a thesis for grad school.
|The researcher’s content analysis of the interviews and her own visual journal generated descriptive categories of participants’ experiences related to transformation of identity in response to the disorienting dilemma as part of career transition. For all participants, this included accepting uncertainty, recognition of personal strengths, and positive emotions. During transition, some participants expressed awareness of vulnerability and continued negative emotions. Overall, most of the participants expressed feelings of increased identity congruity or soul authenticity because of the career transition experience (Hyatt, 2007; Fenton, 2008; Jordan, 2010). Increased self-awareness was evident as the participants reflected on the career transition they had experienced or were experiencing.
Growth in accepting uncertainty was verbalized by participants as they described their experiences of before and after transition. For two of the participants, growth through the pain of the disorienting dilemma brought them a transformed view of the event. This was consistent with transformative learning as they transcended the crisis (Mezirow, 2000; Willis, 2012). The disorienting dilemmas that led to career transition ranged from loss of a job, physical injury, a life-threatening event, employers who laid co-workers off without warning, or a mis-match of values between the participant and the job. These were congruent with precipitating events for career change found by Mullins (2009) and Ibarra and Barbulescu (2010). As described by Allport’s theory (Hergenhahn & Olson, 1999), several participants expressed future oriented viewpoints as they entered their new career. Six participants and the researcher demonstrated Erikson’s (1980) developmental task of generativity as they experienced voluntary career transition to seek more meaningful work, even as they chose to experience the uncertainty of change. Their career change choice seemed consistent with Roger’s (1961) belief in humans’ inborn desire to enhance their lives. Finally, the researcher’s journal notes on “being re-shaped” explored her willingness to experience vulnerability in transformation in a manner similar to what Brown (2012) described, as well as reflected a belief in the acceptance of uncertainty, corroborating the findings of Deaver and McAuliffe (2009) and Sinner (2011).
Participants identified experiencing discomfort with change, reflected by the uncomfortable feelings they associated with the career transition. Acceptance of limitations and imperfections appeared reflective of Wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic of finding beauty in accepting imperfection in nature and acceptance of the natural cycle of life, growth, and death (Buetow & Wallis, 2017). However, only the researcher’s journal and art responses noted an acceptance of these human imperfections as a form of vulnerability (Brown, 2012). Though participants viewed the career transition experience as growth in flexibility, they did not mention experiencing brokenness as a result of the original disorienting dilemma. This appears consistent with Satici’s (2016) findings, in that participants’ experiences of resilience and hope appeared more important than acceptance of vulnerability.
Art making. Increased self-awareness through art making was reported by one participant, which was consistent with Jacobson-Levy and Foy-Tornay’s (2010) study on transition and self-discovery. Many participants stated art making yielded feelings of grounding and safety, as well as relaxation during the transition as reported by Eaton and Tieber (2017). This was also consistent with Wadeson’s (2010) findings on the benefits of art therapy. Creative identity growth was described by participants consistent with Ganim and Fox’s findings (1999).
Continued art making led to changes in the relationship that participants experienced with their art. For one participant, a prior focus to the fine art product yielded to a process in which quicker, smaller, more spontaneous artmaking became dominant. Her description of her process echoed Messman’s (2004) beliefs pertaining to the increased creative energy involved in art making. This participant may have experienced increased positivity from her creative process, which in turn, may have contributed to her growth (Cruickshank, 2009).
Outcomes of art making. Participants and the researcher expressed increased feelings of connection with self and community through art making. Feelings of greater connection with self, community, and Creator, or what one participant described as soul work, was consistent with Hyatt’s (2007) belief in the benefits of living in authentic connection. For one participant, art making was experienced as grounding, safe, and relaxing, which may have been indicative of a reduction in stress similar to the experiences of participants in prior studies examining the benefits of visual journaling (Deaver & McAuliffe, 2009; Mercer et al., 2010). Additionally, participants identified that the use of collage and visual journaling led to new questions, as well as increased feelings of acceptance, consistent with previous findings of Ganim and Fox (1999) and Mercer et al. (2010).
One participant indicated that the loss of a job, which she initially described as devastating, propelled her into transition that she eventually came to see as a very positive. Participants’ experiences of transformation, growth, and positive emotions resultant from career transition was consistent with findings by Rice (2015), Mezirow (2000), and Willis (2012). Another participant proclaimed that the transition strengthened both his sense of self and sense of purpose, which led to feeling grounded and increased self-confidence, as per Carr’s (2014)findings concerning identity re-framing. As found by Ganim and Fox (1999), these participants also experienced increased emotional awareness and self-awareness, which benefited them during their career transition.
In contrast, participants who experienced self-doubt seemed to maintain the belief in their insufficient abilities. This finding may reflect participants’ intra-individual personality factors or other variables beyond the effects of career transition. Persistent personality traits, as described by Schwaba and Bleidorn (2018), may explain feelings of incompetence experienced by one participant despite successful career transitioning. Alternatively, some participants embraced and accepted their humanness in congruence with a Wabi-sabi perspective (Buetow &Wallis, 2017). It was unclear from the interviews whether weaknesses that were embraced or enhanced was attributable to career transition factors or intra-individual personality traits.
