Career Imagination 

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Career Imagination 

Today we are examining a research article published in the Organizational Theory journal. Laurie Cohen and Joanne Duberley have given us: “Making Sense of Our Working Lives: The Concept of the Career Imagination.” 

The article asks whether traditional ideas about a career in our time of “short-termism” and gig work, among other significant disruptions in our lives, have value. Then the authors posit the idea of “the career imagination.” 

By considering both continuity and change on a career path, we can use the career imagination to help measure success. Not only in its traditional meaning but a definition of success that also recognizes the value of new opportunities created. Through the lens of this more abstract, high-level way of looking at career success we can imagine and evaluate the actual progress of our working lives.

The authors have conducted research for more than twenty years, listening to recorded stories about peoples’ careers. The “career imagination” concept came from this work when one of the authors coined the term in 2014. We believe that this research has relevance today.  

What exactly is it career imagination?

Career imagination is about how a person thinks about (imagines) what is possible, legitimate, and appropriate in relation to their career trajectory.  

The term ‘imagination’ was chosen for its relatability; we find this word in everyday conversations. And career imagination can be used to refer to our parents’ working lives or what our children hope for from their goals in life. The term is not meant to connote flights of fancy but rather that career imagination may take us to new places and novel possibilities.  

The idea is to delimit what a person sees as feasible and appropriate regarding her career. This also includes identifying when we think what we imagined is impossible and unsanctioned because that perspective will get in the way of positive change and career growth. 

In addition, the career imagination also considers and includes a person’s experience beyond work. This experience includes “values and commitments, judgments, lifestyle, and identities.” 

What the authors think

The authors point out that career imagination has a powerful social psychology dimension, for example, when groups of individuals accept or seek out particular occupations as “appropriate” and then may deny new possibilities that are outside of their social sphere. 

Career imagination includes identity. The career imagination idea supports people to think in more expansive ways and not only about occupations that they can imagine doing. For example, what if you had the potential to be a great sales account manager but you never identified with that possibility? Using the concept of the career imagination, we have to consider and even confront: identity, values, and ideals.

The article concludes that using the idea of career imagination can help us continually bring value to our work life in our radically changing world. The concept allows us to imagine our future selves and how we will adapt to new opportunities, constraints, and timescapes. 

The career imagination concept helps us to understand for example why working-class kids tend to get working-class jobs and to consider how we already use this idea in our career coaching work with clients at Ignite Your Potential.

We can only hope that this article has inspired you to think about your career in new ways. And that career imagination can be one way to open up your mind to new possibilities and novel ways of thinking that can support our adaptation to a rapidly changing world.

Are you seeking a professional coach to help you enrich your career imagination?