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try looking at the dark side of life

change and anxiety in relation to professional expertise and client experience

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
9 November 2016

Bill Law
the career-learning café 

  • change and anxiety

The most significant feature of contemporary life is the accelerating rate of change.  That reality invades all our lives - as individuals, family-members, members of society, workers - and, by no means least, as careers-workers.

It means that what we think, say and do needs updating on a daily bases - at times an hourly basis.


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Some people ride the waves - they are protected, but they are a minority.  While the posturing of others hides from what we all know.  For most people change stokes disappointment, undermines confidence and - at the extremes - shocks.  I think you've been there.

 The big question is... 

do we want to do anything about it?

There is a dilemma.  On the one hand are natural impulses to concentrate on positives, cool down, hang-loose and don't get agitated?  On the other there is a challenge.  The way the species - that's you and me - survives is by facing up to bad news.  We learn more from bad news than we do from good news.  There's more survival value in facing the facts.  While good news says 'that was cool, do it again', it takes bad news to wake us up to what more we can do.

It's a mistake to shroud bad news.  If we don't know what's going on we'll never know what to do about anything.  So...

do we need to look at the dark side of life?

Mind you, there needs to be a sense of proportion about this.  We are talking principles not rules.  And the principle is, when you're laughing things off, know what you are laughing about - and why.  We all need more fun - and more people we can safely laugh with - trust.  Which brings us to careers work.


  • promotion and limitation

Lttle more than a glance at a careers-work journal realises how good the professionals are at self-promotion.  It's understandable - there's no shortage of issues for careers-work to deal with - including media bad-mouthing, privatised competition and government neglect.

Journal coverage tends to be of specific programmes which are thought to illustrate general success. 

Good-news satisfaction avoids mentions of disappointment, doubt or refusal.

There are few accounts of how students and clients look for their own ways of dealing with day-to-day experience. 

In looking for hope careers-work profession go for an expansion of a limited range of certificated and conventional provision.

The leading society awards prizes to 'best practice'.  There are benchmarks for skills - for complementing, applying, improving, leading and complying - each bringing things to a 'last word'.

But careers-work still has to deal to with how success in one location does not work in all locations - and why. 

All this raises issues for the transferability of learning - and its non-transferability

Much of what is reported pursues economic success.  But what about clients who see themselves on a journey and not in a race? 

Careers work at its best is that branch of education where students and clients work on the terms by which they will claim their membership of their society.  

However, the end-point is this: self-promotion speaks of students fitting in rather than making a difference.  

It asserts that 'working is good for everyone', explicitly equating the term with 'paid employment'. 

It can all be insufferably cheerful.  More importantly it deprives the profession of the dynamics of learning from mistakes.

At the extremes there are good-news claims of macro-economic benefits from careers work.  They raise questions about whom the authors are trying to impress, and invite the suspicion that it is a political-commercial coalition.  But that coalition is not foolish, it can see that these economics are based on too-small a baseline.  They will not up-scale.

There are signs of careers work breaking free of some of these boundaries.  In particular there is a publication of an article linking learning to playing.  Plenty of room for a reflective profession there.

Some of the emerging policy is overdue - 'The West' needs action on tax collection, on work-life productivity, and on a re-considered understanding of its debt to Russia.

But realities are being overlooked: the thatcher-reagan-blair-soap will continue to marginalise Gorbachev; global commerce will still favour neo-liberal economics; much of The West will be owned by China; Mexico, Canada and North Korea will still protect their people; as will religious interests; and trades-unions.  The planet will continue to warm; the unwell will still need health-care; firearms will not lose their lethal capacity.  And any single claimant seeking to be able to fix any of this will not be facing facts but will be self delusion. 

The people demand a fix, but this is no fan-fair for the common man.  It is an appeal for the survival of 'The West' - which will survive by facing facts. 

There are farther reaching groups each with an interest in how people see what can be done.  The look-good political promotion agenda for careers work is out-of-touch with this.  It can defend its own survival interests, but it is no agent ot radical change - and its leaders need to know how and why?  Part of the answer is that its issues are out-of-date before the ink dries.  Too many students and clients find that they have much more to say in those unfinished conversations.

  • hope and education 

The future belongs to the agencies that can grasp and understand the depth and breadth of change and its consequences in people's lives.  There is a world-wide scramble for those positions.  Understanding careers work as a branch of education doesn't need to scramble - it is where people need it to be in opening those deeper and wider perspectives. 

