If you’re one of the 2500 people who have signed up to our Brave Starts monthly newsletter, you’re probably thinking you might want to change, or return to a career. You might have been infused with the idea that you must – for King and country! What other way are you going to sustain your health and wellbeing into the increasing likelihood of a longer life and the precarious idea that the state’s financial resources will support you when you need support most?

But what about that career you have had up to now? How was that? What did the idea of a career mean to you, and is that idea something you want to return to? Is it ‘a career’ you really want? Or do you just want to ‘do something’ and forget about all the connotations of a career?

Your answer to those questions could depend on how you define ‘a career’ - and there’s no one definition around.

In 1961, Professor Harold Wilensky of University of California defined a career as a “Succession of related jobs, arranged in a hierarchy of prestige through which persons move in an ordered (more or less predictable) sequence.” In 1997, Professor John Arnold of Loughborough University used another definition, “The sequence of employment-related positions, roles, activities and experiences encountered by a person.” Christopher Grey of University of London suggested, “Career as a project of the self” in his accounting case study presentation paper.

Do any of these definitions reflect what your career meant to you?

Some darker examinations of careers, including Grey’s, talk about how we regulate ourselves to comply with implicit or explicit requirements for sustaining existence in an organisation or a particular line of work.

Alan McKinlay of University of St Andrews suggested that modern careers based on merit and open competition unfolded and became firmly established in Scottish Banking in the decades before World War one. McKinlay’s 2002 study, ‘’Dead-Selves: The Birth of the Modern Career’ suggested that ‘for banks, the career was a highly efficient form of supervision that relied heavily on individuals’ self-regulation. For the individual, conformity resulted in promotion and career progression.’

McKinlay also suggested that the offer of a career was ‘a promise’ made to individuals in return for years of discipline, so that we can make of ourselves what we want. Our own identity aspirations are core to this idea.

Based on these darker interpretations of the reciprocal relationships that can exist between organisations and individuals, this author’s own definition of a career has come to read, ‘Our best attempt to maintain our dignity, whilst navigating economic and social systems we didn’t design.’

It’s possible that the government’s desperation with over 50’s who have gone missing from work might be ignoring the repellant effect of the careerist nature of modern organisational management structures and practices. People who have experienced freedom from those practices and expectations might not be so keen to go back to them.

Looked at in these contexts, is ‘a career’ something you really want? Perhaps, broadly speaking, you are the person you’re happy being and you simply want to do something that meets your needs – financial, social, fun - now and as far into the future you want to look.

Whichever way you want to go, we at Brave Starts are happy to help.


Arnold. J., (1997). Managing Careers into the 21st Century. SAGE Publications Ltd. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446219034
Grey, C., (1994). Career as a project of the self and labour process discipline. Sociology, 28(2), p.p. 479-497.
McKinlay. A., (2002). ‘Dead Selves’: the birth of the modern career. Organization, (9)4, p.p. 595-614.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.