For one participant, persistent negative emotions experienced towards the organization she had worked for were unabated after fifteen years. The description of the organization was consistent with Putnam’s (2000) culture of disconnection. These negative emotions were unaffected by her success in her later career and seemed to reflect her feeling of being unvalued by the organization. This participant did not use art making or art therapy during or after her career transition. Nor were other uses of creativity mentioned in the interview.
Other participants’ experiences of negative emotions, such as worthlessness, depression, and despair (in an ill-fitting career), were resolved after career transition and identity transformation in a manner consistent with Mezirow’s (2000) and Willis’ (2012) observations.
One participant struggled with concerns of competence in the new career, an experience shared and explored by the researcher in her heuristic inquiry. In these cases, it was unclear if the fears of incompetence were related to the career transition or to the personal disposition of the individuals, as mentioned by Allport (1961). Alternatively, the individuals may not have had the experience (as yet) of transformative learning, with requisite reflection to rational and non-rational beliefs that they may have held (Mezirow, 2000). Another participant expressed growth through vulnerability as she was no longer afraid to ask questions. This vulnerability may lead to authenticity and wholeheartedness (Brown, 2012). The participant may have experienced transformation through her choice to transcend the difficulties of transition (Willis, 2012).
Finally, participants expressed concern about being good enough or about knowing the answers in the new field. At the time of the interview, many participants were uncertain of their future. One participant commented on the illusion of security and stability she’d had in her previous career. “It was an illusion,” she stated. This participant’s comments seemed indicative of a key idea held by Relational-Cultural theorists, the culture of disconnection (Putnam, 2000).
Increased Identity Congruence
Identity congruence/soul authenticity. Several participants emphasized that they felt truer and more authentic to who they were meant to be after career transition, thus corroborating the ideas of Brown (2010, 2015), Fenton (2008), Jordan (2010), and others. Brown (2010) described this authenticity as “let(ting) go of who you think you are supposed to be, to embrace who you are” (p. xi), while Fenton (2008) found that art making aided in integration of the self. In line with reframing of past experiences, several participants also described increased identity development (Brown, 2015), as well increased connections with self and community (Jordan, 2010) as a result of their career transition. Expressions of wholeness and soul authenticity were outcomes of career transition for both interviewees and the researcher, which stands in contrast to Freud’s belief in completed identity formation by adulthood, but supports the theories of Allport (1961), Jung (1954), and Rogers (1961).
Desired authenticity. Several participants described feelings of being more authentically themselves after career transition, which may be reflective of self-actualization or growth in authentic connections. For example, participants pursued careers they were passionate about, which was consistent with Freedman’s (2007) report pertaining to baby boomers and their desire to pursue goals of social betterment in encore careers. This may also support Roger’s (1961) stage of generativity, as well as tenets of Relational-Cultural Theory regarding the inner desires humans have as they grow and change (Jordan, 2010). Desired authenticity among participants may demonstrate further personality development consistent with Tieger et al. (2014) and/or demonstrate Allport’s (1961) belief in something special, or a major intention, by which healthy, mature adults are guided. Finally, the career transition was frequently prompted by desires to be authentic to participants’ souls (Psalm 139).
This study was designed with clear delimitation to individuals who experienced midlife career transition, thereby deliberately narrowing the focus of the study. Recruitment through email was a limitation, which may have precluded participants without technological access from participation. While using a purposeful sample in this way does not in itself constitute a limitation, the diversity of the sample could have been limited given recruiting methods and location of study. During data analysis, the researcher did not do member checking of the constructed categories. Data from visual journaling and reflective responses to the images was limited to the researcher only for the heuristic component of the study, therefore data analysis was performed on non-equivalent data sets. The researcher could have had the participants also use visual journals to collect data across all participants. The researcher’s biases resulting from differences in worldview, acculturation, racial and ethnic identity, and socio-economic status affect her perception of identity (Flores, 2014).
Recommendations and Future Studies
Future quantitative research to study the prevalence and scope of career transition issues with different populations is recommended. Future study is recommended using visual journaling with participants who are experiencing or have experienced midlife career transition. Further study is recommended to explore the benefits of visual journaling during other life transitions, such as loss of significant others or changes in physical health due to chronic illnesses and diagnoses, such as treatment of cancer. Studies of the use of visual journaling with other age groups, such as children, adolescents, and older adults, are also recommended.
The number of individuals entering midlife increases daily. With improved healthcare and increases in life expectancy, individuals are living longer and remaining active in the workforce longer. The opportunity to pursue a career change in midlife has also increased. Using qualitative research methods, this study sought to explore midlife career transition and identity. Data was offered on the experiences of midlife career transition in a sample of eight participants, with findings indicating that participants experienced increased acceptance of uncertainty, increased flexibility, increased self-awareness, and increased identity congruence.
In furtherance of the field of art therapy, this study also yielded data on the use of visual journaling during a career transition. Visual journaling offered the researcher a creative outlet to explore the participant data. In this way, it led to reframing of the researcher’s perspectives on her career transition and may serve as a potentially effective art therapy intervention for individuals during and after career transition.