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Identity transitions: possible selves, liminality and the dynamics of career change

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This article develops a theory of identity transition in career change. The theory is based on three arguments. First, the theory identifies three means of enacting possible selves: activities, relationships and narratives. By doing new things, forming new reference groups and re-telling their life stories, people detach from older or less desirable identities and explore newer, still-unformed possible selves. Second, the theory argues that career change is preceded by an identity transition or liminal period in which people are simultaneously disengaging from one identity, without having fully left it, while at the same time, engaging another, without having fully assumed it. Liminal phenomena, including transitional time, space and guides, regulate the speed and ease of the transformation processes by creating a boundary zone in which people "play with" alternative possible selves. Third, in the absence of an institutionalized role passage such as a promotion or transfer, the person making a career change must, himself or herself, decide whether and when to exit the old career. The theory proposes that ongoing processes of generating and testing possible selves are punctuated by jolts and triggers that help people select and discard options among the alternatives they have considered. Jolts and triggers are not antecedents of change but rather occasions for retrospective sense making; as such, their impact on career change is moderated by characteristics of the transition period.

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