At this time of year, it is common to look back over recent achievements and plan ahead to how we may dedicate our time and efforts in future. This approach is a key step in sustainable professional development and involves two of three stages of reflective thinking:
- Reflection on action – what have we done?
- Reflection for action – what are we going to do?
A third stage, Reflection in action, sits between these and focuses attention on what we are doing now. Monitoring our actions in the present is an important link between the past and future – what I call pastpresentfutureness. We have an opportunity to learn from previous experiences (good or bad) in improving our current lives. We can also consider changing direction or continuing a current trajectory in planning ahead.
Sometimes we make or face decisions that have the potential to fundamentally change our lives. The end of a year can seem a good time to take stock and decide to transform our professional or personal circumstances. Such reflection is a worthwhile exercise in critical thinking and enables us to apply higher order cognitive capabilities (drawing on Bloom’s Taxonomy) of analysing, evaluating and creating.
In my PhD research investigating career strategies in public relations, I developed an innovative timeline interview technique that enabled participants to reflect and think critically about their career experiences and possibilities. Analysis allowed them to identify connections and patterns in their career histories. Evaluation of the timeline drawings involved reasoned judgement of the past, present and future. Creativity is applied to gain original insight into career influences.
This process involves reflexive learning as it focuses on how we think about our career behaviours. A framework of factors can be considered affecting us at micro (individual), meso (occupational and organisational) and macro (societal) levels.
In reality, I found that most PR practitioners do not dedicate time to routine thinking about their careers. Generally they are reactive in responding to, or seeking out, career changes rather than proactively planning their career development. This is understandable in an occupation that lacks a clear career design and where the future can seem uncertain. Indeed, my research reveals the tendency to rely on opportunistic career strategies in public relations is long-established.
As a result, public relations practitioners – and the wider occupation – are missing out on the benefits of career reflexivity. In my experience, reflection for action is vital to identify possibilities and inform future career moves. Further, I contend that we need to dedicate ourselves through proactive career strategies if we are to turn our hopes for fulfilling careers into intentions, adaptive plans and actions.
Personally I look back over 2017 as the year I finally delivered on my intention to achieve my PhD. Reflecting on the dedication this involved, I have learned a lot about myself and ways that I can help inform sustainable career development in public relations. My proposal in my thesis of an original tapestry career paradigm challenges established theoretical models of a basis technician-manager dichotomy. Importantly, I argue that there is a need to develop customised career strategies and adopt reflexive professional development methods in practice.
You can hear me talk about career strategies in PR with Philippe Borremans in a recent Wag The Dog podcast here: https://www.acast.com/wagthedog/career-strategies-in-public-relations-with-heather-yaxley
What comes next is a question many people have asked me. Although I don’t yet have a clear answer, I know my 2018 plans require dedication to make them a success. And, as with the PhD, I cannot achieve what comes next on my own.
One of the greatest pleasures in finalising my PhD was writing the acknowledgements. This short statement allowed me to reflect on the support of others in reaching the end point of submission. Importantly these words of dedication are placed at the front of the doctoral thesis.
My PhD doctoral thesis: Yaxley, H., 2017. Career strategies in public relations: constructing an original tapestry paradigm. Doctorate Thesis (Doctorate). Bournemouth University is now published online. See: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/29913/
I’d like to end this post by sharing my acknowledgements. These started with a quote by Umberto Eco (from Foucault’s Pendulum, 1989) as a reminder of how our present selves develop continuously, whether we are paying attention or not. They end by giving thanks.
“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
This doctoral thesis is dedicated to everyone who has contributed towards the many interconnecting threads comprising my personal and professional career tapestry.
I am indebted to the research participants who kindly shared their career histories within this study. Their generosity stretches far beyond the canvas of this work.
With humility, I acknowledge the support of my supervisory team, Professor Tom Watson and Professor Candida Yates. Their guidance has been invaluable in helping me overcome the occasional knot in crafting my thoughts into a coherent design.
I am formed by many scraps of wisdom, not least from my much missed father. My amazing mother continues to be a source of inspiration.
Finally, I am forever grateful to the much loved few – who add colour to my world, purpose to my life and passion to my soul. We know that a kite flies against the wind, not with it.
The photograph is of a Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter that I bought from Vintage Mischief in Beccles, Suffolk to celebrate my PhD graduation. I began my career after University by training as a personal assistant and retain my love of typing – even though the dedication to typing my thesis led to me developing tendonitis. I make a pastpresentfutureness connection for my career every time I look at my new old typewriter.