Three books to find career courage amid chaos

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.

closeup of a young man in an office holding a briefcase and a surgical mask in his handCareering

Mastering the power of C.H.A.O.S.

Career professionals can help clients take control of the unexpected and create conditions for impactful change

Andrew Bassingthwaighte

Chaos, change, loss; each of these words sparks a specific feeling, normally negative, within people. They are something we dread and are used to great effect in movies and comics to inspire fear by villains. Outside of fiction, we are not immune to chaos. Life has a habit of creating uncertainty, and 2020 itself has provided many new challenges affecting people’s lives and careers.

Career development theorists have long discussed the impact of chaos and chance events upon individuals, and there has been a large amount of research on the impact of these events on an individual’s career path (Rice, 2014). More recently, this concept has gained increased traction due to the recognition that careers in the 21st century are inherently dynamic and unstable, making clients more prone to career disruptions and chance events. Specific career development theories such as Chaos Theory, Happenstance Learning Theory, Systems Theory Framework, Social Cognitive Theory and Cognitive Information Processing Theory can provide practitioners with a strong understanding of how chaos and chance events affect clients and how jobseekers may respond.

Based on these theoretical frameworks, career practitioners are perfectly positioned to help clients respond effectively to what is happening in their careers, the workplace and society. However, it is also important to understand that the capability of clients to successfully manage chaos is dependent on a multitude of factors including their understanding of self and the support systems available to them.

Mastering C.H.A.O.S.

This acronym takes the word C.H.A.O.S. and flips its meaning into a structured way to support clients facing loss or change within their career: Control, Help, Adaptability, Order, Stories. It is based on established career development theories (cited above).

However, it is important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when working with clients. As career development professionals, we need to make sure we are listening closely to where the client is struggling and where they are seeing success to adjust and adapt the supports we provide.


One of the major challenges clients face when hit with an unexpected change is the accompanying lack of control, especially when it is the first major career disruption they have experienced. This sense of a lack or loss of control can greatly affect the client’s confidence in the career counselling process and in future decisions.

It is important, as career practitioners, to help clients recognize how these events can contribute to their career. We can also remind them that they can control their response moving forward as an active participant (Krumboltz, Foley, & Cotter, 2013, Rice, 2014). A key way to achieve this is through the creation of small successes such as securing an informational interview or completing micro-certifications to help rebuild their confidence and sense of control in their life.

“One of the major challenges clients face when hit with an unexpected change is the accompanying lack of control, especially when it is the first major career disruption they have experienced.”


Traditionally, superheroes stand alone, but we all know examples of what can happen when they team up. The Avengers, Teen Titans, the Justice League – no matter the team, they all bring their own unique strengths and tools. Due to the number of areas that career development touches, career practitioners are in a unique position to collaborate with different experts and organizations that can reach out to and support clients.

Read more from Andrew Bassingthwaighte

Responding to career uncertainty with compassion and intentionality
Balancing adaption and access: Career services’ response to COVID
How to engage in ethical advocacy work in career development

Being able to help your client find and effectively work with the right team can help them with their overall career path. Depending on the client and their needs, this team could include members from job developers to housing advocates, who can be helpful in providing resources and advocacy to the client.


Being adaptable is an important skill when navigating the challenges that chaos can bring. Part of developing this adaptability is through our clients taking control of their journey. However, there are other elements that we can use to help clients develop their level of adaptability.

Helping clients strengthen their curiosity and confidence also play a part in improving their overall ability to adapt and be flexible to change. This can be done partly through supporting jobseekers to recognize and leverage new or existing opportunities, which, without the intervention of C.H.A.O.S., they might not have considered. This strengthening also has the added benefit of improving their resilience to change over both the short and long term (Rice, 2014).


Amid the chaos in our lives, if we look hard enough, we can find order. One element shared by Systems Framework Theory and Chaos Theory is the recognition that seemingly chaotic systems have structure and order at their core. Recognizing this, career professionals can help clients identify structures within their lives to bring understanding and balance. This understanding of chaos can also help ease client stress, which has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on their decision-making abilities and self-efficacy (Rice, 2014).


Our clients’ stories have power over how they respond to the situation they are in. By listening to our clients’ stories, we can identify patterns and themes that can help show them how they have adapted to previous challenges and enable them to create future stories (Patton & McMahon, 2006).

Finally, remind your clients to share their story to help give friends, family members and other clients the courage to engage in their fight against chaos. While they may feel that their story is not worth sharing, we can remind them of how stories influence and motivate others in their journeys.


Chaos is not new. Throughout history, we have seen how times of chaos have created conditions for major innovations that have dramatically changed the world that we live in. On a smaller scale, the chaos experienced by clients can also create the conditions for something impactful to take place. Rather than being afraid of what chaos can do, it’s time to take control of chaos and turn it into your clients’ personal superpower.

Andrew Bassingthwaighte (CCDP) is a Talent Performance Consultant from Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Having worked for almost 20 years in the UK and Canada providing employment counselling, training and mentoring to individuals, he is currently working remotely supporting students in 40 different co-op programs.


Bright, J., & Pryor, R. (2011). the chaos theory of careers. Journal of Employment Counseling, 48(4), 163–166.

Krumboltz, J., Foley, P., & Cotter, E. (2013). Applying the Happenstance Learning Theory to Involuntary Career Transitions. The Career Development Quarterly, 61(1), 15–26.

Patton, W., & McMahon, M. (2006). The Systems Theory Framework of Career Development and Counseling: Connecting Theory and Practice. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 28(2), 153–166.

