Life Tasks Critical to Identity Formation

Posted by: Jeffrey Landine on April 7, 2011 4:09 pm

By: Jeff Landine and John Stewart

It is generally accepted that a stable identity is an important precursor to effective career decision-making.  The importance of self-knowledge to the career decision-making process has been recognized since Frank Parson’s 1909 statement, and forms a key foundational element in just about every model of career development and/or choice being used today. In the next few weeks we will address the role of identity and how it impacts career development and/or decision-making for young Canadian adults.

Identity can be viewed as developing and existing in different domains within the self-system.  Current notions suggest that the different dimensions of human development including physical, cognitive, social/emotional, moral, spiritual and vocational, all play some part in identity formation.  Skorikov and Vondracek (1998) expanded on the distinct role that vocational identity plays in the overall development of self-system.  Despite the possibility that different domains of identity exist, there are commonalities in the dynamics by which identity forms.  Grotevant, Thorbecke and Meyer (1982) point to the importance of exploration, making commitments, crises in interpersonal relationships, and interactions in social and work-related realms as key factors in identity formation.

Entrance into the world of work provides important feedback regarding one’s skills, interests and capacities, as well as providing clear indications of what one cannot do or does not like.  The life tasks of separating from one’s family, entering into long-term relationships, and developing values and meaningful life goals forces individuals to consider who they are, both psychologically and socially.  With the trend toward students staying in university longer, putting off entrance into the work world, and leaving their parent’s home, together with establishing long-term relationships, it could be hypothesized that the mechanisms of stable identity development extend later in life than was previously theorized.  These “crises” may often occur after vocational identity has been foreclosed (Marcia, 1966), resulting in unrealistic or ill-informed career decisions.

In the current consumer-driven approach to education, much pressure is placed on graduating high school students to make vocational decisions that have implications for the rest of their lives.  Perhaps the pressure from parents and educators for young adults to commit to the “perfect” career choice may foreclose the opportunity to learn from such experiences as exploring options, making difficult decisions, developing new interpersonal relationships, and learning from mistakes, and the contribution these make to identity formation.  Instead, more emphasis should be placed on helping young adults with understanding the role these life experiences play in forming a stable identity.


Grotevant, H. D., Thorbecke, W. L., & Meyer, M. L. (1982). An extension of Marcia’s Identity Status Interview into the interpersonal domain. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 11, 33-47.

Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego-identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 118–133.


Skorikov, V., & Vondracek, F. W. (1998). Vocational identity development: Its relationship to identity domains and to overall identity development. Journal of Career Assessment, 6(1), 13-35.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

3 comments on “Life Tasks Critical to Identity Formation”

  1. To the admin, You always provide in-depth analysis and understanding.

  2. Jeff Landine says:

    Hey Mark, I worked with Charles Chen at OISE/UT while completing my doctorate and came in contact with the idea of planned happenstance through him. I checked out the website you provided and found it quite interesting – the study referred to was very cool. it got me thinking about some other variables that could be related to the “I’m lucky” perspective. It seems to me that these people could also be seen as confident and lacking anxiety. From my experience, a perceived lack of confidence and anxiety can both also create a tendency to focus too much on details rather than being open to the experience. The students I have worked with who seem to benefit the most from career counselling typically are those who are confident and because of that confidence do just what you suggest – they are open to making connections with people and seeing how they can fit into an organization, believing that they can do the job. This brings to mind a concept brought to my attention by my co-author a few years ago. The people who can live with positive uncertainty – a state of being where the outcome is uncertain but the individual maintains a purposeful attitude of doing all that they can while waiting for resolution – typically are more able to see opportunities and possibilities also. Maybe these new and exciting views on career development should become the subject of a future post. Thanks for adding to this subject and stimulating my thinking.

  3. Thanks Jeff and John for these important insights. With respect to “Grotevant, Thorbecke and Meyer (1982) point to the importance of exploration…” it’s active exploration without getting mired in the expectations of career goals that yields effective results. One can lure luck out of hiding. How? From “planned happenstance” first put forward in 1999 by Mitchell, Levin, Krumboltz, to gleaning the life lessons from this recent 2011 insightful blog post about how to be lucky

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