A Different Look At CD Theory

I’ve decided that you can’t really understand careers without understanding some basic career development theory. But the problem with theory — any kind of theory, really — is that you can’t have a theory without making some assumptions. And it’s with the assumptions that the problems begin.


Most professional planners (yes, there are people who make a living making plans) understand that the difference between a “plan” and “action” (implementation of the plan) is that, when you take action steps, most or all of the assumptions go out the window. The assumptions either prove to be valid (and they’re no longer assumptions) or they prove to be invalid (and they’re no longer a factor).

When you’re planning your career, assumptions are everything. When you’re living and doing career, they are all but meaningless. And that should have a big impact on the importance of career development theory since theory itself is assumption-driven.


Are we saying there’s something wrong with career development theory? No! Are we saying there’s something wrong with career planning? Of course not! But what we are saying is that, when it comes to career, life matters! Life always seems to have a way of getting in the way of our plans and turning our assumptions into fodder.


So why have any assumptions? Why plan in the first place? What’s the purpose? What value is career planning and the underlying assumptions in our plans?

The first point to understand is that a good plan has to be flexible. There is, of course, an assumption in that statement. The assumption is that a plan can be changed without having to exchange it for a whole, new plan. But a good plan does much more for us.

A good career plan provides vision for life. It also gives us hope and direction as we step out into the abyss of “later” or “tomorrow.” So we plan. But perhaps even more important than vision, hope and direction is inspiration. A good plan inspires!

Planning is like breath for our lives. It can be fuel for the soul. Even when we fully understand that our plans will never work the way we planned them, still we plan. That’s because the plan tells us a secret. It tells us there is a way to get from here to there, wherever there might be. And the secret also reveals why it’s necessary for us to muster the resources and expend the energy necessary to move forward from where we are now.


Let’s close this short discussion on theory with another theory. Our theory is this: career is more than an idea. It is something dynamic! It is as alive as the person associated with it. But career apart from vocation (the distant call we hear in our hearts) can never fully be understood.

In a way, career is meaningless without vocation. And like life itself, we experience career one step at a time. The only step you and I will ever take in our careers is the next step. Career is just one step, but when taken many times over time in a consistent direction suggested by the quiet call we hear in our hearts, it changes our lives. It transforms us from who we are to who we were always meant to be. And that’s part of the secret of career.


What’s wrong with that kind of thinking? Nothing, of course. At least, not until you try to understand the assumptions behind it. In life, it always boils down to the assumptions, doesn’t it. Somehow, that makes career a lot like life! It makes career the adventure of a lifetime!



An Unplanned Encounter

[Article reprinted with permission from Vocation Works!]


“Yes, I have a few minutes,” I replied. “What do you need?”

This was a bit out of the ordinary, even for me. I was at this particular workforce center for the day to do a training. We’re often asked to go on site to train workforce and career development professionals. But this man was not on staff there. He was a customer. He was a client. He was one of the many locals who use workforce centers all across America for help with finding a job or surviving a layoff or something else like that.

“You’re the teacher for the people who work here. Right?” the man asked.

“Well, yes …” I replied, drawing out my response as I tried to anticipate what this man might actually want to talk to me about.

“These people need to know something,” the man went on. “Whenever I come in here, I’m thinking they’re really missing the point. Do you know what I mean?” he asked. “Do you get what I’m saying?”

“Honestly, no!” I said to the man, trying to be both polite and professional. “I don’t understand, but please tell me.”

“You know what a career plan is — right?” he asked.

“Yes, of course.” I said. And then, as if to make the point that I have some expertise with career planning, I went on to tell him, “I travel all around the country teaching career planning.”

“Oh,” he said. His eyes suddenly looked down and his disappointment was impossible to miss. He said quietly, “I’m sorry.”

“There’s no need to be sorry” I said. “Why would you be sorry?”

“For a moment, I thought you might be able help, but then,” he said, “when you said what you said, I thought you could actually be the reason they got this problem in the first place. I mean, after all, you are the one teaching them this stuff.” 

A bit surprised, I tried hard not to react to his unexpected response. I asked as professionally as I knew how, “Why don’t you just tell me about the problem. Let me try to figure out if there’s anything I need to do about it.”

