Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Understanding Midlife Career Renewal: Implications for Counseling

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Understanding Midlife Career Renewal: Implications for Counseling

Article excerpt

The thesis of this article is that sufficient and convincing research evidence has accumulated to indicate that a sixth stage of career development-career renewal-occurs for many people between the end of the establishment stage and the beginning of the maintenance stage. This article explains why a renewal stage was overlooked in the 1940s and 1950s, clarifies the meaning of renewal as it applies to career development, compares the transitions of men and women in their early 40s, and offers suggestions for the counseling of clients who are dealing with the task of career renewal.

No career theorist has generated more interest in stage theory as it applies to career development than has Donald Super, who described five stages of a career: growth, exploration, establishment, maintenance, and decline (Super, 1957). In 1984, Super referred to the series of life stages as a "maxicycle" (p. 195) and, in addition, used the term recycling to suggest that, within each transition, people may reenter a prior stage for a while. For example, some individuals return to exploratory tasks as they reevaluate their goals, abilities, and life career plans. Additionally, Super (1984) indicated that "each transition involves a recycling through [all of] the stages, 'a minicycle' " (p. 200). According to Super, this process occurs several times over the course of one's career and can occur many times for people who are frequent career changers.

Although Super added the concept of recycling within each transition and thus promoted the minicycle as an abridged form of the five-stage maxicycle, he did not contend that recycling is another, repeated, life stage. Furthermore, if one uses the criteria for identifying stages outlined by Williams and Savickas (1990), recycling does not qualify as a distinct stage. In addition, there are no marker events (Le., a period "marked by relational and personal changes"; Schlossberg, 1985, p. 13) that signify entrance into the stage, and there is no evidence of permanent change occurring within the individual.

Counselors who rely on the notion of career constancy midway through the establishment stage may be perplexed by the concerns of adults who are 35 to 45 years old and in transition, because Super's theory does not account for significant career change in midlife. Presumably, it is in this decade that most workers complete the tasks of establishing themselves and are maintaining their careers. During the maintenance stage, workers may fine-tune their skills but little growth or discovery is believed to occur. These midlife stages, as proposed by Super (1953, 1957), were left largely unchallenged until Murphy and Burck (1976) coined the term renewal to describe a period of doubt and self-examination that could be followed by a renewed commitment to career issues.

This article explains midlife career renewal as it is currently understood and discusses traditional and innovative career counseling approaches that can be used to help people who confront career renewal issues.


Super (1981) indicated that his theory of career development flowed, in part, from Buehler's (1933, 1935) life-stage framework of growth, exploration, establishment, maintenance, and decline. Buehler's framework, based on autobiographies of older people gathered by her students at the University of Vienna, assumed that little change occurred once an individual reached adulthood. Because this assumption did not account for significant events in adult career development, midlife renewal (as a separate stage of career development theory) was not formally recognized until Murphy and Burck identified it as such in 1976. This new stage was later confirmed and discussed by Riverin-Simard (1988), who interviewed 786 adults from the Quebec metropolitan area, and by Williams and Savickas ( 1990), who examined the career concerns of 136 adult, maintenancestage workers. …

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