Rice, A. (2013). Incorporation of Chance into Career Development Theory and Research. Journal of Career Development, 41(5), 445–463.

woman looking up thinking on yellow backgroundCareering

The value of a career reflection guide for clients in challenging times

This tool can transform clients’ perspective, connect them to mental health and career development supports

Nada Johnson

As career development professionals, it is important that we provide opportunities for clients to reflect on their career and mental health during challenging times. This can be done through the co-creation of a personal career reflection guide with our clients.

The career reflection guide is a document that we write based on our first few meetings with our clients. The goal of the document is to help facilitate and structure conversations between us and our clients so that they can reflect on their career and wellness.

Career professionals provide more than career planning supports; we also make a difference in optimizing the mental health of clients through the provision of career planning assistance. Supporting clients to gain more career clarity provides opportunities for them to grow and fully realize their capabilities.

It is important that the content of the career reflection guide is solely determined by clients while the process of creating one is facilitated by us. Ultimately, clients’ career and mental health journey is theirs. They are the experts of their own lives and we are here to support them and provide more clarity relating to their career and well-being.

How to create a career reflection guide

Prior to creating the plan, there should be a conversation with clients as to what a career reflection guide is and if there is a need for one. The client’s needs will determine the content of the plan. The creation of the guide can occur within a session or two, or more, depending on what will be going in the guide and how it will be used.

In general, the career reflection guide can include the following:

  1. Reflection on the client’s career and well-being. Potential questions to explore include:
  • At this time, what does your career mean to you and why?
  • How do you feel your career has been changed by “x”?
  • How has “x” affected your well-being?
  • Please share more about your work experiences so far.
  • What has been the most fulfilling part of your career and why?
  • What stimulates and fulfills you when working?
  • When working, what would you say affects your well-being and why?
  • What are some of the strategies you have used to try to cope with challenges you have experienced at work?

Clients’ reflection on their mental health and career during challenging times helps career practitioners understand how their clients are doing emotionally, physically and socially. It helps practitioners assess whether their clients need further mental health supports such as counselling in order to function at their best in their lives and ultimately in their careers.

More from this issue of Careering

Journalling: A strategy to better navigate career transitions
Belief in their career goals can help jobseekers get through tough times
Reignite your purpose with this career superpower

For clients, reflecting provides an opportunity for them to examine how they are doing and what kind of supports they may need in order to be at their best, as well as what that means to them.

  1. Career choice reflection. Practitioners can guide clients to reflect on their career choice to see if it is still in alignment with their interest, skills, values and current labour market needs.

This is important because if the client’s current employment is no longer of interest or does not align with their skill level, this could produce undesirable mental health effects such as low confidence, stress, feelings of anxiety and loss of productivity at work. Career practitioners can support clients in either finding satisfaction in their current role or changing their career path.

  1. The inclusion of mental health and career development resources. Practitioners can work with clients to determine what resources would be most helpful to them. Often through intentional conversations with clients we can determine what their needs are and what resources would be most helpful to them. Depending on practitioners’ level of experience and expertise, career and mental health assessments can be used to determine the resources that clients would benefit the most from.

Practitioners may include resources on managing various mental health issues such as stress, anxiety or depression. The career reflection guide may also include resources on effectively managing uncertainties, as well as career development resources such as worksheets on identifying career areas of interest, resume and cover letter building, effective job search strategies or networking tips.

As career development professionals, supporting our clients is our No. 1 priority. Clients can be supported during uncertain times through the creation and use of a career reflection guide. A career reflection guide will allow clients to gain a better understanding of themselves and their career path. This will help them weather chaotic times and move toward greater opportunities.

Nada Johnson is the Lead Certified Career Strategist, Social Worker & Psychotherapist (MSW RSW) as well as the Principal Consultant of Johnson Career Strategy Consulting. Johnson and her team provide career development, academic guidance and mental health services to individuals as well as training and development, workshops and board governance services to corporations, post-secondary institutions and non-profit organizations. For more information about Johnson Career Strategy Consulting, visit

woman on zoom call on couchCareering

Cultivating a positive work culture in the midst of change

Nurturing team relationships remained a top priority as the University of Alberta Career Centre navigated a rapidly changing work context during lockdown

Blessie Mathew and Amy Roy Gratton

author headshotsLike others around the world, March 2020 launched our workplace at the University of Alberta into drastically unfamiliar territory. Career Centre Director Blessie Mathew had to navigate the challenge of shifting over 50 staff in multiple locations to remote work in a matter of days. Each staff member was destabilized as they were abruptly torn from their routines and had to pivot how they balanced work (which dramatically increased for a few months) with caregiving, schooling, home life and other responsibilities in a lockdown.

A director’s point of view

Amid the endless demands that accompany rapid operational changes, it would have been easiest to provide our staff with a list of mental health resources and hope those who needed support would seek it out. However, passive attempts at supporting one another was never how we operated; our staff invest in relationships and take pride in knowing that our care for each other extends beyond productivity and output. In the rapidly changing context of remote work, I felt the need to protect and nurture our unique workplace culture. It was clear that a focus on mental well-being, authentic team-building and maintaining a close connection to our workplace was imperative.

I asked Career Centre staff to volunteer in pairs to take on the role of morale officers for two weeks at a time. Morale officers, in general, would be responsible for finding ways to connect our team and ensure we had opportunities to stay engaged with one another as we started to work remotely. That was the extent of the parametres provided; the rest was up to the morale officers.

