Career Design Lab

Question assumptions

What are the assumptions you guide your career decisions by?

There are a variety of beliefs about careers and expectations of how they should evolve. The trouble is that we often take our assumptions for granted, without examining them. Whenever you are considering the next steps in your career, it is a good idea to check that you are aware of the assumptions guiding your choices. Even though certain career paths and accomplishments are valued or praised in your culture, they may not be the right path for you.

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Job, career or calling?

One way to assess your expectations is to consider your overall orientation towards work. Do you want a job, a career or a calling? 

  • Job orientation: you would be happiest with a well-paying job that allows for a good work-life balance and time for your other interests outside of work
  • Career orientation: you are driven by the desire to advance as an expert or a leader, gain responsibility, status and/or wealth and build a career in the traditional sense of the word
  • Calling orientation: you see work as an important part of your identity and an arena for self-expression and fulfillment

This classification, originally proposed by professor Amy Wrezniewski (Yale School of Management), is a simple but useful tool to help you determine what kind of career paths you may want to explore. However, as later research has shown, these orientations are not disctinct and they can change over time.


What is currently your primary work orientation?

What narrative are you living by?

Another way to examine your career expectations is to consider the role of narratives.

Master narratives are culturally shared stories that shape how we understand, value and guide our career paths. We adopt these stories from our culture and the groups we belong to: family, organizations, education, gender, ethnicity, occupation etc. Normally we are not aware of living by such narratives because we have internalized them to the point of thinking they are the reality. Yet, there are always alternative narratives and ways of seeing your career.

Whatever the narrative you are living by, it shapes your understanding of what a good career is made of and the steps you need to take to get there.


Think about your past career path and the choices you have made and consider the following questions:

  • How has your family, gender, education, organisation, profession, or any other group shaped your values and choices in your career?
  • What narrative would you say you have been guiding your career by?
  • How does this narrative shape your expectations? In other words, what are the assumptions the narrative makes about a good career and the steps to get there?
  • Can you think of any alternative career narratives that you might want to live by?
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Design a Meaningful Career (external link)

In this self-paced online course you will learn how to shape your career as you go in the radically changing world of work.

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