Posts Tagged meaning

Interview confidence

Man on Wire by image munkey (Alan)

Getting the balance right can be tricky

A couple of months back someone asked a very interesting question on Careers Debate about how one expresses and demonstrates confidence in one’s area of expertise at an interview whilst avoiding self-aggrandisement.

Is it just a question of body language and non-verbal communication, or are there other clues that you can give in the way that you talk abut your experiences?

I gave a couple of quick responses at the time, but I thought it would be interesting to add a little more flesh to the bones here.

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Four pathways to meaning

another year over... by piotr (peter) chlipalski

I have no idea what it means but I like it.

Regular readers of this blog will know that a recurring theme is the notion of meaning in our working lives. I’m also a big fan of simple models and frameworks to help structure and analyse complex ideas. So, I was excited to discover an article which not only conducted an extensive review of the literature of meaning in work, but which presented a simple way of categorising the various ways in which people find meaning.

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Story crafting

Loom by seemann via morgueFile

Pulling the threads of the narrative together

A paper recently published in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance explains an approach to narrative-based careers counselling originating from a systems theory framework through ‘three levels of story crafting questions’.

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Self creation or self discovery?

Pushing Buttons by Luke Dorny

Who put that there?

What metaphor do you use to describe the development of your sense of identity or self knowledge?

Do you think about increasing self awareness as an act of self discovery? As you find out new things about yourself, are you just uncovering what is already there? Are you seeking to reveal more about your ‘true self’ so that you can make choices that are more consistent and authentic? Is your core self something that is determined by your past and mainly fixed?

Alternatively, do you think about increasing self awareness as a process of defining who you are and making choices about who you want to be? Are you involved in an on-going process of self creation, shaping your identity through your choices and experiences? Is your core self something malleable and open to infinite change?

The metaphor you are most drawn to (discovery or creation) can affect your sense of meaning, your well being, your ability to set personal goals and your response to failure.

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Losing the plot

Words by Esben Emborg

Does the plot draw you in?

A couple of weeks ago I ran a workshop for wonderful bunch of university careers advisers in Dublin. I’m still not sure that we settled on a title for the workshop but the basic idea was to apply new and interesting models and theories to give a fresh perspective on careers guidance practice.

I think the original invitation was something like: ‘Can you run a workshop based on your blog?’ I offered them a menu of possible topics…and they said yes to most of them. So I ended up stitching together a patchwork of themes such as employability, career identity, dealing with uncertainty, motivations and techniques for reflective practice.

Quite a bit of what I included was stuff I’m still working through and finding a place for, so we had fun experimenting together and the workshop was a learning process for me too.

One of the things I decided to throw into the mix was something on narratives. I based it around an article by Robert Pryor and Jim Bright (2008) on archetypal narratives in careers work. They, in turn, based their article on a book called The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker (2004).

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Is your work meaningful?

sysiphus-tee-wht by fouro boros

Beware: worthless, pointless, trivial and futile activity ahead

Rachel Mulvey’s post last week on the existential nature of continuing professional development has turned my thoughts once again to the concept of meaningfulness.

Partly inspired by Rachel’s idea, I have been writing an article for the Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling on the use of narrative techniques in reflective practice for guidance practitioners (I know, exciting stuff, huh?). As part of my research for this piece I came across an article by W.D. Joske on Philosophy and the meaning of life’. Unlike many of the philosophy articles I’ve tried (and failed) to get to grips with, this was actually quite readable because Joske demonstrates a subtle, dry sense of humour in his writing.

…many people are afraid of philosophy precisely because they dread being forced to the horrifying conclusion that life is meaningless, so that human activities are ultimately insignificant, absurd and inconsequential

The world is neutral and cannot give meaning to men, If someone wants life to be meaningful he cannot discover that meaning but must provide it himself. How we go about giving meaning to life seems to depend upon the society we accept as our own; a Frenchman might leap into the dark, an American go to a psycho-analyst, and an Englishman cease asking embarrassing questions.

As well as being amusing, Joske is quite analytical and, in his attempt to explore meaning, he breaks down the meaninglessness of activities into four essential elements: worthlessness, pointlessness, triviality and futility.

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A matter of perspective

MIstakes Were Made (but not my me)

Can you justify yourself if you don't read this?

Over on Careers Debate we are having an interesting discussion about narrative approaches to career coaching/counselling.

Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book which looks at how we reconstruct our memories and perceptions in order to keep them consistent with our self image.

In Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explore the various ways in which we delude ourselves in order to maintain a favoured self-perception. They discuss how this desire to avoid cognitive dissonance leads to extremes of self-justification in all areas of life. They provide examples from the realms of politics (obviously!), international relations, law enforcement, psychology, alien abductions, scientific research and marriage guidance.

It is an interesting book, if somewhat depressing. Personally, I think it should be compulsory reading for any politician or business leader. There is enough thought-provoking material in here to sustain several heated discussions. However, one particular set of research studies caught my attention because of their potential link to narrative work with individuals.

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Career theory starter kit

Beam Engine Kit by Phil_Parker

James Watt wasn't really into career theory

Multi-theoretical rather than meta-theoretical

I am highly wary of people who take only one theoretical perspective.

No matter how rich and multi-dimensional your theory is, no matter how many other theories it incorporates and subsumes, it’s still only a theory. It will never account for all of the variety, complexity and general messiness of real live people in real live environments.

The real problem with only taking one theoretical perspective is that you become subject to the Law of the Instrument (or Maslow’s hammer).

Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (Abraham Kaplan)

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. (Abraham Maslow)

If you only have one theoretical perspective, you only have one set of concepts by which you interpret a client’s situation. Because of confirmation bias, you will tend to look for things that fit in with those concepts and you may fail to notice things which don’t fit.

It is tempting to force the facts to fit the concepts and limit what you notice to things that you can describe easily in your frame of reference.

That’s why I shy away from big theories which seek to do everything and try to collect lots of simpler theories that look at career decisions from very different angles. Phil McCash from Warwick University has described this as ‘theoretical triangulation‘.

So, if you’re just venturing out into the world of career theory, which theories should you start with? Here are my suggestions, with no sound scientific basis, just my personal preferences.

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The Meaning Triangle

The search for infinity - Chris Halderman

In the search for meaning it is often helpful to carry a violin and wear a coat made of flames.

As the post on existentialism has been one of my most popular, I thought I would do something more on the subject of meaningfulness.

And when it comes to meaning, it seems that three is a magic number.

But first a short story (involving three workers)…

A traveller comes across a group of three men who are working hard smashing boulders with large hammers.

He asks them what they are doing.

The first man answers, ‘I’m using my strength and skill to make big rocks into small rocks.’

The second man answers, ‘I’m working to earn money so that I can feed and support my family.’

The third man answers, ‘I’m preparing the raw materials to build a cathedral for the glory of God.’

Which of these three men was doing the most meaningful work?

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Existential thoughts

Life in the room of confusion

Many of the modern career theories and approaches to guidance have moved away from the focus on objective measures of person-environment fit to an increasing emphasis on the importance of personal meaning within career choice.

But what about meaninglessness?

Shouldn’t we be looking at that too?

If we want to spend time pondering the essential pointlessness of all human activity, where better to go than existentialism?

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