Navigating Career-Life Choices Through Divorce

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by Edward Anthony Colozzi, Ed.D.
Career Development and Counseling Services

The Meaning /Money Conflict

Do people experiencing a divorce differ from their counterparts who seek career-life counseling and are not going through a divorce? Yes because their counseling needs require more discussion about their relationship problems and the accompanying stress and depression, and the many challenges facing them regarding entering the labor market, often a first time experience for those who have been primarily parents and home managers. Some clients might not be financially viable relying on alimony and/or child support alone. Complicating this further is the fact that many women (and some men) who have been primarily parents and home managers might not have the appropriate education and training to be competitive in the labor market post divorce. Even if they do, their time spent parenting and home managing might have precluded them from keeping current with their skill sets, and they will require time and financial resources to become current and acquire additional training and education prior to entering the labor market.

For many traditional clients seeking career-life counseling, finding work that fosters a sense of meaning and purpose is a theme that often appears during initial intake interviews and subsequent discussions. Many individuals acknowledge an awareness of some inner potential and express frustration with their lack of clarity regarding their career-life goals. This lack of clarity and accompanying feelings of angst can serve as an important emotional trigger that moves clients into a state of readiness for career-life counseling. They still want sufficient income, but many discover what truly propels them is their desire to search for a more purposeful work role and life path. This is a time of transition during which there are many opportunities for growth and new beginnings. It is also a journey that has its bumps and blind curves, including lots of potholes!

This journey to seek meaningful work is common, yet more complicated to navigate for persons experiencing relationship problems and/or divorce. These clients have similar yearnings to find meaningful work that matches their abilities, interests and values, but they experience additional conflicting feelings based on their more immediate needs relative to the divorce. These immediate needs can often outweigh their quest for a job with more meaning; money matters more, and yearning for meaningful work weakens.

Effective career-life counseling affords clients the opportunity to deal with this conflict and helps them re-frame their job search in the context of realism and hope for a better future as their life journey continues, which it always does. One important paradigm shift for such clients is the use of “career-life” (career equals multiple life roles) rather than the focus on “career equals job”. This shift acknowledges the time and energy most adults put into multiple roles, several of which are being played simultaneously and require constant balancing. Most adults are playing five to six of nine identified life roles, and many adults are often playing up to eight which can cause stress and compromise the need for self-care and interfere with life role balance.

An Important Shift In Thinking About Career

The traditional way of thinking of career as “What I do from 9 to 5, pays me bucks, and hopefully I’ll like it”, is no longer effective. The informed person knows they have choices and makes these choices across multiple career and life roles in ways that lead to success and fulfillment. The term career-life refers to all the different roles played by a person in her/his life, including time spent as a student, part-time or full-time worker, or even home manager, spouse, or parent, as well as several others. A theory-based practical strategy is needed. This includes re-educating clients about the world of work, teaching clients how to use self- knowledge to narrow down the best job matches, and raising low self-efficacy beliefs that often hinder clients’ decision-making.

The work role is often difficult to balance with other life roles, and stress is an increasing problem across all career-life roles. People work longer hours and have more jobs prior to retirement than in the past. Most people today will have a minimum of seven to ten jobs during their working life in a minimum of three or perhaps four unrelated occupational fields. While many jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or more depending on the field, the majority of jobs will require at least a community college degree or certificate. There is also the global economy to consider, that affects local employment opportunities. All this has implications for spouse support, alimony, and custody deliberations. This is no longer our mother’s, father’s, or grandparents’ world. We’re not in Kansas anymore!

Divorce might mean a spouse must consider activating a full or part-time work role and strategize how to creatively balance the home managing and/or parenting roles. Divorce might mean activating the learner role and attending college for re-tooling in addition to playing several other demanding roles, including being a care-giver to aging parents. These are important considerations for persons experiencing divorce, therapists counseling them, even attorneys and judges who help them through the divorce experience, hopefully avoiding major pitfalls.

If a spouse does not have a bachelor’s degree, and wants to be a counselor or a CPA, how does she/he decide to pursue the necessary education and training? What are the job prospects? What are the costs associated? Are children involved, what are their ages, and how will all this impact the parenting role-of BOTH spouses? Understanding and applying this career-life paradigm places these concerns, and many other related issues, in a meaningful, useful and therapeutic context that can facilitate making wise and informed career-life choices.