A morale officer’s perspective

What started out as a simple inquiry, “Would anyone like to be a morale officer and see if this idea works?” has turned into over 12 weeks of engagement that revitalized our team dynamic. Our first morale officers kept things light, which allowed people to test the idea out and decide how much time they wanted to invest. The activities were easy to participate in and didn’t take much extra time or effort. We received prompts like “Send us a picture of your new workplace” or “What restaurants do you support locally?” or “Submit a picture that represents who you are outside of work.” These simple questions evolved into measured glimpses into our colleagues’ lives at home, fun banter, meaningful discussions and a collective push to support local businesses. The second set of morale officers focused on mental wellness by asking staff to submit their self-care strategies, which were turned into a resource list.

Two activities stood out for me because they relied on team effort: the Career Centre Coat of Arms and the Pand-Emmys.

career centre coat of armsCareer Centre Coat of Arms

The morale officers asked us to submit a symbol or picture we thought should be included as part of a coat of arms representing our team. Individuals contributed symbols like a wolf protecting the pack and elephants protecting the most vulnerable. We also heard references to mentorship and growth, connections, community, friendship, multiculturalism and, of course, coffee and food. We captured our mission in Latin: to empower talented people in developing skills, knowledge, experiences and connections. We asked a high school student seeking to enhance their portfolio to integrate the submissions into a drawing. The final product, unveiled at a staff meeting, reflected our collective values.

The Pand-Emmys

The Pandemic Emmys were peer-nominated awards acknowledging our colleagues as they delivered services from home. The Pand-Emmys received 46 nominations in categories such as best behind-the-scenes work, best supporting actor or best reality show. Nominations ranged from fun to heartfelt and appreciative. At a staff meeting, colleagues announced award categories and winners. Some staff leaned into the activity, playing music and enthusiastically ripping open envelopes to reveal the winner.

Pandemic Emmys award certificate for "Best Reality Show Hosts"

Each staff member won at least one Pand-Emmy and the morale officers sent the winners certificates that included our Coat of Arms. As an added surprise, a category was created for our kids and pets – the supporting cast members who frequently made cameos in our virtual meetings. We felt affirmed and accepted for the complex ways our work and personal lives had become intertwined.

Here are some tips for making your own morale-boosting initiative work:

1. Make team building a priority. Team-building can seem superfluous to immediate operational challenges. Prioritizing your team’s connection to each other, and the workplace, positively influences staff mental health, engagement and productivity.

2. Ask for volunteers in pairs. Team members can support one another when workloads fluctuate. Staff were apt to volunteer when they had someone to brainstorm and plan with. Morale officers also modelled engagement in activities and debriefed if activities did not go as planned.

3. Encourage staff to make it their own. Allow morale officers to be creative and give them the freedom to design activities that feel authentically positive.

4. Try new things, even if they might not work out. There are no penalties for ideas that might not go well or head in a completely different direction. At first, some activities may feel awkward, but if your team holds an open and supportive mindset, they can morph into an unrelated discussion or banter that holds equal benefit for the team.

5. Make participation optional. Participation feels natural and fun when there is no pressure and ample grace for colleagues’ fluctuating work and personal demands. Enforcing participation in addition to a growing list of work-related tasks will breed resentment. There were weeks when nobody volunteered to be morale officers and we simply let it go until somebody had the time and inclination.

6. Choose your communication channels wisely. Initially we tried communicating over various channels and found it challenging to filter the fun messages from the urgent ones. Choose consistent and separate methods of communication that give your team the functionality they need (e.g. video conference, polls, or the ability to post pictures and video).

7. Focus on co-operation. Encourage the goal of positive team dynamics rather than one-upping each other. Some staff felt intimidated to volunteer because previous activities were so creative. To provide support, the previous team sent an email to the next team including what they learned and advice on how to engage people.

From both the staff and leadership perspectives, we are proud of what our team has achieved. We gained an innovative way to continue to create community when we cannot be together, and a way to inject some laughter and heartfelt moments into a stressful situation.

As Director, Career Centre and Experiential Learning, Blessie Mathew oversees the operations of the University of Alberta Career Centre, the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI), and Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST).

Amy Roy Gratton, a Career Education Co-ordinator at the University of Alberta Career Centre, works with students, alumni and postdoctoral fellows on experiential learning opportunities such as job shadowing, career mentoring and community engagement programming.

hotel front deskCareering

Client Side: How I found career joy in an unexpected place

Ashley Gowan fell in love with the hospitality industry, but when it started to take too much, she had to reconsider whether it was still a good fit

author headshotWhat do you want to be when you grow up? That is a question that surrounds us in our childhood, and at 26 years old, I finally feel as though I am prepared to answer that question.

In elementary and high school, my answer changed as often as the weather: ballerina, police officer, chef, voiceover actress, journalist. By the time I started college, I had decided to be a lawyer, but then changed my mind once again, believing the tourism industry was where I was meant to be.

Even while taking my tourism management degree, I never settled on what I wanted to do when I was done school. I bounced between starting my own company, working on a cruise ship or managing an outdoor adventure organization. When I finally finished school and entered the workforce, I landed at the front desk of a hotel.

Thriving amid challenge

I fell in love with the hospitality industry. It was a fast-paced, ever-changing and exciting industry to work in. Every day held a new set of challenges, there was always something new to learn and the clients were a revolving door of characters.

I quickly advanced to a supervisor position and was ecstatic for this new challenge and for the chance to grow my knowledge. I continued to thrive and conquered each challenge presented to me.

