What is my purpose? What valuable and significant contribution can I make? What is the meaning of my career? These are the types of questions that often surface during a mid-life career transition. As career develops over time, so too does your professional self concept. You are always in the process of becoming; the past shapes who you are today and today shapes who you will become tomorrow. Furthermore, professional self concept is informed by worldview which encompasses your values, beliefs and ethics and is shaped by psycho-social and socio-cultural influences beginning at the time of birth (Mezirow, 1991).
The middle of life is a time in adult development that tends to be reflective, a time to consider worldview and professional self concept. Adulthood is also when locus of control shifts from an external focus to an internal focus resulting in taking greater responsibility for the outcome of one’s career and life. This shift in locus of control also aligns with important psychological, emotional, mental, and spiritual development that occurs during the middle of life between the ages of 45 – 55 (Kjellström & Stålne,2017).
In today’s world of work characterized by liquid modernity (Bauman, 2005), planned or unplanned mid-life career transitions may feel like a disorienting dilemma in which frames of reference or habits of the mind are found to be invalid or feel inauthentic (Mezirow, 1991). As adults take in new information through lived career experiences, their meaning structures (informed by their worldview) are being reshaped. This psychological learning process is referred to as constructivism in which previously acquired knowledge is questioned and assumptions and premises that no longer apply to the current reality are modified, reshaped or reinterpreted (Mezirow, 1994).
Midcareer is also a common time when individuals begin to question the guiding principles upon which they have built their career (Lips-Wiserma, 2002). For some, it is a time when egocentrism is questioned and replaced by a growing desire to ‘give back’ in some meaningful or significant way. The disorienting dilemma experienced during a midlife career transition often raises a number of existential questions such as “who am I” “why am I here” or “what defines me or my career”? These questions are related to how the individual perceives themselves and the conceptualization of their individual and professional identity (Illeris, 2013).
Transforming Professional Self Concept
A natural part of adult development includes psychological, emotional, mental, and spiritual development whereby adults learn from their lived experiences and as a result their meaning structures, worldview and professional self concept are being reformed. Transforming professional self concept is influenced by experiential learning and important adult development which in turn impacts career.
Transforming professional self concept is more than constructing a new interpretation from the lived experiences in your career. Rather, transforming professional self concept is when you perceive yourself in a new light perhaps as a result of a spiritual experience or a personal kairos. In other words, a moment of insight that is impactful at the deepest ontological and epistemological level resulting in a greater level of consciousness contributing to identity transformation (Kegan, 2009).
As a career counsellor I have the privilege of working with individuals during midlife career transitions which is often a time when individuals reconnect with the things that matter most to them. A time of soul searching, spiritual insight, and connection to a purpose or power greater than themselves impacting ways of knowing and being in the world (King, 2011).
Connie Covey is a career counsellor at CareerPlan.ca, an adult educator at Athabasca University and is currently pursuing an EdD in workplace and adult learning at the University of Calgary. Connie’s research explores the role of spiritual practices (from the Western Judeo-Christian perspective) in midlife career transitions for defining career purpose and meaning (completion 2020). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Kjellström, S., & Stålne, K. (2017). Adult development as a lens: Applications of adult development theories in research. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 22(2), 266.
Lips-Wiserma, L. (2002) “The influence of spiritual “meaning‐making” on career behavior”, Journal of Management Development, 21 (7), 497-520, https://doi.org/10.1108/02621710210434638
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Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. Jossey-Bass, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104-1310.