Students and clients are working on the terms in which they will claim their membership of their society.   

The idea of ambition has been captured by the business world, where realised ambition means acquiring wealth. 

But more is going on - there are other ambitions to be realised, people to consider, moralities to pursue, dignities to respect, obligations to realise, and loves to nurture.

In both the referendum and the US election a criss-cross of priorities demands immediate and recognisable improvement in people's lives. 

Much of the politics is bogus, but the experience-based demand is authentic.  

One self-designated political liberal has characterised those demands as for 'settlers' - not strivers.  And other supporters of what they call 'the good life' find the roots of their thinking in their own expertise, not in their client's experience. 

The liberals have missed what is happening.  The working-classes see them as élite abusers.  Whole sectors of electorates have been neglected.  And the neglected have lost interest in a politics which sees them as votes not worth winning.   

What education and careers-work know professionally is overtaken by what their students and clients learn experientially. 

There is nothing necessarily wrong with rebeliion - people are doing what they've learned to do - they are in their comfort zone.

What is wrong is how they have been misled by a politics which more closely resembles soap-opera than democracy.

Progressive politics and professional positioning are a two-way loser.  

If careers work is a branch of education, where students work on the terms in which they claim membership of society, then that education has failed them.  

What of the rights of an electoral majority?  Much is made of them.  But a majority is no more than a headcount.  It has no rights until the people whose heads have not been counted know more.  They need to know not just how but why the majority voted as it did.  And if the minority are not convinced by the explanation they are entitled to reject the majority's claim.  Satisfaction with leaving the EU and support for Donald Trump come mostly from the elderly,  the resistance to both comes mostly from the young.  And that resistance has as much right as anybody to demonstrate its anger.  Indeed, both the elderly and the young regard each their own opposing anger as an obligation.  The streets of both the US and the UK are populated by the opposing cohorts.

If those are the causes, what are the consequences?  Careers work is needed as a branch of education - where independence of mind, critical thinking and creativity have full reign.  And that needs wide-ranging mainstream curriculum.  Conventional careers education lacks the intellectual sweep and the organisational anchorage.  No more than a handful of careers educators have both.  I'd like to see more published on that complexity, its issues and the range of resolutions.  All need to be published on paper and on-line.

There seems to be something of a hiatus separating paper-based from on-line activity.  There is a tendency for professionals to attribute importance to the one or the other.  It's true that paper-based sources give the internet a mention.  But few citations go into any detail about on-line ideas, narratives and criteria.  Too much is overlooked.  Rationales for independent minds, critical thinking and creativity are largely found on-line, but neglected elsewhere.  The field needs to listen to iits divided self.

So is there a gap in careers-work thinking?  One or other side of the hiatus would be where ideas for curriculum are differently shaped and framed.  It would be where political and commercial interests are separately scrutinised.  It would disconnect arguments for fitting in from arguments for making a difference.  It might differently interrogate dominant interests.  It would allow citizenship education to work for either compliance or reform.  None of this could be part of a unified basis for ready-for-anything action.

There are far-reaching groups each with an interest in how people respond to change and how they see the help the groups offer.  The politically progressive alliance sees it's help as a fulfilment of...

'a longing for something different'

If that claim means anything we would be finding a now-and-future client-led fulfilment of that longing.  But what we find are expert-led proposals for reform.

And what of professional career workers?  They are on are on record for...

'a careers-work programme that works for everybody'

It's an enticing claim - but it is out-of-touch with how change differently invades organisations, locations, experiences.

The optimism is persistent but unsustainable.  It has co-opted psychiatric ideas voiced as self-esteem, resilience and mindfulness.  But these are quietist moves - working best for commercial and political interests.  The consequence is an enduring failure to deal with change.  And dealing with change includes being prepared angrily to resist what cannot be accepted.  The quietists are damping down what needs to be fired up.  They are not learning from the dark side of life. 

That reform is ready for anything in...

                     ... independent thinking - because there is no universal script

                     ... critical thinking - because students and clients take the lead

                     ... creative invention - because hour-by-hour change moves on

There are the makings of massive re-alignments in education and careers work - between careers work and education, between specialist and mainstream curriculum, between on-line and off-line thinking, and - most of all - between professional experience and client experience.   It is learning for living.


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Dr Bill Law FRSA


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