Why Your Career Might Be Stuck In The Past

Story road
Written by Tom Staunton
Story road

Flickr by https://www.flickr.com/photos/umjanedoan under creative commons

Lots of careers advice out there today focuses on what you can do to move yourself on in your career. Get sorted on Linkedin, start networking better, get your CV sorted out, learn ten top tips from some ex-Apprentice contestants, etc. etc. A lot of it may be useful in some way; the problem is that it may not be what you really need. My school nurse was famous for giving soluble paracetamol for everything – from headaches through growing pains, vomiting, and up to broken bones; it was her fix all cure. Similarly, not everyone is being held back in their careers because they’re not making enough out of Linkedin or whatever else. The key questions in your career, nine times out of ten, are why are you where you are? And what can you do about it?

Anyone remember the film Sliding Doors?

It stars Gwyneth Paltrow and looks at one moment in her life (catching a tube train, or just missing it) and in tandem looks at the two different paths the main characters’ life could take from that one moment. This highlights a key point of thinking about stories as being dominated by turning points or fate. The sociologist Anthony Giddens spoke about just this idea when he discussed what he calls fateful moments.

So ask yourself what are the big moments that have made you who you are? Get out a pen and paper or open up Evernote or whatever else you have on your preferred mobile device and write a few down. Are the big moments moments that were forced upon you – choosing subjects at school, what degree to do, what uni to go to; are the moments based on what you did – getting top marks in a subject, failing GCSE maths, getting that work experience, getting on that internship scheme; or maybe they’re the unique things that only happened to you that shaped who you are – that class you took that changed how you thought about the world, that TV programme that gave you a different outlook on life, that person who inspired you and made you want to be different?

How might this help you? It can take time and effort to make use of this sort of reflection and critical thinking. Some of you may be reading this and have no intention to do what I just talked about. So let me outline how thinking about your turning points may be of potentially vital use.

  1. What are my strengths? Think about the key moments you have been successful; what allowed you to be successful then? Thinking about this can be of particular value as it produces evidence that you can use in an application process as well.
  1. What are your weaknesses? When have you not been successful? Knowing what has held you back can be vital, as it shows you what situations to avoid and what you need to develop. Thinking about our weaknesses is never easier, so it is vital to have evidence from our past to do it properly.
  1. What resources allow you to progress? Resources are slightly different to strengths; they are things external to you that help you. Think your contacts, location, groups you are part of, time, money, etc. Noticing what resources are of particular use allows you to focus on what resources to make use of to progress.
  1. What assumptions have you been making? Where have you focused on your decisions? What has driven you to where you are? Sometimes when we get stuck we need to be radical and change something. Thinking about our assumptions can be vital for focusing on what may need to be changed to move ourselves forward.

The real key is to look at your turning points in light of these questions. Don’t just look at your turning points, otherwise it will be reflection for no reason; but don’t look at the questions without the turning points or you will have no evidence to build things on and you will likely focus on a limited perspective.

Hope this has given you a bit of a feel for how reflection and narratives could be used in your career if you haven’t used these ideas before. I’m hoping to do a few extra posts on this subject for Career Geek around narratives and motives and narratives and communicating yourself.

About the author

Tom Staunton

Tom works as a HE careers adviser, he is particularly interested in how creativity, narratives and digital literacy can be used to support students career progression. You can read his blog and you can follow him on twitter as well at.