‘My career has not been linear, I have just made the best decision I could at the time.’

Tim Costello, World Vision

Your environment is dynamic… and so are you. Life is complex and you will need to adapt your goals to manage your life around constant change. Reflect for a moment on where you are now – could you have predicted your course of study and your part-time job a few years back? Careers Chaos Theory, developed by Jim Bright and Robert Pryor, challenges the idea that careers can be seen as linear and rationally planned (Pryor & Bright, 2003).

Key elements of Careers Chaos Theory

• Our careers are frequently subject to chance events. Research has indicated that 70% of people experience chance events that impact on their career.

• Our careers are subject to non-linear change. Sometimes small steps have profound outcomes, and sometimes changing everything ends up changing nothing.

• Our careers are subject to continual change. Sometimes we experience a slow shift that results in us drifting off course without realising it. Sometimes our careers have dramatic changes which completely turn our world upside down.

One way to gauge this theory’s relevance to you is to reflect on your own experience in dealing with chaos and chance events.

What’s your experience of upredictable events?

How have your education and employment experiences been affected at different stages by:

• personal or work relationships?

• previous work experiences?

• people you’ve met through social activities?

• some information provided by ‘a friend of a friend’?

• an injury or health problem?

• unintended exposure to a type of work or activity that you found interesting?

• unintended exposure to a type of work or activity that you didn’t enjoy?

• moving your place of residence?

• unforeseen barriers to your previous career plan?

• other unplanned or unexpected events?

(Source: Bright & Pryor, 2003)

Reflect on specific events. What happened? How were you affected? What decisions did you make? What did you learn?

What uncertainty means for your career

Careers Chaos Theory acknowledges complexity, unpredictability, sensitivity to change and the non-linear career paths of individuals. It highlights the need to incorporate the possibility of change, unforeseen circumstances and alternative outcomes into your career plans. Be aware that every decision (no matter how small) can impact on the future and make sure you assess and revise your goals on an ongoing basis.

‘70% of people state that a chance event significantly changed their career.’

Bright, Pryer & Harpham, Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 2005

Find out more…

Hear what Jim Bright has to say about accepting career change.

Read about the role of luck and chance in careers.

Discover how action goals can bring luck to career planning in a unpredictable world.