obstacle appear to flounder simply because they utilize a set of beliefs or attitudes that no longer apply to today's job market.

This was the case for Ron, a bank examiner with the federal government. Ron had been associated with this branch of the government for almost ten years but since his second year in the position had really disliked both his work and the environment.

Why didn't he leave and/or try something different? The career beliefs he held were constraining him and many times his responses to his environment were reactive and second nature. Until he was able to discuss his perceptions about his career in an open, non-judgmental atmosphere, he was doomed to remain in that position.

Part of Ron's problem was that for too long he had been engaging in what is referred to as "restricted expectations." Restricted expectations is the willingness to accept unsatisfying job conditions and concentrate not on the job itself, but instead on outcomes like money, security, and vacations. It is unfortunate, but too often people assume they can effectively cope with a negative set of circumstances over a sustained period of time with little consequence to their physical, emotional, or spiritual well being.

People who engage in this type of thinking mistakenly believe that there is little overlap between the level at which they function within their work and the level at which they function outside their work environment. As a result, they continually make attempts to establish two identities--one that is career related and one that isn't career related.

The establishment of this dual identity usually has its roots in several factors. One that appears most prominent is the employment availability and employment security position utilized by most individuals when making a career selection. In other words, there has been an over-emphasis in our culture on identifying and selecting career paths that offer a high degree of monetary reward and job security and a de-emphasis on pursuing careers that provide a high degree of congruence between the individual's interests and the work environment and job satisfaction.

Too often the conclusion is prematurely drawn that money and job security will lead to job satisfaction. On the contrary, more often than not, the absence of congruence (the match between an individual's interests and skills and the requirements of the job) and job satisfaction lead to a sense of void for many individuals.

By examining the ineffectiveness of the following traditional career beliefs, one may gain a better perspective on how to improve his or her career situation.

Ineffective Career Belief: "I Should Have Decided by Now"

Another pitfall in our cultural mind-set when it comes to the career decision-making process is the belief that every person should make up his or her mind about a career by a certain age. Unfortunately, this can lead to what has been referred to as "early foreclosure." In other words, prior to gathering enough information and developing sufficient awareness, an individual prematurely settles on a career path. Regretfully, dissatisfaction with the choice settles in but resistance to change is reinforced by the next career belief--"Once I make up my mind, I should stick to my decision."

Within reason, age has little to do with the selection of a career. Rather, it has more to do with work experiences and self-awareness. Contrary to popular belief, most individuals select a career on the basis of what they dislike rather than on what they like. Therefore, high self-awareness and strong work experiences can provide an individual with a strong sense of direction.

Ineffective Career Belief: "Once I Make up my Mind, I Should Stick to my Decision"

The difficulty with this belief is the restrictions it places upon an individual's options. I recall one woman telling me the history of her career and the disbelief that surfaced on her face when she realized that her 12-year association with her career field began when she was a sophomore in college. Unsure of what to select as a major, she chose one within the same program as the young man she was dating at the time. The relationship ended a year later, but she continued on with a graduate education and advanced certification in the area even though she never really liked what she was doing.

Many people still view being undecided as a reflection of weak character. More perceive change of heart as further evidence of the same difficulty. There is sufficient evidence in all aspects of life to support the strength in character that comes with the desire to find a better way.

Ineffective Career Belief: "A Career Path Should be Consistent With Post-Secondary Training"

Too often the assumption is made that an individual should only pursue a career path that is directly linked to his post-secondary training. This is faulty thinking since again the relationship between some training programs and the world of work is not as clear as others. For example, while those trained as mechanical engineers may have some clearly identified niches, liberal arts graduates will find their options are much broader but less clearly defined.

Equally important, if one locks himself or herself into this type of rigid thinking, the likelihood of adhering to the previously mentioned career belief of not changing one's mind becomes greater. As well, there is little sense in compounding the problem if the selection of a post-secondary training program was made impulsively or without sufficient information.

Most important, we must begin to realize that people change as they broaden their horizons; they expand their interests as well. There is little merit in forcing oneself to stay in an unsatisfying environment.