Over time, however, I began to feel the toll the industry was taking on both my mental health and my personal life. Hospitality is a 24/7, year-round industry. Without realizing it, I had allowed my professional development to overshadow the importance of the relationship I had uprooted my life for.

Reassessing priorities

My husband, who is in the military, had been posted to New Brunswick early in our relationship. After graduating college, I moved from the safety and security of home in Quebec to an unknown life in a new province.

During those first years in New Brunswick, I was unintentionally prioritizing work more and more. In the fall of 2018, while working a 12-plus hour shift, it dawned on me: I had been working and sleeping at the hotel most of the week due to a computer outage, and hadn’t been home to see my husband or even share a meal with him in days.

My enjoyment of the work I had thought of as my future began to decline. I tried to take a firmer stance on the separation of work and life, but it didn’t always work. I was frustrated by this after making myself fully available for years. I even experienced self-induced guilt for taking a week off for my honeymoon, my first real time off in the 2-1/2 years I had dedicated myself to the hotel.

More Careering Client Side articles

As spring of 2019 rolled in, I felt an awakening in myself, but not a good one. Most days I came home from work in tears; even good days began to feel like a hardship to make it through. I felt my mental health decline, even though I would never have admitted it, and as both my attention span and patience shortened, my husband and I began to talk about what I could do to get back to enjoying my life.

The discussions at first seemed to be a roundabout conversation, always bouncing back and forth between the same ideas. Should I go back to school? Should I ask for a department transfer? Would I feel better working at a different hotel? Would a government or private sector administrative position work?

Nothing piqued my interest and I fell deeper into what felt like a hole that I could not get out of. Many discussions revolved around how we would support ourselves if I went back to school. While going back to school to obtain my law degree was feasible, I no longer felt a draw to the field. Government work came with stability and a much larger paycheque, but I wasn’t ready to jump into another job I wouldn’t enjoy.

RV driving down scenic road beside lake
A job posting for “RV Salesperson” ignited a flicker of interest in Ashley. (iStock)
Making changes for the better

I ended up taking a much lower-paying retail job over the following Christmas to get myself out of the hospitality industry. It was not a perfect fit – I had no passion for it – but it was a way to keep money coming in while I figured out my next step.

And then came a turning point. In February of this year, a job posting jumped out at me during my search: “Seeking RV Salesperson.” Many of my favourite childhood memories revolve around summers in my parents’ RV, and for a moment I felt a flicker of interest that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I immediately wrote out a cover letter and submitted a resume, with only a small glimmer of hope that they would hire someone with minimal sales experience.

Soon after I was contacted for an interview, and in it, I shared the joy that camping brought me as a child, along with the hope that if I received this job, I could perhaps shape the same sort of memories for more families. The very next day I received a call to let me know that a letter of offer was waiting for me. I was nervous but also elated that I had this opportunity to make a mark in an industry that shaped so much of my childhood.

Though there have already been challenges, including an unforeseen global pandemic, I already feel a connection to this new industry that I haven’t felt in a very long time. There are still opportunities for me to use the tourism management degree I took in school, and every day presents its own set of challenges and hurdles to overcome. I’m thankful for my “quarter-life crisis,” which led me to this new and unforeseen path.

So, what will I be when I grow up? No matter what I’m doing, or where I’m working, I will always make sure it makes me happy.

Ashley Gowan currently resides in Fredericton, NB with her husband. She is happily selling RVs and is still learning to take time for hobbies, and non-work-related passions. These include reading, baking, art and travel (though at the moment just locally).

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques meets with childrenCareering

10 Questions with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques

David Saint-Jacques headshot in space suit.
Image source:

Prior to joining the Canadian Space Program, David Saint-Jacques practised family medicine in a northern Canadian village overlooking Hudson Bay. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by the Canadian Space Agency in May 2009. As a member of the international astronaut team, he has acted as capcom (the liaison between the team on the ground and the crew in space) and carried out various operations planning and support functions at NASA’s Mission Control Center and Astronaut Office. In 2016, he was assigned to his first mission aboard the International Space Station.

In a sentence or two, describe why career development matters.

I like that it’s career development, not career planning, because it’s a journey and you need to be on the lookout for opportunities. I like to tell young people not to be afraid of a big, crazy dream that seems unachievable. It doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve it exactly the way you pictured it, but it will help guide you and make the journey worthwhile.

Which book are you reading right now and why did you choose it?

I’m currently reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I’ve been living in Houston for the last 11 years, and wherever I’ve lived, I’ve tried to make the effort to read literature that helps illustrate the culture of that place.

What was your first-ever job and what did you learn from it?

I was a ski instructor during high school. It taught me the importance of communication, customer service and empathy.

What do you do to relax and how does it help you?

I’m not a gifted athlete, but I love running, cycling, hiking, climbing, sailing, skiing. It helps me disconnect from work and clear my mind. And, I met my wife skiing!

What is one piece of advice you have for Canadians as we navigate these challenging times?

The skills I developed during my space training preparation and mission were particularly helpful when the pandemic lockdown began. There are three things:

  • When the going gets rough, keep an eye on the big picture or the mission. For the pandemic, it has been about protecting society’s most vulnerable.
  • Parents know that it’s important to provide a routine and structure for their children, so you need to do the same for yourself; keep work and personal time separate and make space for things that bring joy to your life.
  • Think about how your behaviour and attitudes can affect others. As an astronaut, living in close quarters with the same people for long periods of time, you need to ensure you communicate clearly and don’t let things fester.
Crewmembers for Expedition 59 (Anne McClain, Nick Hague, Oleg Kononenko, Christina Koch, David Saint-Jacques, Alexey Ovchinin) aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

What is the most unusual job interview question you’ve ever been asked and how did you respond?

