Transition Road: Well Traveled Or Lesser Known?

By Sue Aiken

Not all that long ago a man named Paul worked his entire career with one company over a span of 35 years.  He accepted all they told him to do: transfer from the mid west to California,  when he would be promoted and when he would retire.  His career spanned pre and post World War II until his retirement in the early 70's.  Shortly thereafter, he died suddenly of a heart attack. 

This is the story of my father and many others like him.  Their road was well traveled and reasonably predictable.  Along came the economic upheaval in the eighties where companies consolidated, were bought out and/or cut middle management.  Career counselors and out placement agencies were very busy!  Men and women were losing their jobs a few years shy of their anticipated retirement.  Their identity was gone, their embarrassment was high and self esteem  low.  What to do for them?

We began with our career development models; we learned from William Bridges' Transitions: Making Sense of Life Changes, and filled career centers and/or practices with individuals and groups seeking to find meaningful work in a new economy. 

What Lies Ahead?

While much is different as we round the corner into 2010, much is also the same.  People in mid career and mid life are still finding themselves out of work with disastrous ripple effects, including losing their homes.  And while technology has greatly enhanced how we do our research and find new opportunities, the human story still needs to be listened to.  I worry when I see concerned counselors arguing over the perfect resume or online networking techniques.  Have we rushed by the person behind the resume?

I am reminded of a model where the client is urged to determine what their life work is that will sustain them.  Once that is envisioned, the work of finding and naming that work begins in earnest.   The work of the career counselor is to help clients learn who they are at this point in time, what common threads have existed over time and what they want to take into the future. 

  • What do they remember from their childhood dreams about work?
  • What is the work history in their family?  Any role models?
  • What are the pros and cons of all their jobs?  Any common threads?
  • What would be an ideal day or job? 
  • What are the barriers preventing them from achieving this?

Each of these questions and many more like them, if the answers are carefully listened to, will often lead to rich and significant insights from which a work life center can emerge or a path less traveled can be seen.

What Might A Less Traveled Road Look Like Today?

  • Consulting and/or part-time work.  A friend lost her job due to state funding cuts to the non profit she led.  It took many ups and downs but she and a former colleague have formed a consulting firm to obtain a county contract for childcare workforce development.  She is both an expert and a dynamo!
  • Consulting with the previous employer.  Another client works from home by email and phone now on a part time basis as a consultant to her out of state former firm while figuring out what she wants to do in a new field of the local green economy.
  • Seeing a global need and launching a non profit or business to fill it.  Watching a program honoring everyday heroes who saw or experienced a need and stepped up to fill it was truly inspiring. One example is the former executive who now delivers wheelchairs to disabled kids in Iraq. 

Time Tested Tools

  • Continue to take clients through the time tested model of self assessment, research, goal setting and job search techniques.  When a client says, "What's out there?" we could give a lecture on the world of work or we could start by asking them questions only they know the answers to. 
  • Learn about the green economy and adapt your interpretation of solid assessments to fit accordingly.  Our thinking needs to be current and informed while the tools and metrology provides the foundation on which we work.

Recently, the California Career Development Association held a regional career conference at Stanford University with John Krumboltz as host and key note speaker.   The theme was sustainable careers and our future work, as noted by the following presenters and topics:

  • Keynote Speaker John Krumboltz on Happenstance and Green Careers
  • Carol McClelland, Ph.D., Jim Cassio, and Alice Rush, M.A. on the Green Economy
  • Alice Rush, M.A. on How to Help Clients Find Green Careers Using Holland and MBTI Results
  • Sue Aiken, M.A. and Sally Gelardin, Ed.D. on Slow Career: Creating a Slow and Sustainable Lifestyle -
  • Caitlin Williams, Ph.D. on Sustaining The Spirit: Taking Care of our Working Worried Clients and Ourselves
  • Nancy Miller, M.A. on Color Your Style with Vegetables

 The conference was sold out as career counselors from private practice, public agencies, universities, as well as graduate students, were eager to learn of challenging opportunities on less traveled roads opening up at the crossroad where we now stand.  Familiar voices in our profession remind us to stay the course in providing solid models of career counseling to our private clients as the global economy pulls them down roads with unknown futures, exciting opportunities, potholes, bumps and mountain tops.


Sue Aiken resides on the Central Coast of California in a co-housing community in an attempt to live sustainably.  She was the Program Chair of the Career Development Program at John. F. Kennedy University prior to moving out of the San Francisco Bay area.  Currently, she is a Career Coach with Career Development Alliance, a board member of CCDA and CCCL as well as Chair of the Board of the California Registry of Professional Counselors.  She can be reached at saiken001@charter.net

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