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).
Booker argues that similar patterns can be identified in many different parts of literature and storytelling: myths, fairy stories, epics, modern novels and films. The theory is that these archetypal plot structures represent ways in which human beings have tried to make sense of some of the big questions and challenges that are part of our common experience.
Booker identifies seven distinct plots.
|Overcoming the monster||Overcoming Fear
|Becoming aware of the threat
Preparing to do battle
Victory and escape
|Beowulf, Dracula, War of the Worlds, Nicholas Nickleby, The Magnificent Seven, James Bond|
|Rags to riches||Seizing opportunities
Venturing into the world
Struggling to make progress
Facing the big challenge
|Cinderella, Aladdin, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, David Copperfield|
|Quest||Pursuing a purpose
|Identifying a problem
Making a journey
Reaching the destination
|The Odyssey, Pilgrim’s Progress, King Solomon’s Mines, Watership Down|
|Voyage and return||Exploring new contexts
|Ejected from state of ignorance
Initial curiosity and excitement
Awareness of larger threat
Escaping and returning transformed
|Alice in Wonderland, The Time Machine, Peter Rabbit, Brideshead Revisited, The Hobbit|
|Misinformation and misunderstanding
Misguided actions and decisions
Crisis and stress
Sudden revelation and insight
Resolution and restoration
|Much Ado About Nothing, Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, The Importance of Being Ernest|
|Lack of self-awareness
Choosing inappropriate goals
Mistakes and self-sabotage
Becoming impulsive and losing control
|Macbeth, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Carmen, Bonnie & Clyde, Anna Karenina|
|Premonitions of danger
Period of calm and success
Danger returns in force
Defeat and helplessness
Rescue and transformation
|Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, Peer Gynt|
Pryor and Bright apply this thinking to the stories we tell ourselves about our careers. They talk about the dangers of getting stuck in ‘closed system thinking’ in which you are only able to interpret events according to a particular plot structure. So, for example, if you continually see your career progress in terms of ‘overcoming the monster’, you will be on the lookout for threats all the time and are likely to perceive every situation as a struggle or a battle.
Part of our job as practitioners might be to help the client to see how their own ongoing story might fit into a different narrative or combination of narratives.
After the workshop, I jotted down some questions to go along with each plot.
Overcoming the monster
- Who are you casting in the role of monster?
- Does the monster only have power over you because you give it to them through your fear/anger?
- Is the monster what you think it is?
- Are you fighting the wrong monster?
- Are you the monster?
- What are the weapons you already have in your hands?
- Who are your unexpected allies?
- Where is the monster’s weak spot?
Rags to riches
- What from your past is holding you back?
- Is the prejudice you see only in your head?
- Whose approval are you trying to win?
- Are you disowning your origins?
- Who has been your benefactor?
- Are you holding true to your principles?
- Do you need to embrace your past or separate yourself from it?
- Do you know what you are seeking?
- How will you know when you have found it?
- What will you have to sacrifice in order to obtain it?
- Is what you are seeking already in your posession?
- Does what you are seeking actually exist?
- Who will benefit from your quest?
- Who can you help with their quest?
Voyage and return
- What are you running away from?
- Do you just need to put one foot in front of the other?
- Is it too late to turn back?
- Have you already passed the low point of your journey?
- Who are your travelling companions?
- What is the point of no return?
- How has the journey changed you?
- What would your old self think of you now?
- What assumptions are you making about yourself and others?
- Could you have misinterpreted or misunderstood something?
- Are you missing a vital piece of information?
- Could you have a blind spot?
- Have you pushed yourself into an extreme position without realising it?
- Are you repeating the same patterns over and over again?
- What shift in perspective might resolve this situation?
- Are you aiming too high?
- Are you setting yourself up to fail?
- Have you failed to take into account a vital weakness?
- What events or conditions could make things go horribly wrong?
- Are you acting out a self-fulfilling prophecy?
- What would cause you to lose control?
- Are you in danger of damaging yourself through your pursuit?
- Have you had intimations of danger?
- Have you ignored the warnings?
- Have you allowed yourself to do something against your better judgement?
- Are you waiting for someone else to rescue you?
- Will you have to die to your old life?
- What are you holding on to that is preventing you from transforming yourself?
- Might you have to become someone different in order to move on?
- Pryor, R. & Bright, J. (2008). Archetypal narratives in career counselling: a chaos theory application International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 8(2), 71-82. DOI: 10.1007/s10775-008-9138-8
- Booker, C. (2004). The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. London: Continuum.
- The Illusion of Understanding Success on the dangers of fitting the facts to a particular plot from the Why We Reason blog