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Easy does it: an innovative view on developing career identity and self-direction

Tom Luken (Luken Loopbaan Consult, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 4 December 2019

Issue publication date: 19 March 2020




A generally held belief in the field of career development is that career attitudes and abilities, including identity and self-direction, can and should be developed in school programmes with a cognitive focus. The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to question this belief, and second, to provide a new perspective on career development that may inspire innovations for career science, and guidance during the lifespan.


Specific questions are formulated and answered on the basis of sources mainly stemming from neurosciences and different sub-disciplines of psychology. On the basis of a systems theory, a new approach is proposed.


Current approaches in career guidance are at odds with findings and insights from developmental sciences and brain research. Several risks of current approaches are described. One risk is identity foreclosure. Another risk involves the development of ineffective ways of thinking and decision making. A control theory that stems from cybernetics is proposed to offer an alternative view on career development.

Research limitations/implications

One implication for research is that long-term longitudinal approaches are required to fully clarify the development of self-direction and identity. Furthermore, the building and testing of models of career development based on dynamic systems theories is recommended.

Practical implications

The main implication for career practices and policies is that self-direction and identity are no realistic aims for most students. Instead, it is recommended to relieve the pressure associated with career choices for young people, and to give more time, room, stimulation and guidance for exploration and reconsideration, for adults as well. Guidance should consist of offering sufficiently varied work experiences, and counselling when individuals experience conflicts that impede direction finding. Not too much emphasis should be put on reflection and rational thinking. Acceptance and commitment therapy is recommended as an approach offering many useful insights and instruments that may inspire career professionals.


This paper questions a mainstream approach and offers an original point of view.



Luken, T. (2020), "Easy does it: an innovative view on developing career identity and self-direction", Career Development International, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 130-145.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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