Career theory: The one I was wrong about


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: (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.


A creative technique to help you reflect on your learning journey

What skills do you need to have a positive career?


Image by Manfred Steger from Pixabay

There are six career development skills that we all need to have positive careers (CDI, 2020). You can find out what they are here: or scroll down to see them below.

This post focuses on one of these skills in particular: ‘Grow throughout life by learning and reflecting on yourself, your background, and your strengths’. 

Reflecting on yourself and where you have come from can be a useful way to see how far you’ve come and to think about what the future may hold.

The video below shows one way you can approach this kind of reflection. My video focuses on my learning to date, but you could use it to make sense of other aspects of your career story or identity, including your experience or your strengths. You may wish to talk through your thoughts and feelings after with a qualified careers professional (details below).

When I first tried this technique in one of Dr. Barbara Bassot’s Transforming Practice through Critical Reflection (TPCR) sessions, I remember feeling really surprised about what came out of me. The creative approach uncovered thoughts and emotions I had not consciously realised. I still use this exercise today to reflect on my learning and career. Thoughts, feelings, and situations change, so it’s worth revisiting. I regularly use this exercise with my clients. I’m sharing today in case it’s useful to you too.

Even if you can’t draw (like me), don’t let it stop you.

Creative techniques like drawing can draw out feelings and reactions that you didn’t previously consciously recognise before.

Reflecting on my reflection.

Looking back on this reflection, I realised at this time I was thinking about the places I studied and the qualifications I gained. But this wasn’t the only way I learnt. In the time I described as a down time in my learning journey, I learnt: 

  • How to do a Tesco shop with an 18-month-old and a newborn
  • How to adjust to working at home
  • How to cook
  • How to balance and share my time when it seemed in short supply
  • How to manage the unexpected
  • How to set up a business
  • And much more! 

Learning does not just happen via courses or in schools, colleges, or universities.

It can happen in all sorts of ways – on the job, through life experience, via our hobbies and interests, through media and reading, and through interactions with others. It happens throughout our lives. 

It can be fast or slow. It can be hard or easy. It can happen when we seek it out, and when we don’t. Sometimes we realise we have learnt something straight away, other times it takes a period of time (days, months, years) to process and recognise what we have learnt. 

Reflecting on our journey so far can be powerful and revealing. It can help you to move forward and consider what is next for you.  

Are you up for giving it a go? 

If you do give this a try, talking it through with a Registered Career Development Professional (RCDP) can help.

You can book a personal career guidance session with me, or browse the CDI’s listing of Registered Career Development Professionals who are qualified to provide personal careers guidance/coaching. 



Bassot, B. (2016) ‘TPCR 1b Experiences of learning’ [PowerPoint presentation]. MACM TPCR module.  

CDI (2021) Career development framework: How to have the career that you want. Available at: (Accessed: 13 May 2021). 

Hambly, L. and Bomford, C. (2018) Creative Career Coaching: Theory into Practice. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 


Job Search Strategy Call


Just starting your job search?

Unsure where to search for opportunities?

Or job searching for a while and find you are hitting a wall?

Fed up with looking in the same places, without success?

Keen to find new sources of jobs?

Losing heart with applying for advertised roles and never hearing anything back?

 Pause for a minute.

Maybe it’s time to reflect and reframe.

A job search strategy call can help. The meeting is focused on you, and will be tailored to meet your needs.

We can start by talking through:

  • What you are looking for
  • Where you are currently looking
  • How your current strategy is working for you

Once we have laid the foundations, we can agree an agenda for the rest of the call, ensuring you get the answers you need to move forward.

For example, we could use our time together to discuss:

  • Where else you can go to find advertised roles
  • How you can access the hidden job market to support your career goals
  • Growing your network to facilitate your job search
  • Using social media sites for job search
  • The tools you will need to apply (e.g. CV, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, application form competency examples)

It might be that you’d prefer to cover something else related to your job search. That’s fine. You can decide.

Your call will last around 45 minutes and after the session you will receive links and resources to help you move forward.

Sound good? Place an order, and email me at to arrange our call.

Client Testimonial, June 2020

A client testimonial, June 2020

I was touched to receive this testimonial from a client. It is a pleasure and privilege to work with others as they think about their career. 

“If you are ready for a big, bold career move, want careers advice, guidance on how to create an awesome credible, compelling, shining CV, or simply want to discuss tools and mechanisms to promote yourself or your business, then I cannot recommend Lis McGuire highly enough.”


My Personal Career Guidance Story

I am a 49-year-old, retiring Police Sergeant, who has had a successful 30-year-long career in the Police, still willing and ready to work but one that had never written a CV before and one that has not had to consider ‘careers advice and guidance’ for some significant time.

However, having engaged with Lis over a number of weeks, I now realise the assets I have accrued during my career.

It is through my interaction with Lis that has helped me ‘identify, extract, discuss and assist’ me in my exploration and reorientation for future careers and in the development and evolution in what I can only describe as a professional, concise yet compelling CV, which I am extremely proud of, as it tells my story, with purpose and direction, and an almost guarantee of being noticed, when tendered for employment. 

When I discussed leaving the service with Lis, she readily identified my anxieties and disorientation and offered me the services she proudly provides, without any hard sell or pressure. I know of others too, that she has assisted and helped, who are now going on to newer and exciting things.

I had no idea of how to ‘crunch’ 30 years in to 2 pages of A4, or how to ‘identify and showcase all of my skills and abilities’ or even how to identify the type of new employment I fancied, let alone where to look and apply!

Lis took me on a journey of exploration, through 1-2-1 phone meetings, email conversations and even being flexible in her approach to arrange a 1-2-1, Covid-19 social distanced meeting.

The meetings have proven to be priceless.

In no time at all, the anxieties have been replaced with feelings of excitement and an openness about what lies ahead, with little to no fear.

Why? Lis that’s why, her intervention with me has opened my mind up to a whole range of potential working fields and also how to find the opportunities, what I need to apply for them, how to apply and the icing on the cake?.. a fantastic, powerful CV that will definitely open some doors.

Furthermore, a revitalised confidence in myself and recognition of what I am about, in order to do this. Having worked through my CV with Lis, I know it will make me aim high, stand tall and get spotted.

To conclude, a few personal words that describe Lis.. professional, confidential, encouraging, supportive, dynamic, hard-working, focussed, determined, patient, kind, knowledgeable, effective, understanding, realistic, interested, passionate, flexible, charismatic, credible, motivated, enthusiastic, efficient…  

I cannot thank Lis enough. I cannot recommend her highly enough. An absolute find.” 

Find out more about what you can expect from a personal career guidance meeting with Sunrise Career Guidance here.

You can also read other client testimonials on my LinkedIn profile. Please visit the Recommendations section.