It may not be the most unusual question, but the one I always prepare for is “Why do you want this job?” It’s important to consider this carefully because you might get the job; if you do, you want to have the right motivations and know that it will be good for both you and the organization.

What’s something you want to do in the next year that you’ve never done before?

I have thousands of photos taken over the years including those of my children. I plan to carve out the time to organize them, and this will help me reflect.

Who would you like to work with most and why?

Both in the space program and health care, I’ve met fantastic people. What they have had in common is their genuine love for their work. So, I want to work with people who have positive attitudes toward challenges and an absence of hidden agendas.

Which talent or superpower would you like to have and how would you use it?

I wish I could fly under my own power. I had dreams of this when I was a child and still wish it could come true.

What do you consider your greatest achievement and why?

My family. It is the most joyful, fulfilling and, at times, maddening experience. I wouldn’t be who I am now without them.

man wearing backpack on streetcarCareering

Prior learning: Unlocking a little-known career superpower

With the support of career professionals, students may be able to leverage prior learning to reduce the time and cost for higher education

Susan Forseille

As a fan of Marvel and DC superhero stories, I have noticed superpowers often go unknown for years before a hero discovers their gifts. Once these gifts are known, there is usually a learning process before they can be fully applied. This process often includes naming the superpower, learning how to employ it and practising using it, ending with understanding and appreciating its multiple benefits. This journey is reflected in a little-known career superpower: prior learning recognition.

Many post-secondary institutions (PSIs) recognize that adult learners acquire knowledge and skills through life and work experience. These lived experiences generate learning that can be rich, nuanced and comparable to learning acquired in more formal settings (i.e. colleges and universities). Prior learning recognition by PSIs can significantly reduce both the time and cost to acquire advanced education, while adding to career resiliency and agility. Career professionals can play a key role in helping clients/students learn about and unlock the intricacies of this superpower.

Defining prior learning recognition

Prior learning recognition is best defined as processes that allow individuals to identify, document, have assessed and gain recognition for their learning done outside of a formal classroom. Prior learning can come from work, volunteer experiences, professional development workshops and seminars, self-study, etc. It can result in clients/students obtaining PSI credit and/or advanced entry for the assessment and validation of their informal and non-formal learning.

Informal learning is incidental learning from life experience, workplace-based tasks, volunteer activities and/or self-directed learning and study.

Non-formal learning is intentional, gained through participation in organized workplace-based training, non-credit courses and workshops, but does not generate formal credit.

Knowing about prior learning is a vital first step in leveraging it as a career development tool. However, it can be difficult for clients to find the information they need. Few schools promote it, and there is no name used consistently at a national or even provincial level. Its labels include: PLAR (prior learning assessment and recognition), RPL (recognition of prior learning), PLA (prior learning assessment) and APEL (assessment of prior experiential learning). Some schools refer to prior learning recognition in less transparent ways, such as “challenge for credit” or “with permission of the dean.”

How it works

Once your client/student knows prior learning recognition exists, the next step is to learn which schools offer it and how to access it. Schools offer multiple ways to access prior learning recognition. For example, some institutions use it for advanced entry, some use it for awarding credit and some even give “blocks” of elective credit for program competencies. Advanced entry provides a path for students to enter into a program of study without the pre-requisites and/or with advanced standing. For example, a student may be allowed to skip the first year of a two-year program based on their prior learning.

Receiving credit for prior learning for individual courses is also possible in many schools. This can be done through demonstrating the student has achieved the learning objectives set out in particular courses. Assessment of prior learning can be done through portfolios, interviews, demonstration of skills, challenge exams, etc.

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In some schools – admittedly very few – prior learning recognition can be applied to “blocks” of credits in a particular program. Often called competency-based PLAR, credits for informal and non-formal learning are based on broader program competencies such as communication, problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, and other human skills.

Some schools are connected to pre-assessed training programs offered by employers, private training organizations or continuing studies programs. Students can receive credit for this prior learning with proof of successful completion of this learning.

The most important intricacy embedded in this superpower is that schools have processes for students to work through, ensuring there is confidence and rigour in assessing and validating the prior learning. These processes can involve a lot of time and work to complete. Career practitioners can help clients learn about these options, support them in navigating the options, and offer guidance on identifying and documenting their prior learning.

Mature student in the library at the university
The processes attached to prior learning can enhance career understanding and management. (iStock)
Benefits of prior learning recognition

On the surface, most clients/students understand the time and money prior learning recognition can save. Yet there are many more benefits to consider. The processes attached to prior learning, especially the reflective elements, can enhance career understanding and management, and this can lead to greater career agility and resiliency.

Students and prior learning practitioners have shared in research (supported by what I have observed in my work) that participating in prior learning recognition processes have helped them better articulate their skills, abilities and knowledge in their resumes, on LinkedIn profiles and during interviews and networking (Keating, 2011; Miller & Miller, 2014). In addition, many PLAR students have commented that reflecting on what they have learned through their lived experiences has greatly affected their future education, career and learning habits. Research has shown that students who complete PLAR tend to graduate at higher rates, with a higher grade point average than non-PLAR students (Leibrandt, S., Klein-Collins, R., & Lane, 2020). Students have also commented that participating in prior learning recognition made their learning more visible; it has enhanced their understanding of how they learn, what they learn and why they learn. Additionally, PLAR can help students translate their informal and non-formal learning into academic language, which improves their confidence as learners and jobseekers.

