Career Management for the Lifespan

It is due to the changing nature and structure of careers and our collective life expectancy that I propose that Career Management take the form of six Lifespan Development stages that use age as a reference point rather than a guarantee. Because “the stages of our career and our life…do not line up together as neatly as they did in the past,” a person should look at where they are at in their life in order to evaluate their development because life context could also mean one specific job cycle and not just one lifespan. In developing this Lifespan Career Management Theory, I use elements of the protean career model which recognizes that we must manage our own career, but also define our own view of success. This career model puts the individual rather than the organization in charge of the career, sees freedom and growth rather than advancement as valuable, looks for a high degree of mobility, and considers key attitudes to be work satisfaction and professional rather than organizational commitment. Using my own family life as a foundation, the Lifespan Career Management Theory consists of the following stages: preparation, starting out, change and reinvention, redirection, and retirement.

Whether or not you are employed, the time up until you are 17 years of age can be used as preparation for your career. Chores, school, and first jobs can be a source of accomplishment and give you a chance to learn and to take on responsibility. In fact, academic classes themselves are an opportunity for to “see what content areas [you] are good at,” especially if you start to keep track of all the skills and responsibilities that you accumulate in a comprehensive resume . In my case, once I decided that I wanted to go to college, I understood that the time I put into my homework could bring about the grades that could earn me financial support for school. It was also at this time that I took accounting classes. Although I considered the accounting class to be an easy alternative to taking advanced algebra, I later found it to be one of the most valuable things I had done in high school, because it was the only instruction I ever received on how to write a check or balance a checkbook.

Starting Out
Starting out is a stage, usually between the ages of 18 and 25, when you might accept and start your first job or transition into college. Some issues that might need to be dealt with in this stage could include picking a major in line with career goals, job hunting and networking, interviewing, handling finances, and learning to schedule time and activities. During this stage you may engage in the career decision making stages of exploration, crystallization, choice, clarification, induction, influence, and integration; as well as developing your individual identity. Starting out can be a critical stage because “in many Western cultures, the development of one’s personal sense of identity is closely tied to the establishment of one’s career identity,” to the extent that “what do you do?” has become synonymous with asking about who you are. My transition into university life was difficult because I expected more maturity than I witnessed from my peers, I had to figure out how to open a bank account, cash a check, and handle my first Thanksgiving holiday away from home. In my case the starting out stage not only included the transition from high school to university, but the transition from university into the workforce as well.

During ages 26 to 35, you will likely go from job to job for various reasons like promotions, relocations, building a career, experience, or changing family situations. Between the ages of 28 to 33 you are transitioning into their 30s, when you might reexamine the choices you made in your 20s. In reexamining the choices you made thus far, you might have a sense that “if [you want] to make a change, it should be done soon”. In fact, it was during this time frame that I had a cousin tell me she wished she had a career – like I did – instead of a job. “People who see their jobs as leading them on a path of increased growth and responsibility would view themselves as having a career”. Some other factors that would determine whether you feel as though you are merely moving from job to job or building a career can include emotional and time investment, progressive job changes and advancement, as well as income levels and motivation . It is during this building stage of career management that I began to recognize that I had acquired a certain skill set and level of competency in my field and I had gone as far up the career ladder as I wished to go with still another 20 to 30 years before I was expected to retire.

Change and Reinvention
Between the ages of 36 to 45, you may have earned seniority and advantages for your career investment, or may be shifting into new jobs or roles either by choice or by necessity. In fact, “a person is almost as likely to be starting a new career at age 35, 45, or 55 as at age 18, 20, or 25”, if for no other reason than “there is another questioning of the previous structure, the midlife transition…with a stronger sense of time urgency than in the late 30s”. This midlife transition is a time when “parts of the self that had been neglected earlier are now seeking to be expressed” before entering the “next great era in adult life”. My changing life priorities means that I am now faced with picking a career to fit into my life instead of making my life fit into my career.

During the course of evaluating your career between the ages of 46 and 55, you could decide to change your direction, which could result in starting over in another profession and going back to school with possibly more time constraints and less financial assistance than was available to you during the 18-25 age range. If you are in this redirection stage, you might also start defining and planning your retirement. For my mother, the desire to start planning for retirement came when she noticed a friend had a nice car that was paid off, no mortgage payments, and plans to retire earlier than 65. The changes that my mother began to make as a result of her realization, made her better prepared to transition into retirement when her job began to affect her health.

After the age of 55 your work life can take on many forms. You can manage your retirement like you managed your career: by making a plan or setting goals and finding a way to be held accountable so that there is a sense of accomplishment and value. Finances, circumstances, health, and family commitments are all additional factors that are likely to play a role in your decision to retire. If retirement is part of your strategy, I recommend making sure that you have a support system in place in the event that the retirement you plan for is altered significantly by forces beyond your control like losing life savings to theft or economic changes, changes in job status, health concerns, and for everyday concerns like budgeting and effective use of time and attention.

I prefer the idea of calling this a theory or a guide rather than a model because “given the idiosyncratic nature of careers today, it is a challenge to discuss general trends in careers over the lifespan”. Now that it is more likely for an individual to have multiple careers over one lifespan, a longer life expectancy, and changing views and definitions of retirement, I think it is not only important that this theory be a guide defined more by the characteristics described, than by the ages referenced . Guiding your career by the characteristics of your life rather than your age is one to recognize that “we are still adults who go through a regular series of life experiences and tasks that lead to phases of adult development” with careers that “still have a beginning and an ending”.

Harrington, B., & Hall, D. T. (2007). Career management & work-life integration; using self-assessment to navigate contemporary careers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2009, 2006). Development through life, a psychosocial approach (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.