Career Shocks: Surviving Uncertainty in our Professional Journey & Career Growth

career Dec 07, 2022
Woman stressing over her career

Career shocks: the certain uncertainty in our careers...

Career shocks are the uninvited and abrupt guests who crash into our professional lives and temper our career growth. Arriving without warning, they stir have the capacity to alter the best laid career development plans.  So what is a career shock and how can you learn to not alone survive uncertainty in your professional journey and career growth but how can you learn to thrive?  

What is a career shock? A possible definition.

Career shocks are defined, by leading academic researcher in career development, including career shocks, by Akkermans et al. (2018) as

“a disruptive and extraordinary event that is, at least to some degree, caused by factors outside the focal individual's control and that triggers a deliberate thought process concerning one's career” (p. 4).

Career shocks are typically unexpected events, that are ready to challenge our self-confidence, obstruct our career progression, and complicate our decision-making abilities. The scale and frequency of these shocks are not mere outcomes of fate. Instead, they are linked to a complex web of factors, including your wider social context and events that are often outside of your control, yet it’s ultimate impact on you is real. The one thing we are sure of, is that as you navigate your professional terrain, you will encounter many career shocks, each one differing in intensity and origin. Some of these shocks are disruptive and extraordinary—events over which we often have no control, and others you are likely to have more agency over.

So, with that in mind, lets take a deeper dive into career shocks and as we do let’s begin to explore the difference between those you have some control over and those you lack agency over.

Different types of Career Shocks.

The economic recession of 2010 or Covid-19 both offer prime examples of a career shock. The associated wave of redundancies due to world-wide government mandated lock downs mean that many people experienced a career shock. Both the economic recession are examples of external, larger-than-life career shocks that leave indelible marks across entire industries and affect broad sections of the workforce.

While the associated impact of loosing your job and the financial impact is harshly felt, the widespread nature of this type of career shock makes them easier to digest. The shared experience makes it less personal and provides a place to collectively point the finger. This allows us to explain the career shock as part of a wider collective experience.

But what about the off-guard career shocks the one’s that happen during periods of prosperity, near-full employment or when an industry is buoyant but job cuts happens?

What about redundancy, unexpectedly dismissal, or being replaced by less experienced colleagues. These types of career shocks strike a different chord, as they feel more personal, more about you as the individual. While you may not have being agentic in this process, it is important that you learn to understand this shock in the context of your overall career story. This requires introspection and a deep dive into our personal narratives, to both comprehend and explain the impact of the career shock on your career story, so far…

A different type of career shock is often driven by complicated social and personal interactions within the workplace. In this case, we refer to workplace bullying, navigated a toxic environment, or experienced incivility. If you are on the receiving end of experiences like this, though typically outside of your control, their ability to profoundly shake your professional stability and career identity is immense.

Shared characteristics of all carer shocks.

As discussed above, despite the varying origins and intensities, career shocks all share one defining characteristic: they have the capacity to disrupt (to a greater or lesser degree) your career narrative and in so doing demand that we respond.

Sometimes, this response necessitates self-reflection and reinvention. The findings from this type of self-reflection is not easy… your may realise that you place a part in bringing your career shock to fruition, through your actions, decisions, and attitudes, have played a significant role in shaping your professional journeys. This realisation n is not easy to deal with, however understanding it is integral.

Why you might ask?

Understanding the dynamics of career shocks is critical to your continued professional growth, and ultimate career success. Understanding your contributory role is vital to ensure that you do not repeat the same mistake in the future.  Remember, behaviours and actions that are not changed lead to the same result, over and over. The choice is yours…albeit it a difficulty one to acknowledge ultimately it is an important one.

Working with a professional coach to help you better understand your career shock is important. This type of supported self-reflection helps you to figure out your role in your career shock and importantly to establish if you had a role in its fabrication or not.

For some, particularly those who are working in a toxic workplace, or experiencing bullying, the impact on your self-confidence results in misplaced blame. Again, working with a coach will help you to navigate this.

Irrespective of your role, or not, in your career shock learning to navigate these shocks is vital. As you do you learn to anticipate, manage, and, perhaps most importantly, grow from them.

Career shocks, with their unpredictability and disruptive potential, remind us that while we can't control every aspect of our professional narrative, we can control how we respond, how we grow, and ultimately, how we shape our career stories.

The journey is seldom smooth, but with each wave of uncertainty, we emerge stronger, more adept, and increasingly equipped to navigate the uncharted waters of our professional lives. After all, it's not the shocks that define us, but how we rise above them.

Until the next time, 

S x 

Further Reading

Akkermans et al. (2018) – free to access paper on Career Shocks.

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