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Lesson 1: (Bereshit): The earth was unformed and void: The emerging career identity
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw
“When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:1–2)
At the beginning of creation, there were no distinct entities; it was all a jumble––“unformed and void.” The essential ingredients were there, but they needed to be distilled and differentiated: Once God created light, it could only be appreciated when separated from the darkness.
Then, God needed to separate the waters above the firmament (sky) from those below, on the ground. The next step was to gather the water on the ground and divide them into units to be called seas, thus, separating these bodies of water from the land masses and clearing the path for vegetation growth. Additional separations included launching the celestial bodies that would help distinguish night from day. We are left with the impression that the raw material was at hand during the initial days of creation, but the essential components needed to be differentiated from one another to make them functional. We will use these images to learn how individuals become aware of their emerging career identities.
When I meet bright young adults in career counseling, I am often astounded by their seeming lack of direction but mostly by their lack of self-awareness. They were expecting the career expert to administer whatever tests and questionnaires were available and then tell (inform?) them what field would be the best to pursue.
At the beginning of many of these sessions, I saw no semblance of introspection; it was as if their career identity was “unformed and void.” It became my task to help them tease out the critical raw building blocks of their career identities.
What were the critical V-alues, I-nterests, S-kills, and A-bilities ––VISA  ––needed to make up this identity? These clients needed help from an outsider who would review their non-work experiences to help them identify what was important to them in social interactions and other activities, what piqued their interest and made the time fly for them, what skills they had that others had noticed, and what natural abilities helped them excel in specific endeavors. Systematically scanning high school events, their gap year, military experiences, and summer jobs often yielded critical insights. My clients would then begin noticing or acknowledging patterns, realizing they are no longer “unformed and void.”
- How did they get along with their teachers, bosses, and group leaders?
- As they think about their life experiences, what stands out today?
- Did they prefer following or leading?
- Did they enjoy long talks with friends, or did “doing stuff” or “fixing stuff” attract their fancy?
- What do they remember of their family and friends complimenting them?
- What drives them today? How do they like to spend their spare time?
- What has become critical for them as they contemplate a work setting?
Perusing their responses would help them organize a heretofore unarticulated collection of insights from which their career identity would likely sprout. A jigsaw puzzle metaphor comes to mind.
My goal as a career counselor and coach was to help my clients sift through and evaluate the various pieces that were discussed and bring together those that shared a certain color, shadow, or contour. Sometimes we managed to put the puzzle together by the end of our time together. At other times, the client departed with tools to complete their puzzle at home, perhaps after recruiting others to join in. Jigsaw puzzle aficionados know that once you have completed the frame, filling in the puzzle becomes easier. So is your frame orientation technical, social, outdoors, managerial, and so on? Knowing what is critical for you allows you to be more flexible in filling in the details (OK, that’s where the jigsaw puzzle breaks down – most puzzles have only one solution; careers have many more).
Critical to my understanding of this process of self-revelation was when a young man who wanted to plan out his career came to me at a total loss of where to start. He was in the waiting room with his girlfriend when I called for him. About five minutes into the session, he asked me sheepishly if it was OK if his girlfriend could join us, and I did not object.
The rest was history (for him and me). His girlfriend proved to be an active participant in our conversation. She helped him recall aspects of himself that he seemed to block: “Don’t you remember when you were the one to lead our group out of the forest when we lost our way?” “But you are good at mechanical work. Remember when you fixed that leaky faucet that drove me crazy?”
This enlightening encounter inspired me to develop a model of couple career counseling that proved beneficial to many couples. For anyone, especially those having difficulty with introspection or those plagued with self-doubt, involving a trusted other (such as a peer, partner, mentor, or neighbor) will help them discover themselves more fully and highlight the critical elements of their career identity.
Points to Ponder:
- Sharing your career deliberations with a significant other will surely enhance the quality of your next career decision. You may have already worked out the various benefits and shortcomings as you see them, but receiving some outside input will likely introduce factors you initially viewed as peripheral but could prove to be more substantial than you thought. Bringing your significant other in on your plans will provide you with the additional benefit of having that person’s support. They will be there for you as you encounter the inevitable ups and downs, transitioning into your new study or work situation.
- We all adopt narratives that aim to make sense of our careers, ranging from our school years through our working years and beyond. Sometimes, though, we identify ‘black holes’ that comprise a void that we claim had no bearing on our career. It may not seem like it, but if you look closely (and less emotionally), this experience probably included a least a smidgen of positive impact.
- Try this: Identify one of these ‘black holes’ (e.g., My work at Acme Services was a total waste and useless for my career). Think again about how that ‘black hole’ experience helped you in subsequent years: Did it help you clarify what you needed to avoid in the future? Did it put you in touch with some significant colleagues or friends? What skills did you learn in that experience that benefited you later? Your results will help you revise your career narrative so that all of your experiences will prove to have contributed something to your career toolbox that will accompany you on your career journey.
 Breisheet–Hebrew for “In the beginning”—refers to the first of 54 weekly portions of the Five Books of Moses (Torah), read in order in a yearly cycle during Jewish Sabbath prayer services.
 Gen. 1:4
 Gen. 1:7
 Gen. 1:9–10
 Stiles, D. (2015). The difference between values, interests, skills, and abilities. Recruiter.com.
 Benjamin, B. A. (1992). Career counseling with couples. Journal of Counseling and Development, 70(4), 544–549.