Career professionals can find lessons from the Chaos Theory of Careers embedded in these inspiring works

Helena Prins

AUTHOR HEADSHOTThe COVID-19 pandemic has created career chaos in 2020. Looking through theories, principles and resources on career development, one would be hard-pressed to find information on how to coach a client through a pandemic. And yet, here we are.

Given the current times, it feels logical to examine the Chaos Theory of Careers. The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC; Bright & Prior, 2012) is an approach to helping clients construct their identity and map out a potential path. Rather than insist that the world moves linearly, CTC expects uncertainty.

A quick review of the theory reminds us of the main principles:

  • Be open-minded and curious.
  • Experiment with new things and look for clues.
  • Take small steps.
  • Understand the bigger picture.
  • Receive constructive feedback whenever possible.

I found three books on my shelf that align surprisingly well with these principles. These books are inspiring and empowering. They could help clients to embrace the “chaos” in their lives and lead them to a place of clarity about their career path.

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

stack of books beside plant on wooden table
Photo courtesy of Helena Prins

This book touches on all the principles of the Chaos Theory of Careers. In her latest book, Doyle writes about how to be brave and, perhaps unintentionally, shares some of the best career advice any career practitioner could hope to convey. She insists that “It is nearly impossible to blaze one’s own path while following in someone else’s footsteps.” Doyle challenges the reader:

“You are here to decide if your life, relationships and world are true and beautiful enough for you. And if they are not and you dare to admit they are not, you must decide if you have the guts, the right – perhaps even the duty – to burn to the ground that which is not true and beautiful enough and get started building what is.”

Doyle’s inspirational words are an excellent prompt for creating a vision board, which is a collage of images and words representing your client’s goals and dreams. It is designed to serve as a source of inspiration and motivation, and is a practical and creative step toward clarity. There are many apps to support creating a virtual vision board, such as Canva and Padlet.

The creation of a vision board aligns directly with some of the main principles of Chaos Theory, as it requires open-mindedness and curiosity. It also helps the client and career practitioner see the bigger picture. In Doyle’s words, putting our dreams on paper can make them “the blueprints of our lives”; in doing so, the client’s dreams could become their plans.

Dare to Lead – Brene Brown

All of Brown’s books are empowering – and her latest is no exception. Dare to Lead has been called  “the bible of courage-building in the workplace” (Minor, 2019). It is about owning your fears and choosing courage over comfort.

Brown asserts that people who know their values have an easier time dealing with adversity. They can let their values guide them in dark and difficult times. Values enable us to be resilient and give us something to hold on to.

More articles from this issue of Careering

Cultivating a positive work culture in the midst of change
The value of a career reflection guide for clients in challenging times
Mastering the power of C.H.A.O.S.

Career practitioners may find Brown’s approach to values assessment a helpful tool to use with clients. Even though Brown provides a list of values on page 189, helping a client create a list of values is not where the values assessment ends. Ask clients to prioritize their top two values. This may require some exploration and discussion: What are some behaviours that support this value? What is an example of a time when the client was fully living this value? According to Brown, prioritizing two values above all others gives you a specific ideal to turn to when the going gets tough. And right now, the going is tough.

Brown further addresses the question of how we can stay aligned with our values while we are receiving feedback. According to the feedback principle of the Chaos Theory, clients need to be open to constructive feedback to find out what really works and what does not in their career development. This can be very difficult, and as Brown puts it, learning how to “rumble” with vulnerability is work. In a difficult conversation, Brown suggests using a phrase such as “That’s not my experience,” instead of telling someone they are wrong. Brown also states that all these tools and skills share the same DNA – curiosity – which brings us back to one of the main principles of Chaos Theory. I find myself wondering whether Brown had the main principles of Chaos Theory next to her when she drafted this bestseller.

The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers – Alex Banayan

The Third Door was brought to my attention by a student I was coaching, who mentioned the positive impact it had on his approach to job search and networking. The book is about an 18-year-old college freshman who set out from his dorm room to track down some of the world’s most successful people – Bill Gates, Lady Gaga and others – to learn how they broke through. This incredible true journey underlines the value of mentorship and brings the author and reader to the realization that “successes and failures are not really opposites, just the result of trying.” After multiple interviews, Banayan discovers the one key they have in common: they all took the Third Door.

“Life, business … it’s just like a nightclub. There are always three ways in.” If the first door (the main entrance) and the second door (the VIP entrance) don’t let you in, Banayan suggests you may have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open the window or sneak through the kitchen – but there is always a way in through the Third Door.

In alignment with Chaos Theory, your client may have to look for new experiences to move forward in their career and find clues by learning from others. Networking is one of the strategies that Banayan says really works – meeting new people and getting back to the basics. If this book doesn’t inspire the client to set up a few informational interviews, then at the very least it illustrates how to persevere in the face of rejection.

The current state of the world may make the process of supporting clients to understand and appreciate the “chaos” in their own lives more challenging. It calls for a more creative and compassionate approach to career exploration. Perhaps for some, the impetus for courage and clarity will be found hidden between the covers of a book.

Helena Prins is a Certified Career Strategist and is currently an Advisor in Learning and Teaching with BCcampus.


Bright, J., & Pryor, R. (2012). The chaos theory of careers in career education. Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counseling, 28, 10 – 20.

Jazvac, L. (2016) Career Development from Chaos to Clarity – The Chaos Theory of Careers

Mesaros, C. (2019) Embracing Chaos Theory of Careers, Career Convergence,

Minors, P. (2019) Dare to Lead by Brene Brown Book Summary,,themselves%2C%20killing%20innovation%20and%20creativity.