Seven Ways Career Development Can Help You And Others In Challenging Times

Last updated: 07-28-2020

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Seven Ways Career Development Can Help You And Others In Challenging Times

Sareena Hopkins, Executive Director of the Canadian Career Development Foundation, recently wrote a blog suggesting that, “Career development is purpose-built for helping people through complex, challenging transitions. Even pandemics.” She came up with seven ways that career development approaches have been helping her personally, and I called her up to ask whether what she proposed could work for the people who needed help most. Specifically, could the seven ways help those suffering from poverty and racial discrimination as the COVID-19 epidemic rages on? We broadened the conversation to include Wendy Yowell, the Maryland counselor whom I had previously interviewed about her work with Black clients, and we agreed Sareena and Wendy would each look around for two examples from their separate worlds to test the above question.

This article reports what we found. First, here are the seven ways that Sareena wrote about.

Positive Uncertainty: This stems from career development guru, H.B. Gelatt who says you don’t need certainty in your life to be able to move forward in a positive way.

Self Awareness: This is a “superpower” in helping you run your life, navigate landmines, or fill a void - whatever the circumstances swirling around you.

Opportunity Awareness: This builds on the late John Krumboltz’s notion of “planned happenstance,” reminding you to stay open to fresh opportunities that may come your way.

Circle of Allies: We all need people who can help us in practical ways, like making sense of government programs, managing on a diminished income or parenting through a pandemic.

Dependable Strengths: It’s easy to be painfully aware of your shortcomings and skill gaps right now, but everyone has their own natural strengths.

Nimbleness: Knowing that your strengths can be combined to meet the needs of a wide range of different employers, gigs or contracts enables you to pivot toward new opportunities.

Grounded Hope: Last but not least, this builds on the centrality of hope in your career, and the importance of having concrete strategies to nurture it, rekindle it and build it.

Here are the four examples. In each case, there is a short report of the individual’s career situation, followed by an analysis of how that individual has been able to apply the seven ways of career development in their own life. The seven ways are seen as interdependent, and not meant to be considered in any particular order. In what follows, they are used in the sequence that best helps the flow of the particular narrative.

Jackie is a white personal care worker supporting vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities. She has been working seven days a week for the past few months as the demand for essential workers has soared. On top of this, Jackie is a single parent raising her own three children as well as a young nephew who needed a stable home. She was raised in extreme poverty, yet she is determined to “build a different life for myself and my family, creating a loving stable home and the financial stability” she needs to one day achieve her dream of owning her home. Working with a career advisor, or what Canadians call a Career Development Professional (CDP), has helped Jackie to make decisions and take actions that keep moving her closer to that dream. She says this is especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opportunity Awareness: When her coworkers started turning down shifts and quitting for fear of COVID-19, Jackie saw an opportunity to increase her hours and gain the trust and respect of her employer.

Self-Awareness: Jackie is aware that she “values the safety of my family above all,” so she knew that she had to devise a plan to ensure she did not bring the virus home.

Dependable Strengths: Jackie is both determined and inventive. Her plan to not bring the virus home involved “rigging a make-shift shower” in her garage. “I am no plumber, but I got the shower to work so I could keep working with peace of mind.

Circle of Allies: Working with her advisor, Jackie was able to make a family schedule, identify gaps and recruit members of her extended family to ensure her children are cared for as she works double-time.

Nimbleness: Recently, Jackie’s van broke down and its repair will take time and cost money. “I got my motorcycle license and ride to work on my bike. Grocery shopping for a family of five is a bit of a challenge, but I’m making it work!” 

Positive Uncertainty: Jackie is living with intense uncertainty right now. However, the way she has adapted suggests she will continue to stay focused on her work and her family’s future.

Grounded Hope: Perhaps most importantly, Jackie believes in herself and her future. “This is the motor that drives me to work hard and persevere.”

Steven is a young black male who has experienced living both in the US and the UK. His mother still lives in London and his father is presently in Sudan working for an NGO.  He is currently registered at the nearby Bowie State University studying in business and sociology. His interests include social justice, athletics, music and gaming. He has used his community connections and insight during this pandemic to start a blog that highlights issues impacting persons of color. He also suffers from depression and had his worst relapse from January to March, 2020. He sought treatment at the end of March.

Steven reports he has responded well to the treatment and is “living the best that I ever have.” This is so, he asserts, despite the outbreak of COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath.

Dependenable strengths: He says he doesn’t quit, and trusts in his intelligence and ability to work hard for the things that he wants. He also says he leans toward what is right and ethical.   

Self Awareness: Steven draws heavily on his religious beliefs. He quotes The Holy Bible, Isaiah 54:17, stating that “No weapon formed against me will prosper.” He says that no matter what comes his way he will “prevail and overcome.”

Opportunity awareness: He says the emergence of COVID-19 has encouraged him to reach out to people in their homes. He took the initiative and began “to share my heart and emotions” about Black Lives Matter and systemic racism, launching a project entitled “Black Voices.” 

