Career design for a sustainable and meaningful career

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Event poster NoVA Career Design Lab

In the middle of October 2020, Nordic Visual Studies and Art Education (NoVA) Master’s programme hosted in collaboration with Aalto University’s Career & Alumni Services NoVA Career Design Lab workshop and networking event for NoVA students and alumni from Aalto UniversityIn the workshop, Dr. Kirsi LaPointe, currently working as the project manager in Aalto Career & Alumni Services, leaded participants to the basics of career design. Participants examined their career stories, imagined inspiring alternatives and chose concrete experiments. In addition to Kirsi’s orientation to career design, NoVA alumni Solip Park and Matilda Löytty and soon-to-be NoVA graduate Vivita Kaupere shared their career stories to inspire others to combine their passions, ideas and actions for meaningful careers in the creative field. The workshops offered participants practical tools and helped them to identify concrete steps that they could take right away in order to design a sustainable, meaningful career. In total, 18 NoVA alumni and students around the world participated in the online workshop held in Zoom. 

From the beginning, the working methods and approaches used in the workshop were something new that many participants never have experienced in career services before. The workshop started by reflecting the quotes by a few great thinkers Mary Olive, Tove Jansson, Pico Iyer and Elizabeth Gillbert.

Which one of the following quotes speaks to you the most right now?

Quote by Mary Oliver: Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild precious life?
Quote by Tove Jansson: All things are so very uncertain, and that's exactly what makes me feel reassured.
Quote by Pico Iyer: In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent as sitting still.
Quote by Elizabeth Gilbert: Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.

Next, to get to know each others better, participants briefly introduced themselves in pairs by telling how they ended up studying Nordic Visual Studies and Art Education and what they were planning to do when they “grow up”. The career stories varied from career change to the plan to pursuit a dream profession. Many career experiences and dreams reflected the themes, such as, interest in Nordic education, ambition towards contemporary art and art education as well as willingness to change the world a better place by using arts-based and artistic methods, theories and research.

The introductions were followed by Kirsi’s introduction to the principles of career design. Career design offers a fresh perspective for life and career when compared to a more well-known career planning. In career planning process, a student or job seeker focuses on a personal development by doing, for example, internships, job search, CV clinic exercises, or networking. Degrees, competencies and identity have traditionally been in the center of this process.

As an alternative to career development, career design sees a person or job seeker as an active change agent who takes agency of their own life. Change agents gather experiences and reflect its influences for lifewide and lifelong learning. They aim to do collaboration with others and apply an entrepreneurial mindset and skills although they would not ended up entrepreneurs themselves. Using creative thinking and critically puzzling your identity formation are methods in the center of the carer design process.

History of Career Design

Career Design has been searched and developed a lot in Stanford University’s Life Design concept. Adapting elements of design thinking, such as curiosity, user experience, collaboration, and prototyping to career design has given results that have helped people to find meaningful work.

Components of meaningful work by Kirsi LaPointe

Research on meaningful work is actively done to widen the knowledge of benefits and components of meaningful work in individual and organisational levels. In the frame of meaningfulness, self-construction, authenticity and personal virtue are central elements. The lack of meaningfulness can lead to situations of alienation.

As a pair for meaningfulness, meaning includes elements like self-transcendence, moral purpose and social virtue. When having a lack of these components the situation may end up an anomie. In the best scenario, the meaningful work is formed in between the components of meaningfulness and meaning.

Some other methods used in career design are Narrative career theory and coaching. Plot construction of stories is applied in identity work to better understand and manage transition in one’s career. So called soft skills, awareness and emotional skills support career designers’ question taken-for-granted narratives, observe and utilise their intuition and emotions as well as learn to reframe their situations in a new way.

Career design thinking process

Chart of career design thinking process by Kirsi LaPointe

The chart above, offered by Kirsi LaPointe, demonstrates the steps of a career design thinking process. Everything starts from What is? step. Who are you and what your story tells about you? Those narratives should not be told by others but created by yourself. This an approach that is extremely important in NoVA related jobs, for example, in community art, art education practices and arts-based research.

The career design thinking process continues by the requirement of openness for reframing your story (Reframe step). In this step, a person aims to this his/hers career story from new perspectives.

