Nine Stages of Career Development

By Robert Jay Ginn, Jr

The Radcliffe Career Services
80th Anniversary Lecture Celebrating 80 Years of Service to Women
November 19, 1994 at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The nine stage model was originally researched and defined by William Perry and Lee Knefelkamp in the 1970s. I am grateful to Robert J. Ginn Jr. for allowing me to share his insights from “Discovering Your Career Life-Cycle,” a manuscript and keynote address presented at the Radcliffe Career Services 80th Anniversary. According to Bob, “the model speaks clearly to the fear and hysteria which is becoming more and more the daily bread of workers in these last years of the 20th century.” You may find yourself resonating with more than one of these stages based on your current circumstances, your chronological age, and the amount and variety of work experience to date.

We discover from the introduction by Robert J. Ginn Jr. that: “Unless we understand the forces that shape the way we think and act in our vocations, it is difficult to gain control over our career path. When we learn to direct our life energy toward achieving personal growth and vocational authenticity, we resist the loss of identity associated with joblessness and we stop wasting the abilities with which we are gifted. We also retain the wonderful joy we churn out of the process of growing in vocational self-understanding.”

Developing an awareness of the nine stages will help you develop spiritually and personally as well as vocationally. The reference points depicting the various stages include some behaviors that may indicate stuck or rigid styles of thinking, as well as awareness of new behaviors and insights that will create growth and development. See if you can find the truths that you have experienced in the past, and where you might be now as a prelude to creating your life work.

Stage One: Absolute Reliance on External Authority

  • Two main assumptions: there is a right career and there is an authority that knows what the right career is; therefore, one will not leave a career unless what they are leaving is bad and there is hope of something better.
  • Fewer employers are willing to provide the kind of security that people at this stage feel is necessary. They want adaptive specialists who can manage their own career and move quickly from one area to another as companies respond to rapid changes in the economy.

Stage Two: Awareness of the Possibility of a “Wrong” Decision

  • Still feels an external authority in life will define the correct career choice.
  • Begins to trust in a process of understanding one’s past, abilities, and motivators. A willingness to explore and clarify the impact of genetic programming, social situation, and a complex self. Knowing these biases is the prerequisite to personal freedom.
  • Realizes whatever shatters their worldview is telling them that wrong choices are possible and no one’s fault.
  • Often arises from the broken pieces of a shattered worldview; for example, jobless PhDs or the disillusionment of layoffs through downsizing.

Stage Three: Substitution of the Process as Authority

  • Deals with disillusionment from discovery that career development is not as simple as previously thought.
  • Shift from belief that one authority exists to belief that the right decision-making process will yield the right career. The process becomes the authority.
  • Continued allegiance to the concept that one right career exists leads to following the “right” process to avoid making mistakes.

Stage Four: Awareness of Multiple “Good” Decisions

  • Abandonment of the constructs of one authority and right career.
  • Discovery that one can be involved in the process of one’s career development.
  • Big cognitive flip: the individual rather than the authority authors lists of priorities. She is able to look back on her life story and see the ways vocational self-concept is flowing, growing, and changing.
  • May begin feeling the oppression of freedom, too many options.

Stage Five: Emergence of Self as Decision Maker

  • Develops internal sense of self as the decision maker and responsible for the choices of life.
  • Experiences the reality that vocational identity is determined internally by a moral consciousness based on decision and values clarification and to a much lesser extent by socially defined roles.
  • Acceptance of being in charge; this exhilarating, exploring, and doing phase recognizes multiple possibilities and the need to create personal order and clarification.
  • Accepts the need to be clear about what needs to be done and the need for feedback about how well one is doing.

Stage Six: Awareness of the Chaos of Free Choice

  • “Pride goeth before a fall.” Learns about luck, accident, and illness. Temptation to trade authenticity and integrity for security.
  • All the alternatives feel like a burden and that life is in chaos.
  • Discrepancy between what is desired and what is actually happening creates an inner tension; resolution of tension is the basic barometer of maturity and mental health.
  • Challenges and crises promote growth but are often painful.

Stage Seven: Beginnings of Integration of Self and Career Role

  • Second cognitive flip: end of polarized career identity. Choosing a traditionally defined role is abandoned in favor of seeing career as a form of self-expression.
  • Look at careers as events with certain regularities and with enormous variations and freedom. Responsible for vocational actions, living in light of potential.
  • Career is an expression of identity rather than the reverse, where identity is derived from career role or institutional affiliation. Discover the core of vocational freedom. “We are more than what we do.”
  •  Requires some clarity about what one stands for. Realization that life is constructed by us out of our own existential commitments to values, to people, to the kind of self we would be, to our part in the unfolding complexity of life, and to the acquisition and exercise of certain skills consistent with all of the above.

Stage Eight: Experiencing Commitment

  •  Taking responsibility for the creation of career means also taking responsibility for the undesired outcomes.
  • Begins to see that powerlessness, loneliness, fear, pain, and rejection are part of life. Following your bliss is not always blissful, and doubts can come in.
  • Learns that life becomes serene and enjoyable precisely when they have become detached from a professional identity defined by others.
  • Careers have no reality apart from personal participation in them. Judging success in a career can only come from the perspective of your future integrity.
  • Focus is on the task, not the reward. Truth from experience guides expansion of self-created career roles.
  • Celebration of self, vocational power, authenticity, integrity, and even sanctity.

Stage Nine: Expansion of Self-Created Roles

  • Learns that working is a form of self-expression limited only by the demands of justice, harmony, and mutuality.
  • Not owned by career. Truly focused on task, not the reward.
  • Begins to love the self they are and the self they want to give the world.
  • Learns the magic of believing, going with the flow, the harmony of the universe.
  • Major problem: What is always has the edge on what might be. Easier to settle for reality than truth.
  • Joy of doing, of accomplishing, of trying and achieving, is always active. It is accompanied by the joy of transcending ego boundaries to being and becoming part of something greater than yourself.
  • Resisting personal growth means sustaining great losses and living at your own peril.

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