The man stood quietly for a moment and then said, “Okay! I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this stuff you’re teaching these people, well … it just don’t work.”

“Of course, it works,” I said with a smile on my face. “You’ll have to tell me what you’re actually talking about though. What exactly doesn’t seem to be working for you?”

“Fair enough,” the man replied. “The whole thing! This whole career planning thing! It just doesn’t work. It ain’t for real! That’s what I’m talking about. The career plan they make us do ain’t real.”

Now I was intrigued. I really did want to hear more.

“You gotta have a plan!” I told the man. “Plans are important.”

“But these plans don’t work,” the man answered. “They never work. At least, not the way they make us do them. Nothing ever happens the way you plan it. Most of us who come in here already know that. We know the career plans don’t work. But the people working here — either they don’t know it, or they don’t care! They just keep making us work on these stupid plans. I don’t know nobody who ever got a job because of their career plan. And I was thinking that, well … maybe, if your job was teaching them, then you might be able to tell them to start having us spend more time on things that really do work.”

The quiet that followed lasted only a moment or two, but it seemed longer. The man finally broke the silence by asking, “Does that make sense to you, sir?”

“Yes,” I answered. “It makes a lot of sense. And I agree with you.”

I went on, “I agree that nothing ever seems to work the way we plan it. But still, we have to have a plan. As long as it’s flexible, your plan will actually give you the vision and direction and hope and inspiration you need to take those important, next steps in life. That’s what I teach the people who work in this workforce center. And I hope it’s something you might understand too.”

The man slowly turned and started to walk away. I called after him gently, “Does that make sense to you? Is that something you think I should tell the staff who work here?”

He stopped and turned around again.

“Maybe,” he said. “But why don’t you tell them that, in life, stuff happens. It don’t matter how good we plan! Stuff always happens. Tell them there’s more to life than the stuff we put in our career plans. So tell them not to fall in love with their plans. People and life! That’s the only stuff that really matters in the long run!”

With that, we parted company. We went our separate ways.


We learned a lot from that brief, unplanned encounter with a client (customer) in a workforce center. Here’s what really stuck with us:

  • While it’s true that most plans don’t work the way we plan them, it’s still important to plan.
  • Because plans never work out exactly right, a good plan is flexible. The easier it is to make adjustments, the more likely we are to succeed.
  • To make a good plan, we have to know (1) where we’ve been, (2) where we are, (3) where we’re going and (4) how we’ll get there.
  • A good plan delivers four great benefits: (1) vision, (2) direction, (3) hope and (4) inspiration.
  • Remember, it’s easier to adjust a good plan than to succeed with no plan.



Someone Else

[Article reprinted with permission from Vocation Works!]

We need to bring prayer back to the workplace. We need people of faith at work in our society today! One of the reasons we need to bring prayer and faith back to work is because, over the years, our workforce has shifted to the point that it is now driven by “someone else.”


“Someone else?” you might ask. “What does that mean?”

Think about it for just a minute. It’s gotten to be like the person in the car ahead of you on the highway who throws a cup or a bag or a cigarette butt out of the window of their vehicle. What were they thinking? Who did they think would contend with that later? Who’s yard would it end up in? Who would have to pick it up? You’re exactly right — someone else!


It’s all about someone else in today’s workplace. As long as you’re going to work (which is pretty much the rest of your life), there will be some things that just don’t go your way! In today’s workforce, however, who’s fault is it when that happens? It’s someone else’s? Anyone else but you!

  • When you don’t get the job you had really wanted, who’s fault was that? Someone else’s.
  • When you don’t get the promotion you had hoped for … or the office you had really been coveting … or the vacation schedule this year you had most desired, who was responsible for that? Someone else!
  • When your company is working on a big project and the costs start skyrocketing, causing the customer to ask uncomfortable questions and putting the whole contract at risk, who’s fault is that? Exactly! Someone else’s!


The truth is, in today’s workforce you have two main groups. They are the “Employer Group” (employers) and the “Workforce Group” (workers). These two groups share an important value in common, though most would never readily admit it. They both value “someone else.”