Unlocking the power of PLAR

Guiding your clients/students in researching prior learning recognition options in post-secondary schools will likely take some effective detective skills, patience and persistence. This is because very few schools have a centralized prior learning office where you can start. Most schools that offer prior learning recognition do so within specific faculties or programs, and even the general recruitment team may not have much information on their school’s offerings.

Strategies to help uncover prior learning options include searching for keywords on school websites. Effective keywords include “prior learning,” “PLAR,” “RPL,” “informal learning” and “advanced entry.” Clients/students can also ask recruiters, admissions officers, program and/or recruitment advisors, chairs and deans directly about prior learning recognition options. Career practitioners may consider advising clients/students to explore the Canadian Association for Prior Learning Assessment (CAPLA) website ( This national association offers more insight into prior learning recognition, including a list of provincial contacts.

When you consider how much informal and non-formal learning your clients/students have experienced, combined with the benefits of prior learning recognition by post-secondary institutions, career professionals are in an excellent position to help clients/students unlock this little-known and little-understood superpower.

As the Thompson Rivers University Director of PLAR (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition), 22 years as a career-educator and an enthusiastic researcher, Susan Forseille has been privileged to research the intersections of career development, prior learning and education.


Dyson, C., Keating, J. (2011). Recognition of prior learning. Policy and practice for skills learned at work: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, United States. International Labour Office – Geneva.

Leibrandt, S., Klein-Collins, R., & Lane, P. (2020). Recognizing prior learning in the COVID-19 Era: Helping displaced workers and students one credit at a time. CAEL. Retrieved from

Miller, R. & Miller S. (2014). Prior learning assessment strategies for workplace learning: translating practice into theory. Prior learning assessment inside out, Volume 2, Number 2.


Leveraging the power of mindfulness in career development

This flexible tool can help individuals connect to their interests and values

Gabrielle Beaupré and Geneviève Taylor

author headshotsMaya is an undergraduate student who has just started her second semester in accounting. She is disappointed by her grades so far and has doubts as to whether this is the right career path for her. She wonders whether she will be good enough to eventually acquire the professional title she initially wanted. She worries a lot and often ruminates about past mistakes. Recently, she has been having diffulty sleeping and concentrating and does not see her friends as much as she used to. She lacks the energy to engage in her daily activities, including studying and her part-time job.

Maya’s situation exemplifies the psychological health issues that post-secondary students face today. Indeed, an increasing proportion of students report experiencing stress, anxiety and emotional distress (UEQ, 2019). This is compounded by questions regarding career goals, choice of academic programs and/or different career paths, which are frequent in this population. A recent pan-Canadian study shows that approximately 40% of postsecondary students have difficulties dealing with career-related issues (ACHA, 2019). They also experience anxiety caused by an increasingly unstable and uncertain labour market and by a multitude of opportunities, which can actually induce a feeling of “paralysis” and chronic insatisfaction (Schwartz, 2004). Unfortunately, career guidance professionals in university settings often lack the time or resources to provide adequate support for students (ASEUCC, 2013). Therefore, they need to rely on new approaches to reinforce students’ self-determination and help them to reflect on their future.

Mindfulness as a superpower

Mindfulness-based interventions represent relatively new approaches that could allow students to better manage their career-related issues. Mindfulness is generally defined as a non-judgmental, accepting awareness of our inner and outer experience as it arises in the present moment (Kabat-Zin, 2003). A mindful person tends to be more attentive to his or her sensations, thoughts and emotions as they arise, and does so in an accepting and self-compassionate way. The good news is that mindfulness is like a muscle – it can be developed as a skill through various types of exercices one can practice alone or in a group, with or without guidance. Typical mindfulness practices are:

  • Focused attention exercises on different objects such as the breath, bodily sensations or the five senses;
  • Focused attention exercises on body movements (e.g. mindful walking, mindful stretching, yoga);
  • Meditations that develop compassion for the self and for others.
The impact of mindfulness on well-being

Several scientific studies have established positive links between mindfulness and well-being. First, mindfulness promotes the development of psychological flexibility, an important determinant of mental health, which allows a person to adapt to new situations such as unexpected life changes and difficult circumstances (Kashdan & Rottenberg, 2010). During the COVID-19 pandemic, several researchers have become interested in personal resilience factors. They propose mindfulness as an adaptation tool that may help people be better able to deal with uncertainty (Polizzi, Lynn et Perry, 2020). Mindfulness increases our focus on the present moment, which takes us away from ruminations about the past or anxious anticipation about the future. What’s more, mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to reduce stress and depressive symptoms among university students and career counselling clients (Piot, 2020; Grégoire et al., 2016). Finally, our research group has found that mindfulness could help students who were experiencing a career-related action crisis to better regulate their emotions (Marion-Jetten, Taylor et Schattke, 2020).

“Mindfulness promotes the development of psychological flexibility, an important determinant of mental health, which allows a person to adapt to new situations such as unexpected life changes and difficult circumstances.”

Mindfulness as a career-related superpower

Beyond the benefits of mindfulness for well-being and emotion regulation, how else can it act as a career-related superpower?

Better self-knowledge

First, mindfulness could help a person to better distinguish between his or her deeply held values and interests and those that originate only in societal or parental expectations (Schattke, Taylor, & Marion-Jetten, 2020; Strick et Papies, 2017). There are many ways to increase one’s self-knowledge – mindfulness stands out as a flexible tool to do so. It promotes the ability to pay attention to all aspects of one’s experience, while accepting everything that comes up instead of avoiding it (Carlson, 2013).

