How ‘Chaos Theory’ Can Help You Get Ahead in Your Career

George J. Ziogas

It’s time to say goodbye to the traditional linear path of the past

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The pandemic has accelerated many employment trends that were already building over the past few years. Many companies moved to remote working during the pandemic. Many workers have been happy to embrace the flexibility of working from home while companies have found they can massively reduce the cost of maintaining expensive offices. The growing gig economy has seen both workers and companies rejecting traditional fixed employment in favor of having tasks performed on an ad-hoc basis.

Long before the pandemic hit, the traditional world of long-term stable employment was already becoming outdated. A 2018 Deloitte survey of 10,455 people across 36 countries born between 1983 and 1994 found that millennials were much less likely to stay in one job for an extended period than previous generations. The survey discovered that 43% of millennials planned to leave their job within the next two years and just 28% expected to remain with the same company for the next five years.

This lack of employment stability can be both disorientating and liberating. Chaos theory can help workers think about their careers in new and dynamic ways. It may provide the key to forging a successful career in the unpredictable modern employment environment.

What is chaos theory?

Chaos theory took shape during the second half of the twentieth century. Theorists working in many different disciplines began to recognize that seemingly random data could help build complex pictures of dynamic systems with many interacting elements.

One of the most popular interpretations of chaos theory is the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect proposes that a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico could cause a hurricane in China.

Chaos theory has allowed theorists to build complex models which explain seemingly random phenomena. From climate science to psychology, chaos theory can be applied to almost any field.

As social media took shape in the 21st century, giant tech firms began harvesting huge amounts of data that can be used to develop complex models regarding people’s behavior. It has now become a common truism to say that almost anything can be predicted accurately if you can interpret the chaotic interactions of complex data points.

How can chaos theory be applied to your career?

In the past, most people looked at their careers as moving through a predictable linear progression. You study for a career, get an entry level job at a company, then slowly work your way up that company’s hierarchy until retirement. The modern reality is much more complex.

In 2011, Robert Pryor and Jim Bright published a book titled The Chaos Theory of Careers. This book outlined how chaos theory can be applied to understanding your career path and maximizing your future earning potential.

A key part of Pryor and Bright’s theory is that change is inevitable and the future will always be unpredictable. External factors such as the economy and new technologies will impact your career path in unexpected ways. Similarly, your own values and goals are dynamic data points that play into the complex interaction of elements guiding your career path.

Instead of being afraid of chaos and unpredictability, workers should embrace the possibilities that they enable. Workers should try to understand their own wants and goals as fully as possible. They should look at their own unique skills and experience and take opportunities which can develop these further. Embracing the chaos theory of careers means having flexible long-term goals and being ready to react to unexpected changes and opportunities. Setbacks in your career path should be seen as an opportunity for further growth and development.

How to fully embrace the potential of the chaos theory of careers

There are many steps that you can take to embrace the chaos theory of careers. Try to avoid getting fixated on one particular career path. Think about the transferable skills that you have developed and how these could be applied to different roles and opportunities.

Networking is a hugely important aspect of every career path. Embrace opportunities to meet new people and grow your network of contacts. As well as providing potential future employment opportunities, your network of acquaintances can bring you diverse insights into the chaotic modern world of work. New contacts bring new perspectives which you can apply to your own dynamic career path.

Take an optimistic attitude to new developments, even when they seem overwhelmingly negative. Many people lost their jobs due to the economic shock of the pandemic. While losing your job can be terrifying, it can also provide you with new opportunities to grow your skills and develop your career in exciting new areas.

Chaos can be liberating

A 21st century career is unlikely to follow the traditional linear path of the past. Expect change and be ready to embrace all the challenges and opportunities it brings. Recognize that you are part of an incredibly complex system of interacting elements. The world around you is chaotic and there is only so much you can do to control it. Embrace the chaos theory of careers and maximize your potential for future growth.

“A hustler has to deal with danger and risk. It’s part of the game. You cannot control it all, nor would you want to. Chaos, unknown factors are not something to be anxious about.” Robert Greene

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