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!