Skip to main content
SFU Health and Counselling Services
Registered Clinical Counsellor

empty
slanted tree
Credit
https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/fd-photos-from-february%E2%80%A6.438018/
Just like the tree, all a person needs to do to get their share of sunlight is to move forward.

I read a great article the other day by Jim Bright, co-author of the Chaos Theory of Careers. It’s a read that’s well worth your time, but for those who don’t have the will to check out the post in its entirety, I’ll share an excerpt below:

Curiously not everyone I meet is thrilled when I tell them the ending to a movie.  Oddly they prefer to be surprised, and let the movie unfold for them. However this attitude of going with the flow, seeing where it ends up, living with emergence rarely extends to our careers.  Here we are encouraged to plan thoroughly, to visualise or imagine how things will play out, to know in advance what our next steps, and indeed our foreseeable steps will be. So why this disconnect? Why is surprise ok in the movies, but less in careers?

The article goes on to explain what Jim calls the “emergent approach,” which is a sort of antithesis to the “plan and implement” approach to career development. There are a lot of misconceptions and hesitations regarding emergence as it applies to careers, not least of which revolve around the concept of action.

“So, if I don’t have a plan, do I just sit around and wait for stuff to happen?” You might ask. “How am I supposed to know what to do if I don’t know where I’m going?” Is another one I sense a lot of in my work with students.

I have a wonderful natural metaphor that I would like to share that will hopefully answer these questions and dispel some other myths about the “emergent approach” to career development. Take a look at the below image and take note of some words that come to mind.

You might be thinking of words like cold, winter, and desolate. But what about adaptable, unpredictable, and chaotic?

The tree is a perfect metaphor for an emergent career path. It’s adaptable, growth-oriented, and reactive. If a tree’s basic needs are met (water, sunlight), it grows on its own. I constantly find myself talking to students about not having to know what specific direction to go in order to move forward in their career development. You don’t have to micromanage your career or plan out where you’re going to be years from now in order to end up in a great place. You do, however, need to moveforward, and you need to be able to adapt to sometimes drastic environmental changes. Other than that, your career will grow on its own without you even noticing it.

All a tree knows is that it has to move up. Without this basic growth, the tree doesn’t get the sunlight it needs to survive. It is constantly responding to changes in its environment in order to facilitate this basic goal: get more sunlight. This can often result in growth in some very creative directions, as can be witnessed in the tree above, which is still very much alive and well. But that tree never planned on growing sideways. It was just responding to subtle shifts in its environment over a really long period of time.

Just like the tree, all a person needs to do to get their share of sunlight is to move forward. If we stay motionless we will soon be eclipsed by the forest of competition surrounding us, which after long enough period of time block out nearly all available light. The problem with making a specific plan to move in one exact direction is that this doesn’t take into account the myriad changes in our environment that might take place over time. What looks to be the right direction could actually become counter-productive to our overall development if our environment changes in any significant way.

If we’re unwilling to make small changes to the plan, we might grow straight up in a situation where it would be more advantages to grow sideways.

So, what becomes more important than having a great plan in the first place is having the ability to react constructively to the events in our lives. And the more of those events there are, the more information we gain about ourselves, the more opportunities for growth in other directions potentially open up, the more movement forward we achieve, the more sunlight we are able to absorb.

Sunlight feels good, doesn’t it?

I hope you like the tree-career metaphor as much as I do. Just to drive the point home a tiny bit more, I’d like to show you one more image.

This is a diagram illustrating something called bifurcation. Essentially, bifurcation is just one path splitting into two. However, as more and more of those paths also split, the entire system begins to exponentially grow more and more chaotic, or in other words, unpredictable. If you are tracing along the initial line and following one path each time it split, it quickly becomes impossible to predict where you will end up.

In a way, every choice and action we take is a small bifurcation along the chaotic development of our career path.

Looks a lot like the sideways tree, though, doesn’t it?

SFU Health and Counselling Services
Registered Clinical Counsellor
David Lindskoog is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Health & Counselling who used to work as a Career Advisor with Career Services. David is passionate about suicide prevention, social justice, career and professional development concerns, and the use of role-playing games in therapy. Check out his group: Dungeons & Worry Dragons. While you're here, check out Dave's Diary! It is an ongoing series of journal entries touching on various aspects related to careers and well-being. Want to hear Dave's thoughts on a particular topic?  Send him an email, and he'll do his best to include it in his next post!  

You Might Like These... Prospective, Professional Development, Career Exploration

Co-op students jumping in the air
The Co-op Connection Helps Retention

In this blog post, Heather shares with us why co-op is an important experience for all students, whether it be to further career aspirations or to gain future employment opportunities. 

author, courtney, smiling
A Second Term in Government: More of the Same?

Having completed my first work term for Health Canada as a Communications Officer Intern, I was eager to try something new, and the government was not where I believed that was going to happen. That is until I was offered a position at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada...

Working on campus
The 10 Minute Commute – Resources and Useful Information for Working on Campus

Have you ever thought about working in a place that you are familiar with?  Perhaps a Tim Horton’s close by? For many students the idea of working at SFU might be a great option, if you prefer a 10 minute jaunt to work after class or an opportunity to learn more about how a university operates.

You Might Like These... Co-op Reflections

Two men in suits and ties sitting down, shaking hands
The Most Important Trait to Get You Hired

Robert's boss shared a key lesson with him about an essential trait that can get one hired. What is that trait and how can you develop it? Read on to learn more from Robert.

Angela Semple Smiling
Angela Semple’s Career Story

Angela writes about coming to SFU, the Indigenous connections she found, and how her job search found her back in the New Student Enrollment and Transition department.

Image of Yat with other students at SFU
Leaving an Imprint

During the past five years at SFU, Yat has been asked multiple times: what do you want to become after you graduate? Every time, he would hesitate before answering. He didn’t have an exact position he wanted to be in, nor did he know whether he would have the skills for whatever that ended up being. Hence, his typical answer: “I don’t know.” To many, uncertainty is uncomfortable. Read more to learn how Yat overcame uncertainty, and left an imprint.