Pryor and Bright’s (2011) chaos theory of careers (CTC) focuses on how life and career cannot be predicted and controlled.

Plans may not go to plan, they may not work out, things may go entirely differently to the way we imagined. And that’s a fact we have to deal with.

You can find out more about CTC here, via Marc Truyens excellent site: 


I’ll admit it: In 2016, when I first heard about chaos theory, I wasn’t a fan.

Here’s what I wrote about it in a theory assignment:


“Addressing the potential danger of overemphasising agency, Pryor and Bright’s (2011) chaos theory of careers (CTC) recognises that career decisions are impacted by diverse, changing influences and chance encounters (Pryor and Bright, 2014). Integrating the stable positivist worldview with constructivist concepts of creativity, agency, and change, CTC can help individuals to embrace constancy and uncertainty in their lives and careers. CTC, which has echoes of Patton and McMahon’s (1999) systems theory framework, can be used to normalise the simultaneous “regularity and randomness” (Amundson, Mills, and Smith, 2014, p.18) of career while building clients’ resilience to prepare for and cope with change. It promotes objective planning of likely convergent career outcomes while supporting individuals to cope with complex, unpredictable emergent outcomes (Amundson, Mills, and Smith, 2014), arising from “strange attractors” (Pryor and Bright, 2014, p.6). Encompassing tools for practice (Pryor and Bright, 2014), CTC is reported to be useful in high school and university career counselling (Pryor and Bright, 2014), and with adult clients (McDowall and Peake, 2012), like those facing redeployment or redundancy following unforeseen organisation change.

Like narrative counselling (Bright and Pryor, 2005) CTC focuses on life patterns and processes rather than “predicting stable variables as outcomes”. As with narrative approaches, identification of emergent career patterns is subjective. Career patterns are influenced by the larger, ever-evolving patterns of the client’s life (Pryor and Bright, 2014); hence client’s conclusions may only serve them temporarily. Continuous reflection is, therefore, advisable to explain past and future career against career’s current context.

Though a strong explanation for career in a chaotic and complex world, CTC’s rational message risks alienating its intended audience. “Chaos ideas” of “complexity, connection, and chance” (Pryor and Bright, 2014, p.10) could overwhelm rather than inspire clients to plan for the expected and prepare for the unexpected. In seeking careers guidance, clients often to reduce rather than increase their uncertainty (Bright and Pryor, 2005), therefore may not want to discuss their vulnerability and lack of consistent agency in the face of intermittent, intense, and random change (Bright, 2010). Bright and Pryor (2005) argue that complexity is to be embraced not feared and that unwillingness to surrender utopian ideas of career (Bright and Pryor, 2005) can limit opportunities to benefit from unplanned or chance events. Therefore, practitioners should invite clients to reflect on positive experiences arising from happenstance (Krumboltz, 2011) to ready themselves for future possibilities. Despite Pryor and Bright’s recommendation, not all people can transition easily from “closed to open-system thinking” (2007, quoted in Amundson, Mills, and Smith, 2014, p.18).

CTC’s notions and terminology, including attractors, fractals, and phase shifts, are demanding, potentially limiting its use. Bright and Pryor (2005) admit that practitioners and clients find CTC notions hard to grasp, offering metaphors and analogies to illuminate core tenets. Despite their efforts, a theory that puzzles rather than simplifies and requires extensive explanation has some limitations.”


I’ll be honest. 

Underlying my critique was the plain fact that the idea didn’t fit into my idea of the world where agency and control could help you weave your own path. Agency and control had worked for me so far, within chaos, but I never really wanted to acknowledge the chaos.

I wanted to believe that I could blank out and/or control it. This probably won’t be a newsflash to you, but it was to me in 2023: I can’t. 

Chaos theory is right.


I’ll admit it, I was wrong.

Since 2016, I’ve become more aware of my dislike for chaos. In any form. It unsettles me. But in 2023 it got worse. Things felt so upside down, in my world and the wider world.

But over the past year, I’ve come to accept that chaos exists and chaos theory is valid.

I don’t always like how things are going. Sometimes I hate it, I’ll be honest. External events can make me feel bad about myself and make me question what I think I know about the world. 

But struggling against it is hard. That’s an understatement. At times, last year, it made me feel unwell, physically and mentally. It’s been hard work and it doesn’t solve it. When I opened my eyes, chaos was still there.

So I came to an agreement with myself. I can’t change what is outside of my control. But what I can do is draw on my resources, be who I am (even if that’s not for everyone), live true to who I am. Accept that what is external to me is external to me. But by being myself and living my values I can sleep easier and I can make headway. I might only make small impacts or changes but that’s enough. And perhaps the change is one I can live with and thrive in.  

I’m not going to get crushed by the enormity of everything. I can still bounce around. I might not make big impacts but I can use my energy to bump into things in a small way and see what that does. I’m not going to shut down, turn off, because that doesn’t solve it – chaos will still be there. 

We need to find a way to co-exist so that chaos can happen but so can I.



Amundson, N.E., Mills, and L.M., Smith, B.A, (2014) ‘Incorporating chaos and paradox into career development’, Australian Journal of Career Development, 23(1), pp. 13-21.

Bright, J. (2016) and Pryor, R. (2005) ‘The chaos theory of careers: a user’s guide’, The Career Development Quarterly, 53, pp. 291-305. 

Bright, J. (2010) ‘A twitter-brief summary of the Chaos Theory of Careers’, The Factory Career Development Blog & Podcast from Jim Bright, PhD, Bright and Associates, 14 September. Available at: http://www.brightandassociates.com.au/wordpress/a-twitter-brief-summary-of-the-chaos-theory-of-careers/ (Accessed: 12 January 2017).

Krumboltz, J.D. (2011) ‘Happenstance Learning Theory’, Journal of Employment Counseling, 48, pp. 89-91.

McDowall, A. & Peake, S. (2012) ‘A narrative analysis of career transition themes and outcomes using chaos theory as a guiding metaphor’, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 40(4), pp. 395-440.

Pryor, R.G.L and Bright, J.E.H. (2014) ‘The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC): Ten years on and only just begun’, Australian Journal of Career Development, 23(1), pp. 4-12.

Pryor, R.G.L. and Bright, J.E.H. (2011) The chaos theory of careers. New York, NY: Routledge.