What Are the Career Doldrums?

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What Are the Career Doldrums?

The notion of the career doldrums is not a new one. Individuals have suffered from the symptoms associated with this concept for as long as jobs and careers have existed. What is new is the more open acknowledgment of the phenomenon. Judith Waterman, a career counselor in San Mateo, California, has seen her client base change significantly during the last 20 years. After beginning with reentry women in the 1970s, Waterman reports that "during the 1980s, [she] was seeing high achievers who were thinking, 'How did I get here and why am I not happy?' but they were keeping it under wraps." By the mid-1990s, however, she reports that it had become more acceptable to admit career dissatisfaction (Hornaday 1995, online).

Betsy Collard, another career specialist, believes that part of this trend is related to "how personally knowledge workers view their work and the meaning of it," but that it is also related to changes in the economy. "In times of change, everybody turns inward to get clear about what's important to them, who they are, and what they want out of this" (ibid.).

The career doldrums may also be associated with certain career stages. Careers are like lives in that they go through stages that frequently include transitions into new phases. One framework (Nicholson cited in Kidd 1998) for analyzing work transitions includes the following stages:

. The preparation stage that occurs prior to assuming a work role.

. The encounter stage that covers the early days of a career experience in which

individuals begin to make sense of the chosen career. This stage may include shock,

rejection, and regret.

. The adjustment stage that involves the period in which individuals learn to do their

work and make the adjustments necessary to reduce any dissonance between career

choice and personal traits.

. The stabilization stage in which job performance is the main focus. In this stage,

failure, boredom, and stagnation are not uncommon.

The symptoms associated with the career doldrums are most closely aligned with the stabilization stage. Individuals are not likely to become bored with or dissatisfied with their careers until they have had an opportunity to experience them for a while. Individuals who are in careers that are not a good fit may begin experiencing symptoms in the adjustment stage as they accommodate their careers to their personal traits and aptitudes.

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