A Career-Life Strategy Formula

To make wise and informed career-life choices, it is useful for clients to consider five main components of The Career-Life Strategy Formula (Colozzi, 2009).
They are:
•Discovering self-knowledge: information about you, your skills, interests, and values-your personality type;
•Learning important Information about the world-of-work, how it is organized, and the various occupations that make up the world-of-work;
• Understanding the career-life concept and the different roles that make up your career, including the work role and the student role that often need modification and/or reactivation resulting from divorce.
•Discovering and/or creating the best person-environment matches for yourself across all career- life roles, especially in the context of a divorce and resulting life changes;
• Understanding a reflective and intuitive decision-making process that helps you make wise and informed choices across multiple career and life roles in ways that will be realistic, financially rewarding, and personally fulfilling.

Most counselors agree that career-life decision-making requires a clear understanding of self- knowledge and specifically, one’s abilities and talents, interests, and values systems. Everyone has self-knowledge, yet many people are not sufficiently aware of their self-knowledge. Self- knowledge, when interfaced with information about world of work information, can eventually result in appropriate and satisfying matches. This dominating assumption in vocational psychology has supported the person-environment (P-E) fit approach for many years, and the prevalent use of vocational interests for screening thousands of occupations and identifying the most appropriate choices is often used. More attention needs to be given to the role of values in people’s belief systems and the application of both reflective and intuitive decision-making, in the context of values clarification, to facilitate clients’ choices across multiple career-life roles that are always changing (Colozzi, 2003, 2014).

People’s beliefs about themselves, how they perceive their self-knowledge, ultimately influence their approach to life and their specific career-life choices. Although clients’ learning experiences may hinder or facilitate career decision-making, learning is lifelong, and there are many opportunities to re-learn old limiting beliefs (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996). The core of all those learning experiences, at some level, is linked to “what is important to me (to do, to be, to believe, to say) as an individual”, and the resulting evolution of a values system becomes a central factor that influences all career-life decisions (Colozzi, 2003). Even when life happens and situational determinants occur, including divorce, people’s values influence how they choose to respond to those determinants. Making wise career-life choices during and after a divorce is possible with the right resources, and this important and powerful paradigm offers realism and hope for new beginnings.

Quick Tips

It is important to raise a client’s self esteem and efficacy beliefs. It is important to offer them hope and allow them to realize that there is life after divorce. A few comforting words and perhaps a referral can greatly assist many clients experiencing the angst associated with divorce. Several key questions useful for encouraging clients to consider their need for career-life counseling are as follows:
1) Are you ready to be competitive in today’s labor market? What are your top skill sets, and what sector of the labor market do you plan to enter. Do you have a current resume, and are you prepared to go on job interviews? Are you clear about what and how you can offer value to your new work environment?
2) Do you have a clear and specific occupational goal, or are you unfocused and in need of career-life counseling and/or coaching?
3) How is your self-esteem, and do you need some assistance with raising your confidence and developing a stronger internal locus of control, i.e., discovering your inner voice and being assertive?
4) Are you adequately prepared to deal with the short and long term consequences of your divorce such as achieving financial stability, exploring your need for re-training, and developing strategies for balancing various career and life roles such as parenting, home managing, and your worker role?
More useful information about making wise career-life choices is available on my website listed under the heading of this article, including links that can offer clarification and some inspiration as you deal with the inevitable challenges that are often associated with divorce. You will somehow prevail through this part of your life journey and have a opportunity to reflect and discover new meaning and purpose for yourself across your various career-life roles. The Divorce Center has many resources and excellent professionals, representing a variety of specialties, who can assist you with your journey.


Colozzi, E. A., & Byars-Winston, A. (2014). DOVE (Depth-Oriented Values Extraction): Helping Clients Create Career-Life Choices. In M. Pope, L. Y. Flores, & P. J. Rottinghaus (Eds.), The Role of Values In Careers. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Colozzi, E. A. (2009). Creating Careers with Confidence, (Self-paced career exploration workbook for adults and youth). Pearson/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J.

Colozzi, E.A. (2003). Depth-Oriented Values Extraction (DOVE). The Career Development Quarterly, 52, 180-189.

Mitchell, L. K. & Krumboltz, J. D. (1996). Krumboltz’s Learning Theory of Career Choice and Counseling. In D. Brown, L. Brooks, & Associates (Eds.), Career Choice and Development (pp. 233-280). (3rd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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