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Doctor Who? Just careering around?

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Chris Targett
24 November 2014

A reflection on trait & factor informed by popular culture and constructivist thinking.

I am something of a geek and a happy one at that, whether it is Science Fiction, Art or Careers Work, I enjoy finding stuff out and revelling in obscure details. I also like to think about the implications of different ideas on the work I do, such as those found in philosophy or psychology. I sometimes find myself making links between possibly mundane day to day life, theoretical concepts from academia and popular culture. In this vein, a train of thought began bubbling around in my brain recently. Whilst watching the popular television programme Doctor Who on Saturday night I began to ponder, what can Doctor Who teach us about careers and growing older?

Initially my thoughts turned to the idea of how careers develop through “life stages” as suggested by Donald Super[i] but, this didn’t seem to fit; career change seemed to be a better description of his life, rather than a constant forward development through life stages. Career change not as the oft described (by career professionals) escape from negativity, such as job loss but, one of on-going change from one positive career place to another positive career place (via some dangerous adventures). 

For those who are unaware, our Doctor in the programme travels through time and space as a Time Lord who regenerates with each “death” into another version of himself, played by different actors. In his current incarnation he is approximately 2000 years old[ii] and the twelfth version of himself (played by Peter Capaldi), he remembers bits of his previous lives but, in each incarnation he is different, from his personality, to the role he plays whether maverick, scientist, adventurer, magician or trickster (to very crudely name a few).

Having watched Doctor Who quite happily for many years, I reflected on how my own career has changed and developed in this time. I too have played different roles, in many ways defining myself by the labels I was given, stages of life described to me by society or the roles which took up the majority of my time… student, traveller, artist, painter, construction worker, unemployed, van driver, teacher, careers adviser and father.  

Just like the Doctor I couldn’t have guessed what I would become or the chance events that would lead me down different paths. In many ways perhaps, this is what makes Doctor Who so appealing, with his ability to reinvent himself and the feeling that what is happening for him is also happening to us. We too forget where we have been, as our memories often don’t feel as “real” as the present now; they fade. As we react to the now, from the bones of the past, we construct our current reality. Certainly the decisions I make now, are different to the ones I would have made in earlier incarnations of myself when “I was a different person”. Indeed, I think the “Artist” (singular) version of myself would find it hard to reconcile himself to the “Careers Adviser” version with Art on the side! In a similar way the Doctor finds it a difficult or often an interesting experience when, he meets older versions of himself (which has happened in different episodes over the years)… In the same way, I wonder if we are, each and every one of us, becoming different with each passing day whilst retaining the same physical identity in time and space.

In this sense Doctor Who relates very well to 21st Century ideas of careers work, when viewed through this lens of constructivism[iii] with regards how he builds new identities, goals and realities for himself. His journey (or career) is one filled with happenstance and perhaps a good portion of it is planned!  

What might this understanding mean for our careers work with clients?

I guide young people in a secondary school context, acutely aware that the people they are now, will be very different to the people they will be in five, ten and even twenty years’ time. Whilst they make decisions, many of them work within the “popular narrative” which seems to pervade society and schools in England (or as far as I can tell, the south east corner of the country where I work). In many cases this narrative or context is “What shall I do when I am older?” (Singular)

This narrative does not allow for the changeable view that they will change and develop, their ideas may change and what they want from life will shift, as they go through different stages in life (reference: Donald Super).  It has almost become indelibly ingrained within the system of education that this is how they “ought” to be deciding.

I speak to parents who wring their hands and worry that their son or daughter “doesn’t know what they want to be yet” almost as if I am a doctor and need to prescribe some form of treatment to fix their child of this predicament.

I listen and understand their concerns, I empathise with their worry that the beings they care about and love most in the world in many cases, won’t “make it” in the future unless they know their place; harking back to the match and fit of trait and factor[iv] career practices.

In contrast, when I speak to parents and young people of the career journeys which they know of, many of them echo stories from family which are akin to my own and that of the Doctor from our television series. Lives peppered with happenstance, research, planning but then roads taken and paths changed as they too have changed in a multitude of ways, discovered new ideas and priorities.

However, when we look past the question to the emotions underneath, it is almost as if the question which is really being asked is not “What shall I do when I am older?” but “Where do I fit in all this chaos?” Or “How will I be ok when so much is changing?”

In some ways what Doctor Who can teach us, is how to cope with this chaos. We can see that he struggles to find his place with each change, just like us. As he turns to others to help him with these changes (such as his companions) so do we in our own lives, in an attempt to find our place. Whether this is through new companions we chance across at work or leisure or, via family and friends we have had with us for a longer period of time. In some situations it is the mentor, teacher or guide which can help us on our way… ironically the very role the Doctor plays for so many of the people he encounters in his travels who, are often “in need”.

In terms of how this affects my practice, on reflection I can begin to re-evaluate the place of the oft maligned trait and factor approach, as a way to allow the young people who need it, the means to find some stability and a starting point when “all at sea” in this changing world within their own changing minds and bodies. Having a goal to cling to and something they can become, possibly provides them with a life raft for sanity and hope until they have built up more of their own history, skills, sense of self and foundations to possibly make the leap to becoming someone other (if their desires takes them this way or if circumstances require this).

In contrast, other young people of the same age thrive within the idea of keeping their options wide open and being thrown to the wind… much like the Doctor in his Tardis (His “time machine” for those who are unfamiliar with the programme) as he hurtles through time and space.

An illustration perhaps that our minds really do shape or construct our reality, which are shaped in turn by where we live and by the questions we ask or seek answers to. It is worth considering, some who desire a stable idea when younger may, when they are older embrace the chaotic open ended vision of their future (and vice a versa). For us as career professionals, the artistry of the profession is to recognise what the person (young or old) is seeking and why. For those clients who haven’t had access to either narrative (or ways of viewing the world), we can offer them interpretations of both versions of the future, to allow alternative routes to filter in. As an example, Three-Scene Storyboarding by Bill Law[v] is a method of approach which, does this by allowing clients to explore different possible narratives and attribute their own meaning to the different viewpoints.

In a philosophical way, approaches which provide different narratives as opposed to a singular view, provide clients with a wider awareness of their possible journeys (even if it is just the option of an alternative idea or way to live their lives and explore their futures) and as with all options, it is their choice to make.

To be given a choice of how to approach the future can be an empowering experience, that either way is ok. Whether, they are seeking an idea to hold on to, something to be, to learn, become or dream of working within or, a path which is more open ended where they might discover the roles they might inhabit whilst travelling through time and space!

Sometimes whilst guiding we need to recognise, when a little dusting of hope might be more empowering than a reality check and likewise, when a change of perspective can be a motivator.


November 2014


[i] Career Connectors (2014), Career Development Theory (Super), accessed 21st November 2014

[ii] Tardis Data Core, (2014), The Doctor’s Age,'s_age accessed 21st November 2014

[iii] Career Connectors (2014), Career Development Theory (Savickas), accessed 21st November 2014

[iv] Career Connectors (2014), Career Development Theory (Holland), accessed 21st November 2014

[v] Bill Law (2012), Three-Scene Storyboarding, accessed 21st November 2014 

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