Circle of Allies: He has a strong connection to the 6 members of his immediate family. He also has four best friends and a girlfriend, and they all work together to keep each other motivated, mentally healthy and spiritually connected.

Nimbleness: He says he is adapting his life to COVID-19, including ways to stay healthy and fit at home, while changing his business and job to adapt to the pandemic.

Grounded hope: He reports he knows he is supposed “to help those who struggle with depression/bi-polar and also help anyone who is treated unjustly.” He is also building up his finances to be able to pay for further education. Everything is moving the way it should be, and the future is bright.

Bri is a writer who earned a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications in North Carolina and worked in Texas before returning to her home state of Maryland. She didn’t look for a job before her return, but anticipated finding one quickly in a favorable market.  However, it so happened she moved home three days before the state COVID-19 quarantine began. She “had no choice but to buckle down and figure out” how she was going to survive. Not only did she observe that the pandemic had destabilized the job market, but also she did not feel comfortable depending on that market. The idea that “so many hands” were attached to her paycheck never sat well with her, and she had always wanted to be able to survive on her own. Since moving back to her home in Maryland, she has launched a website and started a business in producing culinary treats.

 Positive uncertainty: Bri sees herself as naturally ambitious and determined. She is okay with the uncertainty and “the work that it will take to get back on my feet.” She firmly refuses to sit and do nothing.

Self Awareness: Bri’s dad died in front of her when she was 15. She is a black woman in America. She is 26 years old and has no health insurance. She is working to make ends meet to start a business. She reports that all of these are “scary.” However, she asserts “It’s where I am in life right now and I choose to deal with it.”

Circle of Allies: Moving back to Maryland brought her back to friends and family, her ultimate support system. She is back in a space where she feels “grounded, loved, appreciated, encouraged, and most of all happy.”

Opportunity Awareness: Bri reports the best thing to happen to her during the pandemic is that she learned she loved to cook. She now wants to have a career in the food industry. She loves cooking for her family and “seeing their faces when they take that first bite.”

Nimbleness: Bri has worked in the communications, tech sales, and customer service industries. Each gave her practice in understanding communication styles and knowing what to say to people. “You have to be someone that others want to work with. Your personality and reputation are your currency!”

Dependable Strengths: Bri describes herself as naturally determined and ambitious. She has no issue talking to people or promoting herself and says she is “great with words and communication.” She says she is also “100% myself, honest, and fun.”

Grounded Hope: She says her parents always told her that she could do and be whoever she wants to be, as long as she has a plan. She has started a blog to share her recipes and begun to record herself making some of those recipes. Right now, she is “planning, growing, learning and doing everything I need to do to make sure that I’m successful.”

Ryan is an Indigenous man who has faced more than his fair share of struggles in life. He doesn’t talk about his childhood, but the physical and emotional scars and visible. Ryan has been working with a career advisor since late last year as part of his probation conditions. Initially, his goal was to return to the only family he knew – his gang life. Early on in that work it became clear Ryan had significant undiagnosed learning disabilities. Having this confirmed through a professional assessment was like “lifting a curtain” for him. For the first time in his life, he was able to see how his perceived “failures” in school and previous attempts at working had been linked to his disability. Today, Ryan is on a path to achieving his dream of becoming an auto mechanic and providing a safe and stable home for his baby sister.

Self-Awareness: Perhaps the biggest breakthrough for Ryan was becoming more aware of his disability. Further work with his career advisor also helped him to uncover patterns in his interests and skills.

Dependable Strengths: Ryan loves “working with my hands, taking things apart and fixing anything and everything.” He had made a living by working illegally on stolen cars, but had no formal training.

Nimbleness: It became clear to Ryan that the very same skills he had been using illegally could be applied to legal work.

Opportunity Awareness: He could imagine himself “working legally in an auto shop, with a steady income” to support himself and his little sister. With his career advisor’s help, he got a part-time sales position in an auto parts store. He has been able to increase to full-time thanks to an employer wage subsidy program.

Circle of Allies: Ryan has turned his back on his gang, and his career advisor has become a trusted supporter. He and his employer are also building a solid relationship and they have discussed the possibility of him being sponsored for an apprenticeship program to move from sales to repairs.

Positive Uncertainty: Ryan says he “doesn’t know for sure what the future holds”, but he is positive he can build a better life for himself and his sister.

Grounded Hope: Believing in himself – and envisioning a better life ahead has brought Ryan to a place of “hope like I’ve never felt before.”

What can we learn from these examples? First, it is clear that career development strategies can be effective in helping people, including people in disadvantaged career situations defined by race or poverty. Whether you are privileged or have faced systemic racism, whether you are the CEO of a large corporation or someone who has lived in extreme poverty, career development offers strategies to manage tough transitions and build the life you want to live. While the strategies presented in this article can be used independently, the people in our examples had access to professional help. If you are struggling right now, a skilled career advisor may be accessible to you locally and/or virtually. Your national or regional Career Development Association may be a good place to start.

Author’s note: I am deeply indebted to both Sareena Hopkins and Wendy Yowell for their contributions to the writing of this article.


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