I always ask my clients their age. I don't mean to make them feel bad about how old they are. But someone that's 55 is at a different stage in their career and life than someone that's 25 or 45. As a career counselor, I know that a 25 year old client presents dissimilar issues than someone who may be close to retiring and asking themselves the question, "What's next?" One of the pioneers in the field of career development, Dr. Donald Super argued that people pass through five career stages during their life span. I write about this because these sequential generalizations often provide a useful timeframe to understand the career transitions you'll face in adulthood.
Within each stage mastery of certain tasks allows people to function successfully within that stage while preparing them to move on to the next task. Each stage is loosely affiliated with a chronological period and is characterized by work attitudes, behaviors, types of relationships, and the aspects of work that are valued.
1. Growth - The early years (4 to 13 years old) is a time when the individual first becomes aware of the future. People start to find ways to develop competencies and to achieve in order to increase control over their life.
2. Exploration - From the early teens to mid-twenties, people begin to crystallize, specify and implement an occupational choice. Different roles are tried and various occupational options are explored though school, leisure, part-time work and volunteering. "Trial jobs" may be tested before more firmly finding a more stable and appropriate fit.
3. Establishment - In the mid-twenties through mid-forties, typically a suitable field is selected and efforts are made to secure a long-term place in the chosen career. Young adulthood tends to be a time for stabilizing, consolidating, building momentum and moving up. Obtaining certifications, credentials, and advanced degrees may be the norm.
4. Maintenance - This stage usually happens in the mid-forties to mid-sixties and is characterized by constancy: 1) Holding on (stagnating or plateauing), or 2) Keeping up (updating or enriching). Continuity, stress, safety and stability tend to be the standard. Sometimes people feel risk adverse with various career options which may lead to frustration or even depression. In middle adulthood we may ask ourselves, "What have I done with my life? or Is this all there is? or even What do I truly want?" For men, state of health or career accomplishment may predominate. Women sometimes perceive this period as an opportunity to pursue new personal or professional goals now that their nurturing role has peaked.
5. Disengagement - The mid-sixties is typically marked by decelerating from formal employment to finding new roles with a view to retirement. Baby Boomers are teaching us that this stage should be more appropriately named "Re-inventment." They are completely redesigning the notion of "retirement" preferring to work in some form while pursuing new or renewed outside interests. In later adulthood, there may be a need to assist or mentor younger members of society or seek self-employment.
However, it has limitation due to the rapidly changing nature of work and each person's own circumstances. Not everyone transitions through these five stages at fixed ages or in the same manner. I have learned in my private practice it is more common nowadays to move back and forth more frequently from the Exploration to Re-inventment stages.
For example, before entering the Maintenance stage, many people are asking the mid-life question, "Do I want to do this job for the next twenty years?" Eventually, they decide to either: 1) Hang on and enter the Maintenance stage, or 2) Let go and change their job, company, or career and then recycle back to an earlier stage in order to move in a new direction. For others, their career is without boundaries based on skills and abilities that function independent of a set timeline.
Your self-image evolves throughout your life as a result of experience. You successively refine your uniqueness over time and make adaptation in your career choices. As we go through life stages our priorities change. Career ideas that you had at 25 might not be relevant when you are 45 or 55.
So, what career stage do you actually find yourself in chronological terms? What specific stage do you think you need to be in? Perhaps this is the time to step back and reflect on where you are. Maybe you need to return to the Exploration stage and re-evaluate your skills, values, interests, personality traits and core priorities. At your stage, perhaps you what to find out what else is out there and you want to begin a process of career discovery. What are the financial and time considerations of the choices you are making at your stage? What types of planning and preparation needs to be done at each stage both personally and professionally? Can you list three to five specific issues that you need to address right now? What are some issues you'll face as you pass through future stages?
These are all important questions that you will need to get clarity on in order to have successful and satisfying career development. Just knowing that as we age, we will be progressing through career stages, can be insightful, freeing and can have a profound effect on our professional development. Remember: It's never too late to reinvent yourself!
Copyright 2012, Dr. Thomas J. Denham, Careers In Transition LLC - Published Friday, February 17, 2012