For example, by practising body awareness, Maya could realize that she often feels tension in her shoulders when she thinks about taking the accreditation exams to become a chartered accountant. She could also realize that she has a lot of negative thoughts during these times and observe them to see what they could tell her. At the same time, she could notice that she feels light and open when she give oral presentations. This information can become very useful when thinking about which work contexts would better fit her needs and her working style as a future accountant.

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Setting self-concordant career goals

Second, mindfulness could help a person to set career goals that are based on their deeply held values and true interests. Referred to as self-concordant, these goals are based on self-determined motivation and are essential for well-being (Deci, Ryan, Schultz et Niemiec, 2015). In fact, a series of longitudinal studies has shown that choosing an academic program that is related to one’s true interests and values can increase academic performance and decrease psychological distress and school dropout (Taylor et al., 2014).

By practising mindfulness, Maya could realize that she is often concerned with what others would say if she dropped out of her current program and did not become an accountant. She could then observe, without judgment, that her motivation for this career goal was perhaps not as self-determined as she thought. As previously mentioned, Maya could also become more aware of her own values and of what truly interests her. This could help her to zone in on her next career goal, and eventually help her to set and get engaged in a more self-concordant goal.

Developing creativity

Finally, mindfulness can increase different types of creativity, which would allow a person to think of or even create new opportunities for themselves and find innovative solutions when confronted with career-related obstacles. Research on this topic has shown that people can solve problems more easily when they have practiced mindfulness meditation right before (Colzato et al., 2014; Ding et al., 2015). Mindfulness could thus help Maya find “out of the box” opportunities to resolve her career-related issues.

Helping university students with mindfulness

How can career development professionals help students cultivate mindfulness? They can encourage them and guide them to observe their everyday experiences as they arise (i.e. recurring thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions), and accept them in a kind and non-judgmental way. University students could capitalize on the development of mindfulness as a skill – especially since it is an accessible practice that can be easily adjusted to fit into an already busy schedule. More than ever, career decision-making is a lifelong process, and not a stage that is fixed in time. Mindfulness could enrich this process, constantly evolving as the student enters and interacts with the labour market.

In our opinion, mindfulness represents an additional yet important career-related superpower; a tool that can help a person regulate negative emotions that often accompany career issues. Mindfulness also helps people to get to know themselves better by fostering access to their true interests and values, recurring thought patterns, emotions and bodily sensations. Therefore, a more mindful student could make more self-congruent choices and better adjust to career-related obstacles, even after graduation.

Gabrielle Beaupré, MA, is a doctoral student in education at UQAM and a practising career guidance counsellor. Her research interests focus on mindfulness, motivation for career goals and well-being amongst university students. Her doctoral project is financed by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec Société et Culture.

Geneviève Taylor, PhD, is a professor in career counselling in the Department of Education and Pedagogy at Université du Québec à Montréal, and a researcher in the Groupe de recherche et d’intervention sur la présence attentive (GRIPA). Her research focuses on the role of mindfulness self-compassion in career-related goal pursuit and motivational processes.


American College Health Association. (2019). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Canadian Reference Group. Hanover : American College Health Association.

Association des services étudiants des universités et collèges du Canada (ASEUCC). (2013). Post-Secondary Student Mental Health: Guide to a Systemic Approach.

Carlson, E. N. (2013). Overcoming the Barriers to Self-Knowledge : Mindfulness as a Path to Seeing Yourself as You Really Are. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(2), 173‑186.

Colzato, L.S., Szapora, A., Lippelt, D. et Hommel, B. (2014). Prior meditation practice modulates performance and strategy use in convergent- and divergent-thinking problem. Mindfulness. (online publication ahead of print).

Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., Schultz, P. P. et Niemiec, C. P. (2015). Being aware and functioning fully. Handbook of mindfulness: Theory, research, and practice, 112-129.

Ding, X., Tang, Y., Deng, Y., Tang, R., et Posner, M.I. (2015). Mood and personality predict improvement in creativity due to meditation training. Learning and Individual Differences, 37, 217–221.

Grégoire, S., Lachance, L. et Richer, L. (2016). La présence attentive, mindfulness. État des connaissances empiriques et pratiques. Montréal : Presses de l’Université du Québec.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context : Past, present, and future. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 10(2), 144–156.

Kashdan, T. B. et Rottenberg, J. (2010). Psychological flexibility as a fundamental aspect of health. Clinical Psychology Review30(7), 865-878.

Lebuda, I., Zabelina, D. L., & Karwowski, M. (2016). Mind full of ideas: A meta-analysis of the mindfulness–creativity link. Personality and Individual Differences93, 22-26.

Piot, F. (2020). Projet Oreka : essai randomisé contrôlé destiné à évaluer l’impact d’ateliers issus de l’approche d’acceptation et d’engagement sur la souplesse psychologique, le bien-être psychologique et l’espoir chez des individus confrontés à une impasse professionnelle [The Oreka Project : Randomised controlled trial to evaluate the impact of workshops based on Acceptance-Commitment Therapy on psychological flexibility, psychological well-being, and hope among people experiencing a professional impasse]. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Université du Québec à Montréal.

Polizzi, C., Lynn, S. J., & Perry, A. (2020). Stress and Coping in the Time of COVID-19: Pathways to Resilience and Recovery. Clinical Neuropsychiatry17(2).

Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice : Why more is less (Vol. xi). HarperCollins Publishers.

