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Chaos Theory of Careers

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 27, 2020

There are many career development theories. A few we have reviewed on this blog have included Super’s Life-Span, Life-Space Theory as well as Krumboltz’s Happenstance Learning Theory. However, today we are going to be reviewing the Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) as set forth by Pryor and Bright, 2011. According to the theorists, “The aim of chaos-informed career construction is to help clients continually explore their limits, the possibilities around them and to make sense of some of the mystery of themselves and their complex dynamical world.”

What does this mean, though, in practical terms for your own career exploration and development? Some key factors of this theory include:

Non-Linear Path

We have frequently discussed that careers don’t often unfold in a linear way. Each person’s career path is going to be unique to them. As you progress through your career path, you might find that you are a sprinter, a wanderer, or even a straggler and each one is okay.

Not in Isolation

It is important for individuals to remember that career development happens as one component within a naturally chaotic system and structure. Family, friends, culture, and environment all have an influence on the decisions you make.

Uncertain Outcome

This theory emphasizes that it is impossible to have 100% certainty about any career choice and the goal shouldn’t be assurance but rather finding a way to gain comfort with this uncertainty. With these principles in mind, this theory proposes a four-phase plan which is supposed to be flexible enough for anyone to engage. The four phases are very similar to what OITE puts forth as “Elements of Career Planning” in our workshops on Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success.

EPSA – Explore/Prepare/Start/Adapt

Explore is an active phase where individuals are focused on both their own self-discovery as well as vocational options. Prepare is the planning phase where an individual is encouraged to create short-term flexible goals while bearing in mind the impact of chance events on their progression. Start, even in the face of uncertainty, to implement planned goals – the key here is taking action. Adapt is the last phase and for CTC is perhaps the most important. It reinforces the idea that changes will have to be made as career decisions are often make with limited and changing information which requires an individual to adjust and adapt accordingly.

If you are interested in learning more about CTC, read the full abstract here.

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