Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Coincidence, Happenstance, Serendipity, Fate, or the Hand of God: Cases Studies in Synchronicity

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Coincidence, Happenstance, Serendipity, Fate, or the Hand of God: Cases Studies in Synchronicity

Article excerpt

Many counselors are aware that synchronicity-unpredictable instances of meaningful coincidence-can play a significant role in career opportunities, yet the phenomenon of synchronicity in the career literature is underrepresented. The purpose of this article is to discuss the occurrence of synchronicity in the career development process. A philosophical context is presented and provides a framework for understanding synchronicity. Through the presentation of 3 case studies, synchronistic themes are explored. Using various career counseling processes, each client developed an authentic identity and found meaningful work through an experience with synchronicity. Implications for counselors are discussed.

Historically, professional counseling, and specifically career counseling, has its roots in the work of Parsons (1909). His trait-factor, three-step approach to making vocational choices assumed that knowledge of self and knowledge about the world of work lead to a wise vocational choice through the process of "true reasoning." Influences on his work and on subsequent career development theory in the United States were formed out of the western European worldview of the last century, which was grounded in scientific reasoning. This modernist tradition emphasized fixed reality, universal truths, and linear causality (Rosen, 1996).

One tenet that shaped the direction of career counseling is the view that career development is linear, progressive, and rational (Gysbers, Heppner, & Johnston, 1998). The trait-factor approach developed in a deterministic system that assumed all factors were measurable and knowable. However, many counselors are aware that unknowable instances of coincidence, happenstance, and chance factors can play a significant role in career opportunities (Betsworth & Hansen, 1996). We propose that these factors point to the nonlinear and acausal phenomenon of synchronicity.

The purpose of this article is to explore the phenomenon of synchronicity in career counseling through the presentation of synchronistic themes in three field-based case studies. Each case presents an example of a client who ignored his or her own need for personal meaning in life and who had been stuck in a career unsuited to him or her. Various career counseling processes assisted these clients toward an understanding of their authentic interests, abilities, and values. When each client embraced his or her authentic self, each found meaningful life's work through an unexpected experience with synchronicity. Although synchronicity manifested differently in each case, each client attributed the effortless finding of his or her true life's work to the significance of its presence. Implications for career counselors are drawn from these examples.

A Philosophical Context for Career Counseling

Postmodern theorists have argued that humanistic, holistic, nonlinear realities are viable worldviews and are appropriate within the counseling context. The postmodern era emphasizes multiple realities, subjective experience, and recursive causality (Gergen, 1990; Thomas, 1996).

Humanists speak to themes of transcendence and connectedness. For example, Frankl (1959) addressed issues of meaning in life, Maslow (1971) discussed transcendent self-actualization as connected to spirituality, and Rogers (1973) considered the spiritual dimension. Transpersonal theorists proposed a combination of Eastern and Western integration of spirituality (e.g., Claxton, 1986). As the practice of career development as a worldwide phenomenon continues to grow, career theories and interventions that are created and implemented to meet cultural needs worldwide will increase (see Herr, 2001). These needs are very likely to include worldviews that are compatible with a holistic approach.

Despite a growing interest in the holistic approach within the counseling profession, many career counselors continue to rely solely on traditional, deterministic trait-factor approaches in assisting their clients to find meaningful life's work. …

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