Strick, M. et Papies, E. K. (2017). A Brief Mindfulness Exercise Promotes the Correspondence Between the Implicit Affiliation Motive and Goal Setting. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(5), 623‑637.

Taylor, G., Jungert, T., Mageau, G. A., Schattke, K., Dedic, H., Rosenfield, S. et Koestner, R. (2014). A self-determination theory approach to predicting school achievement over time : The unique role of intrinsic motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39(4), 342‑358.

Union étudiante du Québec. (2019). Enquête « sous ta façade » : enquête panquébécoise sur la santé psychologique étudiante.

woman and man shaking hands across deskCareering

Case Study: Helping a client with autism improve her interview skills

Vague concepts such as finding the ‘right fit’ for the team can make it difficult for a prospective employee on the spectrum to present as a desirable candidate

Sarah Taylor

In this recurring Careering feature, career professionals share their real-life solutions to common problems in the field

AUTHOR HEADSHOTCindy is a recent post-secondary graduate who lives on the autism spectrum. Since completing her diploma in business administration six months ago, she has applied for approximately 130 jobs, been on 42 interviews and received zero job offers.

Upon first meeting with Cindy, her inconsistent eye contact is noticeable; it is difficult to feel a sense of connection with someone who doesn’t look at their conversation partner. Cindy also has trouble connecting through small talk. She hates to talk about the weather, lacks interest in sports and tends to want to “get to the point” of any verbal exchanges. In interviews, this may read as cold and distant.

Cindy also tends to begin interactions with others by saying “Greetings” rather than with a more common “Hi” or “Hello.” This tendency, paired with her unusually quiet voice, provides insights about some of the interview challenges that may be holding her back.

However, Cindy is completely closed to the idea of disclosing her invisible disability in a job interview. Her past experiences of bullying and trauma have led her to believe that disclosure creates more challenges in her life than it solves, and that people will think that she is stupid or incapable if she tells them she lives on the spectrum.

As her employment counsellor, what can you do in your work with Cindy to help her experience more interview success?

This case study is one that I wrote for a workshop for career development professionals. Although Cindy is not actually a client of mine, her profile represents some of the challenges commonly experienced by people who live on the spectrum and by the career development professionals who serve them. The increased emphasis in today’s workplace on emotional quotient vs intelligence quotient, social vs technical skills, and vague concepts such as finding the “right fit” for the team can make it difficult for a prospective employee on the spectrum to present as a desirable candidate.

In fact, a 2013 study on autism and employment published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that approximately 85% of people living on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. These results represented the lowest employment rate among disability groups even when controlling for impairment severity, household income and social demographics (Howlin, 2013). To further complicate the issue, many “high-functioning” people who live on the spectrum attempt to hide or mask their symptoms, fearing stigmatization. So, how can we as career professionals help? For a Cindy or a client who presents with similar issues, I would first recommend focusing on interview skills.

More Careering Case Studies

The spoken and unspoken language of interviews is highly complex and has many nuances that may not be obvious to a person who has a diagnosis of ASD or another invisible difference. It is important to break down the questions one can expect, the answers they should give and the unspoken elements of connecting with the interviewer.

One of the most effective ways of doing this is to record mock job interviews and review the recording with your client. Typically, when I am working on a four-week timeline with a client to get them interview ready, I try to do a baseline mock interview (e.g. at the very beginning of my time with a client); another one two weeks in, after we have done lots of teaching, workshops and worksheets about the interview process; and lastly at the end of four weeks with an interviewer who is totally new to my client (i.e. a colleague assigned to different clients). This works well because it creates an opportunity to show the individual behaviours that the client might not be aware of. I once had a client comment during this process that although people were always asking her to speak up or repeat herself, she never realized until reviewing her interview footage how inaudibly she spoke. Recordings pick up word timing, intonation, eye contact, interruptions, excessive fidgeting as well as the content of the answers. All of this is extremely beneficial to a person who may lack innate social awareness.

“The spoken and unspoken language of interviews is highly complex and has many nuances that may not be obvious to a person who has a diagnosis of ASD or another invisible difference.”

Secondly, I would recommend helping Cindy create a what I have come to refer to as a “self-advocacy script.” Self-advocacy is a way to explain autism spectrum traits using a template that appeals to the neurotypical way of understanding information. It provides a positive or neutral story for interpreting behaviours that may seem unusual or could be easily misunderstood.

A great example of how Cindy could do this is to write a script to explain her impatience with small talk. It might sound like this: “I’m the kind of person who is so interested in getting to the meat of a discussion, I’m not always paying attention to small talk. I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful; I’m just excited to get into the interview.” This script provides an explanation for behaviour that a client with an invisible difference may not be able to change and offers that safety of “disclosing without disclosing.” Although there are various opinions on when and how to disclose a disability, I think we can all agree that there are inherent risks to sharing very personal information with a complete stranger – or worse yet, a panel of strangers.  If an individual is not ready to do that, we can assist them by providing a non-threatening way to disclose some information related to their disability.

Overall, assisting people who have invisible differences and different ways of thinking in improving their interview skills is challenging, rewarding and doable.

Sarah Taylor began her career in autism treatment in 1996. In 2014, Taylor made the switch from working with and advocating for children and youth with ASD to designing and implementing a federally funded program, Next Level ASD, which provides employment supports for adults with autism and coaching support to partner employers.


Howlin, P. (2013). Social disadvantage and exclusion: Adults with autism lag far behind in employment prospects. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52 (9), 897–899.

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