I love talking to people at career and study information expos and events.  People who are at a crossroads or point of transition in their lives.  I notice that parents are particularly anxious that their children are making the right decision, which I understand, having been there. When they see someone with the same worry lines as they have standing at the Careers and Employment table, they come over and soon we are engrossed looking through our Career View information series – looking at how degrees and courses relate to career opportunities. It’s all good stuff for enabling parents to have natural, healthy career conversations with their kids (who already taken off with the information they need and are happily drinking coffee with their friends). Publications like these are great for opening up new possibilities by showing the wide range of jobs where courses in that major subject could lead.

However, no amount of information and advice can address the Elephant in the Careers Room, and that is that a Whole Lot of Random Stuff Happens while we are busy making plans. We may just end up somewhere very different from where we started out. Like the weather or other natural events, it can be really difficult to predict what is going to happen.

And sure enough,this morning, a big M7.1 earthquake 100km off the East Coast of New Zealand has re-affirmed for me the place of chance and random events.  What if its epicentre had been 50km closer into shore? We all have things happen that we just can’t predict or plan for, and even if we have an inkling they will happen, they can change the course of our lives. Sometimes those things are wonderful and miraculous.  So we need to be awake to all kinds of possibilities.

Before this starts sounding like an episode of Oprah, you need to know there is some serious career theory behind this stuff. I am a huge fan of Jim Bright’s  Chaos Theory of Careers.  In his blog Having the courage to live authentically on the edge of chaos, Jim describes how we can be seen as systems with four Attractors that “describe different states of imposed limitation on how our systems operate”.

Bear with me, this is not all theoretical gobbeldy-gook.  Basically, with three of the Attractors; we limit “…our own systems to operate in predictable and controllable ways. We try to avoid the challenge of the novel or different, and live in ignorance of how novelty or difference might alter our lives. We miss out on understanding our hidden potential (and weaknesses). We lose out on insight and growth.”

It’s the Strange Attractor that is the most attractive when it comes to decision-making:

Within the Strange Attractor is a place called the edge of Chaos – this is the point where you (the system) are sufficiently closed to permit some stability and continuity, but also sufficiently open to new ideas, ways of doing things, new experiences etc, that there is the potential for quite radical transformation. The edge of chaos is an exciting but uncertain place to be, and it is a place from where all change comes. It is a place that requires courage to live there.

Check out more about these Attractors in Jim’s blog.

So my advice to parents and their young people when choosing courses: make plans, but open plans; be systematic and organised but be ready for the miracles, complexity and risks of chaos.  That way you are not only recognising the Elephant in the Careers Room, you are riding it around.


Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It took me back to when I, as a 30 something wife and mother, took stock of my life and the occupation I had (care giver in a rest home) and decided I wanted more. I began with various Diplomas with the intent of supporting my husband with his business. Ten years on and still care giving, I worked out that wandering through the mine field of course options unguided was never going to get me anywhere. It was around that time I found an online ad for careers.org. The site helped me work out where I needed to go and what I needed to do (complete a Bachelor of Arts majoring in communication) to move forward. That decision however released, what I call, my elephant in the room (twin elephants actually). First I was by the time 40-41 and second I have a significant visual impairment. Did this stop me? No and despite the discouragement I faced along the way I always had more encouragement from careers.org to get me through. And where am I today? I work for the Stratford District Council in the heart of Taranaki. Sorry this is so long but had to share.


    • Thanks for sharing your wonderful career story with twin elephants, Sharon! It’s also good to hear that you had great support from careers people in NZ to help you take hold of those opportunities.



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