Speaking Vocational Identity into Being

Posted by: John Stewart on April 10, 2012 4:07 pm

I (Jeff) just finished reading Mark Savickas’ new book Career Counseling and in it, among other things, he makes a case for a change in how we as career practitioners see the development and implementation of vocational identity.  Traditionally (and this has been the approach John and I have used to expand on the idea of vocational identity in this blog) vocational identity has been presented as something that is present, or pre-existing, but is hidden and thus needs to be discovered.  As I see it, this is akin to having a lost brother, that one knows exists, and with some searching can be found and become a part of one’s everyday functioning. Savickas proposes, however, that vocational identity is, in fact, one’s vocational “thesis”, imposed over time on our experiences as we bring them to bear on the construction of the identity.  He explains it as the pattern we impose on our everyday realities to guide us in various social contexts.  Instead of a lost brother who becomes part of our functioning, this conceptualization of vocational identity resembles a brother created, rather than found, to fulfill one’s ongoing needs.  This created entity would change with growth and experience to better match functioning.

In thinking about this conceptualization of identity, I have arrived at the conclusion that there are likely two important components to developing a vocational identity:

1 The first is something I will call conscious determination.  Savickas says “Not everyone takes time to reflect on their work lives enough to build a subjective career”.  Experience counseling male young adults tells me that, for example, a young man only becomes an adult when he decides he wants to give up his youth and become an adult.  I believe that, in most cases, there is a conscious decision made at some point to leave behind one’s youth and take on the role of an adult.  This decision, albeit an important one, is only one part of the ongoing process of constructing an identity.

2 The second component is the importance of language.  The construction of an identity requires reflection on experience and reflection requires language.  To some extent I am talking about speaking identity into existence. Savickas expands on the importance of speaking to point out the necessity of co-construction of a vocational identity.  This speaks to the importance of telling another person about the various facts that support the constructed identity. The construction of a vocational identity becomes then, a family, and even community, project.  Language commits one to the facts and experiences that underlie the identity narrative.  The proposed necessity of co-construction speaks clearly to the need for significant others in one’s life during key developmental periods who can provide a sounding board for these identity stories.  In many cases, particularly in the past when the family unit was more likely to spend meals and leisure time together, this function would be served by family members.  With fewer of our youth engaging with adults in the home, the need for counselors who are skilled at facilitating the construction of the identity is increased.

Savickas, M. (2011). Career Counseling. Washington, D.C.: The American Psychological Association.

BY: Jeff Landine and John Stewart

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

0 comments on “Speaking Vocational Identity into Being”

  1. David Winter says:


    I’m not sure that it has to be either/or. Identity formation may well be a mixture of self-discovery and self-creation. Certain aspects of our personalities and preferences are almost certainly genetic in origin. Others, even though socially conditioned, may be so deep rooted that they are virtually hard-wired. Having said that, the human brain is proving to be more malleable in adults than was thought previously. Our personalities may be changed by strong experiences or intentionally by our own choices.

    There are a number of interesting perspectives on identity formation that I have blogged about over the years. Here are a few:
    – Identity formation and processing: http://wp.me/pCwmV-r6
    – Self-creation or self-discovery: http://wp.me/pCwmV-zY
    – Alternative selves: http://wp.me/pCwmV-zU
    – Narrative identity transformation: http://wp.me/pCwmV-yG
    – Intentional change theory: http://wp.me/pCwmV-vR

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