Super Activity – Life Roles Worksheet

February 2, 2016

Last week, we provided an overview on a relevant career  development theory. Now that you have an understanding of Super’s Life-Span/Life-Space Theory, let’s take a moment to further explore its applicability to real life. We often see individuals dealing with a variety of issues that relate to this theory, including the following:

  • Many fellows have been intensely focused on their role as a “student” or a “trainee” and have a difficult time seeing how their skills and professional identity can transfer to a new role.
  • After a PhD and postdoc, more roles often get added and intensified, sometimes so rapidly that an individual doesn’t recognize that their values around these roles are changing.
  • Even if they do recognize that their values and priorities are changing, they don’t always own them or feel free to acknowledge them. This often happens in part because they have been in environments with less ambiguity and/or complexity.
  • Complexity often comes with additional roles. It can be harder to say what’s important when you are not only considering yourself, but your lab work, your mentor, your partner/spouse/significant other, your child(ren), your ill or aging parents, your leisure pursuits, and the list can go on and on.

Maybe some of these points resonated with you. Combining all of these factors with the need to find another job in a complex and often changing world of work can make things quite challenging to say the least.

As noted, Super’s theory challenges individuals to construct their own identification and understanding of all of their life-space identities. Your life roles will likely change overtime depending on your particular stage of life; however, also remember that not all roles hold the same value to you. Additionally, you might have a co-worker or a boss who highly values a life-space that seems unimportant to you. Given all of this, it can be hard to be introspective and identify what is most meaningful for you, right now in this very moment.

This can also be a useful framework to think about when trying to achieve life balance. A blogger created a Balancing Life Roles Worksheet, where you estimate how much time you currently spend in each role and how much time you would prefer to spend in each role. This can be a good way to keep tally; however, it also often helps to visualize it, so career counselors often recommend a life roles activity.

Draw a large circle on a sheet of paper. Then using this as a pie chart, divide the circle into various “life role wedges” that represent the different “hats” that you wear in your life. The size of the wedges should coincide with the prominence of each role. For example if you feel that a work or family role is how you primarily define yourself, then that role make take up a significant chunk of the circle. See the example below and try it out for yourself.

Image of a pie chart with different colored wedges representing a different life role.

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Career Development Theory Review: Super’s Life-Span, Life-Space Theory

January 25, 2016

Donald Super created a developmental model which emphasized how personal experiences interact with occupational preferences in creating one’s self-concept. Many theorists before him simply looked at personality and occupation and focused on a trait matching approach.

One of Super’s greatest contributions to career development was his emphasis on the importance of developing a self-concept, as well as his recognition that this self-concept can change with new experiences over time. Before this, career development was mostly seen as a singular choice; however, Super viewed career development as a lifelong activity.

This might not seem groundbreaking today, but it was a marked change from the way theorists thought when Super began formulating his theoretical concepts in the 1950’s. In addition to recognizing that people change over their lifetime, he also identified different areas or “life-spaces” that help make a person who they are. The six main life-spaces that make up who we are include: parent/homemaker, worker, citizen, leisurite, student, and child. So many of these roles imply that other people are involved in our lives and thus impact who we are. There are many other spaces in one’s life – other than work – and Super believed that these inhabited social spaces didn’t constitute a distraction but were an integral part of the rainbow of our lives. (Figure from http://career.iresearchnet.com/career-development/supers-career-development-theory/.)

Image of Super's Life-Span, Life-Space Rainbow

Super’s self-concept is the belief that our identities and by extension our career identities are a product of how we see ourselves. Our vocational choices put this concept into practice in the real world.

Super’s Five Life and Career Development Stages

1. Growth (Age: birth – 14)
Characteristics: development of self-concept attitudes, and general world of work

2. Exploration (Age 15 – 24)
Trying out classes, work, hobbies; tentative choice and skill development

3. Establishment (Age 25 – 44)
Entry-level skill building and stabilizing work experience

4. Maintenance (Age 45 –64)
Continual adjustment process to improve position

5. Decline (Age 65+)
Reduced output, preparation for retirement

The stages that Super outlined are guides looking at a macro-perspective of one’s life. These stages often correlate with important events and denote a time of transition. Look at the stages and see where you fit in. Do you agree with how they are laid out? Some critics have argued or adjusted these stages and say that the language used is too deeply rooted in a 1950’s perspective.

Either way, if you are looking for a key takeaway in reviewing this theory and trying to find a practical application to your life, then simply remember this. Super’s work was important because his idea of the self-concept profoundly changed the field of career development.  It challenged individuals to construct their own identification and understanding of their life-space identities including that of their careers. Take a moment to think about and list all of the roles (scientist, parent, yogi, dog owner, caregiver, student etc.) you assume in your life. These roles will likely change depending on your life stage.  Super’s theory is a good reminder that an individual’s life situation changes with time and experience while noting that the concept of vocational maturity may or may not correspond with biological age. People may find themselves in the Exploration stage at 35 years-old since people tend to cycle through these stages when they go through career transitions.