Career Stages

(A Little Theory Doesn’t Hurt)

In all this, I stumbled again upon Lynda Gratton’s great book “The 100-Year Life” (recommended for everyone interested in career transitions), especially her chapter about “Explorers” reminds me about the privilege of my current status but also shines a light on a certain tiredness I have been experiencing occasionally.

“Exploration works best when it is not simple observation in the sense that a tourist would observe a new city. It is a process of engagement… Some explorers will be searchers, setting out on a journey to explicitly answer a question. For other explorers there is no single question that guides them. They are adventurers with no goal other than the everyday joy of discovery… Exploring works best when it is a period of genuine experimentation, with as much variety as possible.”

Our life here seems to entail both aspects: in my research I am driven mainly by a single question whereas the day to day life in both cultures is like an everyday joy and sometimes – admittedly – stressful journey of discovery. Gratton continues:

“The psychology of the explorer stage is interesting. Explorers are pushing the boundaries of their existence, taking themselves out of the norm, confronting themselves with how others behave. They are standing at… the ‘edge of the system’, and by doing so they are shining a light on their own assumptions and values.”

Evidently – although hugely rewarding – this is not always easy. Also, there are stages in a life cycle when the explorer phase fits better than others (we waited until the most intense small children phase was over, complete physical sleep deprivation doesn’t coexist well with curiosity and a sense for discovery).

There are different career models as well. Some are more stable than others but overall in our day and age, the more stable approaches might be dated. As might be the classical corporate career. In two years as HR manager, I was involved in three outplacement rounds, so the lifetime-corporate career is by no means guaranteed any longer. Pity if your CV only fits this one job. Besides, growing life expectancy and according work models might make one-job careers either boring or your retirement a very long stretch.

In my career research amongst successful international managers and specialists, although the nature of the career changes is diverse, almost all participants had significant career transitions – either gradual or sudden – and only less than 40% still worked in the specialization they were originally trained. Another interesting question from the data which we’ll unpack another time is what consists of a “good career” and how should we approach it?

Share: