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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
However, it has
limitation due to the rapidly changing nature of work and each person’s own
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.
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.
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