A Positive approach to career planning


This blog post presents a planning tool for professional development based upon research in appreciative inquiry. 


In psychology, the president for using individual-level organizational development has been framed in a problem-focused approach. It is common to look for a problem and then make an intervention to fix it. This is used and doesn’t work well because not all behavioral problems are problems. When it comes to feelings of failure and sorrow these are the behavioral problems that impact work. But that doesn’t make you the problem because feeling the full range of emotion is what mentally healthy humans do.

I choose to write about mental health and career development because they are what I have studied organizational psychology and clinical psychology my whole adult life. Also, I have personal experience with the painful repercussions of mismanaged mental health and how it can paralyze any attempt at coping.

I left my graduate program after two years because I couldn’t control my depression or anxiety and that bleed over staining every aspect of my life. Life became unmanageable and I wasn’t functioning enough to consistently produce A’s & B’s. The only way to recover from the first year of graduate school was to get A’s & B’s, I did get B’s. Regardless it’s difficult to advance when your brain is weighing you down. For example, I would have panic attacks during study sessions, I worked what amounts to two full times jobs of work and still came up short. This isn’t just my problem.


“… [G]raduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population (Evans et al., Evidence for mental health in graduate education, 2018).”


Evans et al., 2018 snapshot_mental illness in grad school, its a problem

Snapshot from, Evans et al., Evidence for mental health in graduate education, 2018. Published in the journal of Careers and Recruitment.


What is Appreciative Inquiry?

“Appreciative inquiry operates from the premise that asking a positive question draws out the human spirit in organizations”

Evans et al., Evidence for mental health in graduate education, 2018


The first step is Discovering

Where you would rediscover you positive capacity within your own work. This is a great exercise to do with someone (e.g. co-worker) with more or similar experience to yours. Ideally, you would have a career development specialist to guide you through this process.

When this project is done on an individual baises it can be helpful for you to send out a short anonymous survey to your friends & co-workers in your industry.

Pro tip, when creating your survey start by talking to others about your career, just talking. Don’t worry there is an example of how to format your survey questions. 

Then, sometime after, write out a list of your work activities and your end products. It is their job to provide feedback on a scale of 1 to 10. Ten would mean that in that activity they would write if you were at your best-self.

The real magic happens when they answer the second part of the larger overarching question, “can you give me an example of a time where [your name] was at her best at [job activity & deliverable].”

You will use the results of these survey’s to help chart a path forward.

Stage two is Dream

After reading through all of the results then start reading the feedback, half of the data will be qualitative and the other half quantitative. Meaning half of the data will be a rating of your current ability to be your best self.

The quantitative data tells you this, but the comments also guide you forward. During this stage, by reflexing on the comments, you will find a version of yourself you want to become.

Research says, this requires three elements, “a vision of a better world, a powerful purpose, and a compelling statement of strategic intent (comment below for study citation).”

But for this post, we only care about you as a person. So, if your individual development that is not prompted by your job, we’re going to take the past persistent of AI research and use it for your benefit. You will still need three elements.

  1. A vision of yourself at your best.
  2. A reason for wanting to become your best self.
  3. What makes you happy in your profession
  4. What you must to have career growth.

Most importantly, write out definitions for these terms.

  • What does career growth mean to you?
  • Can you summarize it? can you quantify achieving growth?
  • Can you break down your definition of growth into categories?
    • Meaning, if I was a dog trainer one category of career advancement would be certificates and certifications.

If you are trying to advance your career but are not in a position that you couldn’t be your best self then you have changes to make. Third, you have to be passionate about your career and want to do it for 8 plus hours a day 5 plus days a week?

Stage three is Design

Now we are looking at the design stage where we put together a pathway towards the dream.

Normally, people have no problem daydreaming about a better future but with this process, you will look at what your definition of future is in the context of your life.

You will also break down each large goal into tasks, starting with what you can do to become the doctor, blogger, custom creator of your dreams or as I like to say your best self.

Stage four is Destiny

Rather than focusing on excision, you are shaping the fundamental beliefs you have about the path towards the future career of your dreams.

For example, if you are a painter and can’t find a way to display your art enough to gain momentum in your art world then you probably have changes to make. In this example, you could open an online store while researching how to sell art online.

“At some point, apparently minor positive discoveries connect in accelerating manner and quantum change, a jump from one state to the next that cannot be achieved through incremental change alone, becomes possible (Evans et al., Evidence for mental health in graduate education, 2018).”

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post! If you have any questions about this process or would like resources comment below!

Other resources are listed below!

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