In this post Jeanine van Halteren discusses the way in which she uses metaphors to support clients career development and address social justice.
Social justice is present when diversity is more than a celebration of exotic differences; when all members have responsibilities and opportunities to participate and contribute to society; when we respect human rights and universal needs, like the need to be loved and belong.
Career guidance practitioners can contribute to social justice in many ways. In this post I would like to share my personal story and use the metaphor of ‘slaying the dragon’ to illustrate how you can use coaching skills and discourse analysis to unveil injustice, and reflexive practice to co-create empowering narratives, and in doing so, restore social justice.
I was born and raised, a middle-class girl in the Netherlands. Being youngest of three, I felt overprotected and rejected by my brothers who called me a ‘spoiled brat’ and a ‘fifth wheel on the wagon’. Alone and misunderstood, I found solace in drawing and writing stories. Every Saturday, my parents took me along to the library, a world of images and words from a different dimension. At age six I told mum ‘I will be a writer!’ My parents applauded. My brothers ridiculed me and told me to ‘Stop dreaming’. As a child, I created an imaginary world, as a teenager, I tried to save the world, as an adult, I studied art and social sciences, travelled the world to help others and ended up as an art teacher on top of the world in Norway.
I never intended to be a career counsellor, but I longed to live a life of meaning and purpose. After travelling, witnessing poverty, oppression and inequality, raising kids was challenging. I wanted them to be aware of injustice and never take democracy for granted, but also feel safe and loved. Bedtime stories about magical mysteries, trolls and dragons counterbalanced the misery presented by the media.
At work, expected to teach art techniques, I found myself listening to my students’ stories of love, friendship and accomplishment, and also of loneliness, suicide attempts and being raped or bullied. Society expected students to study effectively and qualify for employment, but they wanted to live and longed to be loved and belong. When a counselling position opened up, my students begged me to apply. I did apply, reluctantly, thinking I (a young female immigrant) was unqualified. I was shocked to hear that I got the job and accepted the position.
For more than fifteen years, I provided career guidance in a variety of educational contexts in Norway to people at all life stages. I established Spring Ahead which specialised in cross- and inter-cultural career counselling. Looking back, I realize I listened to thousands of students, unemployed, immigrants, NEETs, and people facing midlife crises. Different people, different challenges, but all longing to be loved, belong and contribute to society. Today I teach career counselling at OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University in Norway, and hope to inspire my students, using metaphors to illustrate how life and career unfold and develop inseparable and simultaneously.
Using metaphors to slay dragons
Imagine life and career as a journey, one road, winding through an unknown landscape. You might be adventurous, looking forward to explore new territory, or cautious, eager to plan and prepare. You may find lush meadows and taste delicious fruit or meet vicious dragons and gaping gorges that seem impossible to cross. You are unable to see the whole journey, but know you were born, live, and some day, will die (unless you believe in reincarnation or life after death).
The dragon represents condescending comments we hear or tell ourselves, about lack of skills, abilities or opportunities to succeed. These comments are dysfunctional, distort our self-efficacy and obstruct our career development. Once you start listening, you feed the dragon instead of slaying it, allowing it to grow stronger and manipulate you, to believe and make similar condescending comments about others. Instead of slaying the dragon, you breed a legion of dragons that block your road and quench your aspirations. You may loath yourself, lose hope and even give up. You need someone who can help slay the dragon and build a shield of truth against any future dragon attacks.
Career practitioners, trained to be empathetic, engage in dialogue and motivate people to shape their future, can help you ‘slay the dragon’ by identifying and analysing dysfunctional narratives that have distorted your self-efficacy and obstructed your career-development. Afterwards, you ‘build a shield of truth’ by co-creating empowering narratives based on your actual skills, abilities and opportunities to succeed. Coaching skills and reflexive practice help to reveal the injustice, inflicted upon you by cultural discourse or yourself and restore justice.
Building a shield of truth
Social justice does not exist in a vacuum, but is co-created socially inspired by a desire to share and care for others. The degree of willingness to make a sacrifice for others influences the choice of lifestyle, partner and career. A career practitioner can challenge people to reflect on consequences (for the environment or other people) of choices they are about to make.
As a caring career counsellor, you can contribute to social justice, but only if you keep in mind that to ‘Love your neighbour like you love yourself’ implies you need to love yourself to be able to love others similarly. You restore justice by loving yourself, by treating yourself and others as equally unique and equally valuable members of the same community. In other words, you need to use discourse analysis to identify and slay your own dragons, and use reflexive practice to build a shield of truth before you reach out to others.