The employers are the people who own or control capital (money). They’re willing to trade their money (at least, some of it) to people in exchange for skills and the time necessary to accomplish whatever it is they want to accomplish. Employers also hold the keys to other benefits (like vacation, retirement, and some types of insurance) that workers want. These benefits are like enticements for people who have skills and time to give (sell to) employers.

From the employers’ perspective, while workers are valuable, it’s really skills and time they want to buy. They don’t buy people (the workforce). So, to the extent that someone else also has those skills and time, the employer is in the driver’s seat. And it’s just not wise for the employer to give all the company’s money away to the workers because the company might need some of that money for other things (like new facilities, marketing to new customers, paying investors a profit for their investments, and other stuff like that).

For the employer, there’s a limit. When it comes to the workers (the workforce), they’re really willing to pay only enough money so their workers will continue to trade skills and time with them instead of going down the street (or to another community) to work for someone else.


The workers, on the other hand, are people who own valued skills and the time necessary to help an employer stay in business. The workers are the ones who are willing to exchange their skills and the time of their lives (which is not endless) for some of the employer’s money and other benefits.

From the workers’ perspective, it’s all about living. It’s a life and death proposition, in a way. The worker needs money to pay for rent and utilities. Workers also need money for food and clothing. And they need money for other things that aren’t essential to life, but that make life more comfortable or more pleasing to live (televisions, new cars, and other stuff like that). But while the worker is willing to trade skills and time for money, they want to live — so they don’t want to exchange all their time for money or there’s no point in working in the first place.

Like the employer, there’s a limit for the worker too. The worker is willing to do just enough so the employer won’t decide to replace them with someone else who has similar skills and some time on his (her) hands.


It’s all about an exchange. The employers want something the workers have. And the workers want something the employers have. Both are interested in what the other can offer. But each has a primary interest in their own purpose for being in the game (the marketplace) in the first place. So they make the exchange.


The true power holder in the equation is “someone else.” As long as the worker can go to work for someone else, the employer has to keep stepping up to the plate to meet the needs of the workforce. And as long as the employer can replace the worker with “someone else,” the worker has to keep upping his (her) game too. The independent variable is always someone else.

For an employer to truly become special, powerful, or important in the marketplace, he (she) has to become the someone else that attracts the good workers. And in order for the worker to truly become secure in getting the money and other benefits they need in life, they have to become the someone else that employers are always looking for too!


Nothing of lasting value, however, is ever accomplished by an employer or a worker who is someone else. Good employers and good workers make communities and societies great. The good stuff in the world is always done by good people on both sides of the equation who are willing to step up to the plate. But that also means that there are people who push beyond their own personal needs and look for the good of everyone involved.

Pushing beyond your own needs is not natural! There’s something very special about it. It’s beyond the ordinary! That’s why we need praying people in the workplace. That’s why the workforce and its employers ought to be people of faith. It takes faith and prayer to move beyond yourself to the good of others.

Who do you want to be today? What do you want for your life to become? What do you want for your community? What do you want to leave behind as your legacy? Someone else will not determine that for you — you decide that!

Pray about it! Blessings!



The Commander


An old soldier, who was now a senior officer, was reflecting on his life one day. He never dreamed that it would turn out like it had, though all-in-all, it hadn’t been a bad life so far. But still, the commander wasn’t quite sure what it really meant to be who he was. So he decided to do a little research.

First he went to his teen-aged children and asked them, “Who am I?”

They looked at him a little strangely and said, “You’re our dad, of course.”

Then he went to his wife and asked, “Who am I?”

His wife replied, “You’re my husband.”

Afterwards he went to his soldiers and asked one of them, “Who am I?”

The startled soldier paused a moment and said, “You’re my commander, sir.”

He then went over to the commissary where his family shopped for groceries, and he asked one of the ladies at the cash register, “Who am I?”

Without even looking up, she said, “You’re a customer, sir.”

Finally, he went to the post chaplain and asked, “Who am I, chaplain?”

Expecting to be told he was a child of God (or something like that), he was surprised when the chaplain said, “Sir, you are who you are.

“But the real issue is that you’re going to become whatever it is you decide to do. So think carefully about what you decide to do with today.”


Don’t rush the self-assessment! Consider carefully your decisions, especially as they impact the work you do .  You will spend most of your life in work-related activities, so you are likely to become what you decide to do with your life.

Vocation works!