Helping Your Life Work
September 1, 2008
Volume 4, Issue 8


On the career counselling page of my website, I describe two styles of career assessment that I offer in my practice. One is based on a series of objective measures that compare attributes such as interests, personality type, and aptitudes against standardized norms. The Strong Interest Inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Career Ability Placement Survey are three examples that provide extensive information about the individual’s interests, personality or aptitudes together with lists of occupations that best correspond with the individual’s type.

The other kind of assessment looks at the individual as a whole. It takes a more narrative or subjective view and is based on a client’s unique qualities, life patterns and themes. Here, clients are helped to better understand how work fits into their world, rather than how they fit into the world of work. I have found that a combination of the two styles tends to provide clients with the most comprehensive and fulfilling process.

Dr. Mark Savickas, a professor of behavioural science at Northeastern Ohio Universities of Medicine, developed one of the subjective assessments that I like to use. He theorizes that our choices of occupations are often the result of a natural progression of our life’s preoccupations. By examining our life stories, we are able to identify our early preoccupations and understand the themes that recur in them. A theme that is repeated without solution causes us to become stuck. However, a theme that is repeated with growth leads to mastery and potential occupations.

For example, if someone with a speech impediment is preoccupied with the shame and embarrassment they feel whenever they speak, they may work hard at overcoming the problem. The harder they work, the better they may become at mastering their difficulty until one day, they become known for the very thing that once gave them so much pain. Barbara Walters and James Earl Jones are two examples of people who mastered a lisp and stutter respectively. As we all know, Walters has forged a career as the consummate interviewer and Jones is best known for his wonderful, baritone voice.

If our needs for love, attention and nurturance were not fulfilled in childhood, we may spend years trying to make up for what was missing. Once we understand the needs, we may more readily address the unfinished business of our childhoods. In Dr Savickas’ words, “vocational interests are solutions to problems that people have experienced and work is an opportunity to actively master what has been passively suffered.”

If you are feeling stuck, it may be that you haven’t yet identified or sufficiently worked on your preoccupation. If you want help in converting problems into opportunities and preoccupations into occupations, please call for an appointment and I’ll show you how.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352

“Helping Your Life Work”

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