The traditional view of career, what one does on the job at work and the sequence of work-related positions throughout a person’s work history, has given rise to a holistic paradigm called career/life that includes the time and energy put into multiple roles simultaneously played throughout one’s life. Each role has the potential of positive or negative consequences for the other roles being played. This career/ life paradigm provides numerous outlets for meaning making and self-expression, and it identifies one major outlet, specifically the work role, for money making and sustenance.

Life/Career Emergence

Life/career paradigm first emerged in the 1970s as theorists and practitioners sought a new model and language (career/life or life/career) to more effectively describe and deal with the realities of individuals struggling with problems associated with balancing work and other life roles such as homemaking, marriage, parenting, and attending school to either enter or advance within the labor market. Many of these persons were midcareer changers, some of whom were women labeled as displaced homemakers and enrolled in women in transition programs. The new term, career/life, coined by E. A. Colozzi in 1977 and reported by E. A. Colozzi and F. P. Haehnlen in their work in Hawaii and the Pacific Basin Rim region, was initially utilized for older adults in transition and later expanded to younger students in college and school-aged youth. Perhaps the most articulate and visually appealing representation of this model is D. E. Super’s life/career rainbow that depicts the nine major roles played by people throughout the life-space and life-span continuum of their lives. His conception of the term life/career and subsequent writings have introduced many graduate students to this new paradigm as they are taught how to effectively assist their clients with making decisions about work and life roles.

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Intertwined Career and Personal Issues

Paramount in the early development of this paradigm was recognition that people’s lives were complex and woven together with rich stories across life roles that provided important threads of relevance, informed decision making, and were all part of a continuous life journey that involved constant change and multiple transitions. Career and personal issues were now seen as intertwined, as they always have been. Work situations and relationships affect nonwork roles, and all of the nonwork roles directly affect the work role, including productivity and job satisfaction.

A divorce or unexpected death of a spouse can trigger a major transition for a woman who has primarily been a homemaker and finds herself trying to support her three children as a single parent while taking classes at a community college to prepare for employment. Suddenly the old rules are no longer relevant, and dramatic changes may have occurred across several life roles requiring adjustment, coping skills, and a discovering of a whole set of new rules for survival during her continuing life journey.

Vocational Guidance Roots

This paradigm shift has challenged the vocational psychology and the career development professions to better understand vocational behavior and to develop effective interventions that are relevant to this context of career/life. A brief review of the history of vocational psychology and vocational guidance will help one understand the emergence of career/life during the past 30 years.

In a comprehensive account of the antecedents that formed vocational psychology’s foundation, origin, and emergence, M. L. Savickas and D. B. Baker describe vocational psychology as a specialty within applied psychology that advances the scientific research and knowledge about vocational behavior resulting in the development and improvement of career interventions. Its prehistory is rooted in the early stages of vocational guidance that is linked to the emergence of large commercial cities in which the factory system shifted the American economy from agriculture to manufacturing accompanied by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration during the 1800s.

Research by Savickas and Baker describes how the change in population distribution gave rise to many problems related to unemployment, alcoholism, delinquency, and crime, all of which prompted the establishment of the first Boston branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in 1851 to improve the spiritual condition and mental culture of young men. This effort eventually evolved into a combination of counseling and placement activities in conjunction with vocational training programs for youth at a time when educators became interested in individual differences and in addressing industry’s need for more effective ways of matching people to new occupations.

The vocational guidance movement and the establishment of the profession, with the formation of the National Vocational Guidance Association in 1913 that has evolved into the National Career Development Association, is almost 100 years young. It was born in 1909 with Frank Parsons in New England, specifically Boston, Massachusetts. Parsons, a Boston University law professor and leading civic reformer who championed the needs of Boston’s poor population, is viewed as the founder of vocational guidance because his three-step paradigm of increasing self-knowledge, providing occupational information, and matching self to job (person to environment or P-E) using true reasoning is a conceptual model on which the field still rests, according to Savickas and Baker.

Person-Environment Matching Across Roles

The life/career model successfully incorporates the Parson’s P-E matching process for work-related decisions throughout the 7 to 10 job changes in several unrelated career areas most persons will experience in their work history. Additionally, it facilitates similar P-E matches across multiple life roles as individuals make choices about education, spousing, parenting, volunteer, and leisure activities, all of which affect each other and have the possibility of providing a sense of meaning and purpose.

The career/life model brings relevance to the learner role for students when they understand how the learner role and worker roles are closely connected. This can increase motivation and therefore increase student involvement and retention. Adults can use this paradigm to better understand the normal stressors involved in trying to balance parenting, work, and spousing activities to keep their relationships vibrant and healthy. Workers who are consider-ing retirement now have an effective perspective for remaining active and healthy both emotionally and physically as they sort out leisure and volunteer activities that still provide appropriate and fulfilling P-E matches in nonwork roles. Even young students in K-6 settings can use this model to better understand the importance of developing good work habits in their “jobs” at school—their learner role—as a way of preparing themselves for the next grade level and subsequent school-to-school or school-to-work transitions. A major benefit of career/life, perhaps the most important, is the opportunity for people to realize the multiple ways it is possible to experience meaning and purpose through activating combinations of several career/life roles, one of which can be work.

Future Challenges and Directions

The life/career paradigm is a response to societal changes resulting from further involvement with the information age. These include family structural changes where both spouses are often working while raising a family and acting as caregivers to aging parents, high divorces rates resulting in more single parents, increased stress related to work and nonwork roles, major technological advances often accompanied by new jobs and different ways of working, globalization, and the desire among many people to search for more meaning and purpose in their work and more balance in their lives as documented by E. A. Colozzi and L. C. Colozzi.

Some, such as D. L. Bluestein, have suggested that the career development field today has neglected the poor and focused mostly on those who are active participants in our educational systems and labor markets. This statement is probably very true, and more needs to be done with this population including the development of public policies that effectively deal with the career development needs of the poor.

Exciting challenges for the field of vocational psychology include initiating important research to advance knowledge about these issues, measuring career interventions, and informing public policy. Equally exciting challenges for the career development profession include promoting excellent career development interventions to effectively serve students in K-12 and postsecondary settings, workers seeking job changes, the unemployed (including the homeless, special needs populations, and other disenfranchised groups), workers planning retirement, and persons dealing with career/life conflicts across multiple life roles.

Perhaps the most important and exciting challenge is to strengthen the dialogue between the vocational psychology and career development professions so excellent research can inform and promote excellent career development practices that effectively facilitate the career/life decisions all people make.


  1. Bluestein, D. L. (2006). The psychology of working: A new perspective for career development, counseling, and public policy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  2. Colozzi, E. A. (1979). Career/life exploration and planning [Course syllabus available from Leeward Community College library archive. 96-045 Ala Ike—Pearl City, HI 96782].
  3. Colozzi, E. A., & Colozzi, L. C. (2000). College students’ callings and careers: An integrated values-oriented perspective. In D. A. Luzzo (Ed.), Career counseling of college students: An empirical guide to strategies that work (pp. 63-91). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  4. Colozzi, E. A., & Haehnlen, F. P. (1981). The impact of a computerized career information system on a community college in an island state. International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, 5, 273-282.
  5. Savickas, M. L., & Baker, D. B. (2005). The history of vocational psychology: Antecedents, origins, and early development. In W. B. Walsh & M. L. Savickas (Eds.), Handbook of vocational psychology (3rd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  6. Super, D. E. (1980). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 13, 282-298.

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