Ineffective Career Belief: "Aptitude is Reflected in Interests"

It is erroneously assumed by many that a person's deep interest in a particular career area is indicative of his or her aptitude. In many ways to suggest that this is not true tends to run contrary to the American cliche that "anybody can do anything if they try hard enough." While there are many examples of how hard and dedicated work has evolved into success, there are just as many examples of how people have toiled away in an endeavor in which they had no particular aptitude and as a result have very little to show for all of their efforts.

Still, every career area has opportunities associated with it for people with different skills. Therefore, while one may not have an aptitude for a specific career, he may have skills or an aptitude in an area that is indirectly related. For example, perhaps a person who has a deep love for art, i.e., painting, does not have an innate talent for painting but does possess the entrepreneurial skills for marketing other painters' works. Conversely, there are very few painters who are very skilled or even comfortable with the marketing of art.

Ineffective Career Belief: "Self Worth is Reflected by Career Status"

Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief. Unfortunately, society tends to equate an individual's worth as a person with the perceived social status of her career. Perhaps even more unfortunate, some people select a career on the basis of what they anticipate will be the social status associated with the career rather than assessing whether they have an interest or aptitude that will develop into a sense of satisfaction for that particular kind of work.

Perhaps even more tragic is the fact that sometimes an individual is unduly influenced by family tradition or individuals to select a career path with high social status because it offers the family or its members a greater sense of selfworth. This can be unfortunate not only for the individual, but also for the recipients of his or her professional services.

Some Recommendations for Increasing Career Development

1. Gather information about the world of work and the various career paths available. Remember that reading printed material is only one source of career information. Talk with parents, friends, neighbors, and other individuals who are either involved in a particular career field or know someone who is. Obtain more than one opinion and be sure to filter through and develop an understanding for those who appear to be quite negative about either a particular career field or their own work. Remember, everybody has an opinion and the world of work is fraught with career misinformation.

2. Try to develop a better sense of yourself--your likes, your dislikes. Be careful that you do not try to talk yourself into something you aren't particularly interested in because you think it will please someone else.

If you are unsure about a particular career area, seek out some hands-on experience in the field that will provide you with a sense of your comfort, interest, and aptitude for the area. Perhaps this can be obtained through part-time work, volunteer work, or maybe even an internship. Some people obtain this type of information simply by following or "shadowing" an individual for a week so that they can develop a better feel for the work environment.

3. Make every attempt to follow your own intuition rather than the collective mind of the group. All too often people will flock to a particular career field like gold miners in search of a quick strike. As a result, you have people pursuing a career field because of what they believe might happen in terms of opportunities for success rather than taking a serious look at themselves and what really provides them with an opportunity for satisfaction. Have you ever noticed how every few years certain career areas fall out of favor? Try not to be fashion conscious when it comes to your career.

4. Try to accept parents', spouses', friends', and family members' concern as genuine but do not invest all of your time in gaining their approval or understanding for what it is you are attempting to implement. Such efforts usually prove to be wasted energy that would be better invested in your own career development. This is not to suggest that you should be insensitive or callous towards their expressions of interest or concern, but remember they are emotionally involved as well. Still, it is important that you be aware of the fact that if you are receiving support from them--financial or otherwise--that you provide them with some sense of what it is you are attempting to accomplish. More important, if you feel that the support you are receiving is contingent upon certain choices, perhaps you should make other arrangements. Otherwise, you will find yourself making choices that are not in your own best interests.

5. Seek our knowledgable career guidance and counseling from an individual who has been properly trained in the field. The career and employment counseling field as a specialty has only begun to emerge within the fields of counseling and psychology in the last decade or so. Not everyone trained in the counseling field has been exposed to or is knowledgable about the area of career development. Above all, avoid those individuals who emphasize assessment over the process of introspection and reflection. For too long, our expectation has been that assessment measures will offer some never before considered insight. The core element of the process of career development is enhancing the relationship between who we are and what we do. In other words: living a life, earning a living.

Fred J. Dorn, Ph.D., is an independent practitioner in the Mid-South who specializes in college and career counseling and corporate outplacement services. His office is located in the Germantown, Tennessee, Corporate Centre (901-756-6567).
COPYRIGHT 1993 University of Memphis
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Career Development
Author:Dorn, Fred J.
Publication:Business Perspectives
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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