So far in this course we have considered how cognitive processes, the people around us, and our culture might be causing us to prematurely limit our options. We have also looked at how these factors might be interacting with our own personal concepts of personal identity. This week, we're going to talk about our mindsets, or the frames of mind, that can also affect our decision making. First we're going to consider what's most important; our skills, or our passions. I'd like to begin by telling you about my younger brother. When my brother graduated from college in the mid 1990s, he appeared to be a drift. Like me, he seemed to be disinclined to make use of his undergraduate major. I believe my father's exact words upon hearing of his intention to study government was, did you learn nothing from your sister? But he did not seem to have thought of any viable alternatives either. Given the cost of my brother's prestigious liberal arts education, the situation was tense around my parents home, which was no longer the empty nest they had been enjoying. And to my father's sister, who saved the day or so we thought, with a graduation gift, of a series of sessions with a local career counselor. Having recently finished my master's degree and considering entering that field myself, I was confident that my brother's uncertainty would be short lived. He dutifully, if a bit grudgingly attended the sessions, and the whole family awaited his aha! moment that would surely appear like a light from heaven, bestowing upon him the gift of vocation. But as many who have actually chosen a career may suspect, the reality was a bit messier. One notable misstep took place when my brother was administered a career assessment test. Like many such instruments, popular with guidance counselors and career counselors alike, this one asked him a long list of context free questions about his interests and strengths, designed to match him with a list of possible occupations to consider. But the whole process, or at least whatever positive attitude my young sibling had maintained, came to an abrupt halt with the test suggestion that one option he should consider was, a lumberjack. Even putting aside his six figure education, the idea of a young man whose sole outdoor activity consisted of mowing the lawn, who was known to spend whole days of vacation in the Adirondack Mountains, indoors reading car magazines. Well, suddenly the whole notion of career counseling seemed useless, and his sessions ended shortly thereafter with little vision gained. Now, I tell the story not to criticize the career counselor, or my brother or my parents for that matter. All had well-meaning intentions, and all were frustrated by how difficult the process seemed to be, for my brother to find his way at the world of work. I relay this tale instead, because I believe it illustrates the central problem facing adults trying to enter the workforce, as well as those making transitions within it. The problem is that no one, really fully understands how the process of career decision making works, including the academic and professional fields that devote themselves to it's study. Part of the issue is that career choice itself is a relatively new phenomenon. For most of human history, what people did for work was largely dictated by their social class, gender, parents vocation, and in some cases geographic location and religion. In modern western society, many of these structural limitations have gone away, or at least have less of a reach than they once did. As industrialization first began to pick away at the societal norms, at the turn of the 20th century, academics began to study the process of vocational choice. The field of vocational behavior, sought legitimacy as a science, to receive the blessing of both industry and academia alike resulting in career assessment task, that sought a certain Tailor's Deficiency of matching workers to jobs, for which they were best suited. Leading to instruments like the strong interest inventory, and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, that are still used in various forms today. Alternatively, beloved and reviled, legitimized and debunked by academics and career development practitioners alike, these types of tests remain in the public domain, because they appear to give both workers and employers what they want; a clean easy way to match people with jobs that they will enjoy and be good at. Resulting in satisfaction and compensation on the part of the employee, and efficiency and a fatter bottom line for the organization. When I entered the field of career counseling in the late 1990s, my training encouraged me to help clients find their passion in life. We were ennobled by the sanctity of this work. The idea of those we helped found the work they loved, they would never have to work a day in their lives as it were. Not long after I began my first career counseling job in the late 1990s, I got the opportunity to attend a training session, led by a successful author and career expert, whose work was considered very influential on counseling practices of the day. She firmly believed that everyone was passionate about something, and that the key to helping our clients find the right career, was to help them define what their passion was. One story she told that has always stuck with me, was about a woman she was working with who seemed unusually stuck, and who could not come up with any real career interests worth noting. Finally, the counselor in despair said, "Tell me about anything you're interested in, anything at all." At that point the client shrugged and said a bit sheepishly. "Well, I've always been interested in gorillas." Triumphant, the career expert said that the client subsequently began working as a volunteer in a local zoo, and eventually that turned into a full time job. Problem solved. Passion wins. Now, at the time, I was working with MBA students, who were generally not interested in gorillas. I discovered pretty quickly that the dirty little secret of most MBA students, was that they had gone back to school because they didn't like the first job they had out of college, and they wanted a socially acceptable way of hitting the restart button. Only they then realized that they had very little time to make a decision of what to do next. These are short programs, and the recruiting season begins almost immediately after their arrival. Most had not a clue of where to begin. If you suggested to them that they needed to find their passion, they would point out that they were racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. And while they were interested in finding a good professional fit, their primary aim was to generate a paycheck once they graduated. A more recent national conversation on the college debt crisis, and many calls for the need to address it have in the early 21st century, emboldened backlash against the idea that career satisfaction may only be found in discovering and enacting upon one's passion. Some of this stems from a push for young people to develop practical skill sets, that can be immediately put to work in the marketplace, rather than spending time studying great works of art and literature. But one of the first things I learned working with actual clients, most of whom were adults with at least a few years if not a few decades of experience, was that most people had no earthly idea what their passions were, or how to find them. I suspect the only thing that saved me professionally in those days, was the fact that my MBA clients had no expectation of finding their passion. Merely work that they found reasonably enjoyable and fulfilling, and would provide them with a lifestyle to which they had become accustomed. That alone no small fit in the job market of the early 21st century. So I was not at all surprised, when it was a business school professor, who questioned the passion paradigm. In 2004, an NCR organizational behavior professor named Herminia Ibarra, wrote a book called Working Identity, on conventional strategies for rethinking your career. In it, she questioned the idea that you have to know what you want to do before you enter the work world, or attempt to switch gears once you're in it. Instead, she argued that you can only know what you want once you've gained some experience, and learned how you interact with different possible professional identities. I've found that Ibarra's ideas were more in line with my personal and professional experience. Working identity question that the conventional wisdom, about how people choose their careers. She believes that the plan and implement model; engage in self reflection, understand your temperament needs and values, and come up with a solid career plan, is predicated on a false notion that people need to know what they're doing before making a move. For Ibarra, the idea of there being a perfect career out there for everyone, just waiting to be found, is as outdated a notion as Cinderella waiting for prince charming. She argues that when people do change careers they do so using a test and learn method, by going out and testing new possibilities, through action rather than thinking and planning. Based on their experiences and exposure to influential people in their lives, they test out new possible selves. Spending time between identities, until they accomplish their own reinvention. Once they have done so they create narratives, that help them and others make sense of the process they undertook, and the new identity they have acquired. But the self-knowledge needed to make a career change, cannot be heard through introspection alone. It must be developed in context and through relationships, that is through the act of actually making the change. Plan and implement implies a preexisting self, waiting to become actualized. Rather than recognizing that the nature of identity is fluid and recursively influenced by a changing environment. Hearing my clients, and later my research participants, reflect on their career paths affirmed Ibarra's ideas for me. It did seem that most people understood their career interests and context, and found upon later reflection that they had harbored misconceptions about their chosen field upon entry. It was clear to me that some of the most successful people I met had not started out with a clear road-map and were in fact often somewhat surprised, that they had ended up where they did.