Career development on the road

Career development on the road

When developing your career, it is important to know who you are now and who you would like to be in the future. This requires sitting down and reflecting on your life, an activity that is often neglected, as its benefits are only visible later in life. We tend to focus on the short-term, the work that needs to get done this week or this month. Career development requires long-term thinking. If you are working on your career, the first step is to be clear about who you are.

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Self-concept: Who are you?


If you would describe yourself, how would it sound? What social groups would you use to refer to yourself. This might sounds like stereotyping who you are, but the social groups you identify with guide the norms and values you use on a daily basis. For your career development, being able to describe who you are, helps making decisions. Psychologists call your description about who you are, your self-concept. Your self-concept is a combination of

  1. Your description about who you are. This is your self-representation. It contains your goals, values, role models, traits etc.
  2. How elements in your description relate to each other. This is your self-concept structure. A crucial part is the clarity with which you describe the elements. Other attributes of self-concept structure are the complexity of your self-concept in terms of how the different parts of your identity relate to each other. Taking your self-representation and your self-concept structure together, you get your self-concept. In the academic world this is defined as:

[Your] self-concept is a clearly and confidently defined, internally consistent, and temporally stable [description about who you are].

Campbell et al., 1996, p. 141

In other words, a good self-concept needs: Clear and understandable words and sentences, and a good feeling about your description about yourself. Your description should not change every minute, but it can change over the long term.

How to get a clear self-concept?

To remind you, a clear self-concept is important for career development so that you can make the right decision. The proof that you are clear on who you are is that

  • You can describe who you are in clear words understandable for everyone, also people from different backgrounds.
  • You feel right when you describe yourself.
  • Your description does not change within short time intervals, such as every other day.

The following question is how to get a clear self-concept ? Research shows that life events such as getting kids, divorce, or losing your loved ones pushes people to reflect on who they are and developing a clear(er) self-concept.

Now, it might sound like getting a good idea about who you are, isn’t something in your reach. But bear with me. There is one other way: Leave your home country, and venture abroad.

How can an international experience benefit your career development?

get clear self concept

Going abroad can give you the right stimulus to reflect on your life. However, before you pack your bags, you should know a bit more about how going abroad can help you develop a clear self-concept.

Reflect on what you experience

First, going abroad can help you develop a clear self-concept because you can be confronted with experiences that are contradictory with your current values, norms and way of living. These experiences create a cognitive dissonance in you that you have the chance to resolve. Thus, it is the reflection on experiences while being abroad that helps you develop a clear self-concept. Researchers call this type of reflection self-discerning reflection, when you reflect if part of your current identity truly reflects who you are. If you always lived in one culture, you are immersed in this culture, and do not experience other ways of living. Simple things like eating breakfast can differ a lot, and give you a different perspective about what food is “normal” to eat at a specific time.

Immerse yourself in the new environment

Second, it is the depth of your international experiences that help you develop a clear self-concept, and not the breath. In other words, the quality of your international experiences matter, not the quantity. If you only spent a couple of days in a country, you have less chances to be fully immersed in this strange culture. This is a reason to practice slow travel instead of hopping countries.

Orient, consolidate, and validate

Third, your reflection will go through several stages: It will begin with an orientation. In that stage you are making sense of the new situation. You will see yourself as lacking something, this can be an ability or clarity about yourself. This is followed by consolidation, when you and the new situation are kinda “becoming one”, meaning you are trying to place yourself in the new situation. Here you are working on yourself, and try to improve through outside feedback or reflecting on yourself with or without support. Finally you are going through a phase of validation. This is when you passed the turning point and you are performing, in the sense that you demonstrate flexibility thanks to your reflection and are able to clearly describe who you are.

How knowing who you are benefits your career development

Looking at academic research on self-concept clarity, a host of positive outcomes are listed: job performance, adaption to stress, and psychological well-being. But most important with regard to career development, knowing who you are will help you form and make effective career related decisions. You will not be crippled by the abundance of choices, or anxious due to a lack of organization centric career paths. Effective career decisions manifest when the decision that you make about your career are accompanied with certainty about the decision and a high level of commitment and decisiveness.

Academic Bullet

  • Practice self-monitoring: Write down your experiences when going abroad. At the beginning this will be very descriptive, in the sense of “ I did this, and then that happens, and then that…”, but over time, you’ll include your emotions, and make inferences about why you reacted in a certain way, and understand better the values that guide you.
  • Seek to be immersed in a different environment. This can be going abroad, but if this is not possible, spent time in communities near you the are different to you, or watch movies that you normally wouldn’t. Just keep having an open mind.

If you are looking for help developing a clear self-concept, contact me for a coaching session.

Available Resources:

Fill out these questions to know how clear your self-concept is, and how good you are at reflection. Questions have been tested and vetted through academic research:Self-assessment tool: Who am I?

Download this short exercise to develop a clearer self-concept:

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