After reframing you career story, What if? step encourages you to ideate the future, the most utopia version too. You will observe and investigate your passions with the help of curiosity. This step we practiced in the workshop with a short writing and sharing exercise which you can try too (see the instructions below).

Small career design exercise

  1. Take a pen and paper. First, write down Dream life 1 and describe how your dream current life (step: current life 2.0).
  2. Second, write down Dream life 2 and describe what could be the dream B version if you can’t have the Dream Life 1.
  3. Next, write down Dream Life 3 and describe your dream life if money, skills or other people were not an obstacle for you.
  4. Finally, share the chosen result(s) with some other person.

The career design thinking process continues with a step called What resonates? In this step, you are encouraged to gather as many experiences as possible. What makes it different from gathering experiences offered by others, is that in this step you are actively prototyping these experiences, for example, doing NoVA related tasks, such as act of art activism or having meeting with an interesting person. Doing whatever relevant for you and your career, aims and dream are constantly kept in mind.  

Next Discern step guides you to let go from who we think we are supposed to be and embrace who we are. Especially this steps requires skills of critical thinking as well as self-compassion. 

After returning back to the beginning of the process, which is typical for circular shaped design thinking process, What works? is the final step. In this step, you will go back to the very beginning of the process and reflect your story. Are you aiming for a change? If yes, Michael Mangolis encourages you to change your story yourself to achieve you goals.

NoVA student and alumni stories

In between the career design thinking tasks offered by Kirsi, NoVA alumni Solip Park and Matilda Löytty and soon-to-be NoVA graduate Vivita Kaupere shared their career stories and tips for others to help them to achieve meaningful careers in the creative field.

Vivita Kaupere, NoVA student 2018-2020 & Entrepreneur

Vivita Kaupere is a NoVA 2018-2020 student and fresh solo-entrepreneur. She has worked as an artist educator in different environments in Latvia, Finland and Sweden. In her educational work, she has investigated transnationality and art making as a tool to build an identity. Vivita is also a jewellery practitioner of ViviKnots and artist educator of ViviCreates. In her speech, Vivita encouraged participants to discuss about their ideas with other people. She herself has found a content for her own business from the discussions with others; she learned to so see much more possibilities that she could do with her skills.

Discussing your ideas with other people can help you to see a wide set of opportunities that you have. – Vivita

Plant watercolour painting

Photos: Vivita Kaupere: Plant watercolour (on the left) and micromacrame jewellery (on the right)

Butterfly earring

Solip Park, NoVA alumni & PhD student in Aalto University

Solip Park is a NoVA alumni 2019 and doctoral student at the Department of Media, Aalto University School of Arts, Design, and Architecture, with research interests on game production culture and immigrants in the video game industry. Solip has worked as a project manager in the game industry as well as an startup entrepreneur. She is now working at Games Now! open lecture series, as well as one of the members of Aalto Design Research group.

Solip shared with participants the story about how her enthusiasm in games lead her to do an internship in Finnish Museum of Games as well as collaborate with them in her master’s thesis. She also described how she was introduced to comic-based research in NoVA of which she skilfully used in her own thesis (see the illustration on the right). After graduation Solip’s colleague Annakaisa Kultima from the game museum, current Postdoctoral Researcher at Aalto, invited her to be a part of game research community at Aalto University which lead her to start PhD studies at Aalto.

Illustration from game research master's thesis

Comic script from Solip’s thesis.

Matilda Löytty, NoVA alumni & Entrepreneur

Matilda Löytty is a NoVA alumni (NoVA 2016-2018) and a new solo-entrepreneur of Matilda Draws. She has earlier worked as an independent artist and graphic designer. She also works as a museum guide at Päivälehti Museum with the focus on museum pedagogy and art-based learning in a museum setting. Matilda inspired participants to combine all of their skills and add an entrepreneurial mindset on top of that. 

A person sitting in a park bench with a laptop

Photo: Malida Löytty

First I had art. Then I studied research. Next, I studied design.
In the end, I added business. I merged all these, and I suddenly had a ready made  business idea. – Matilda

Reflection and learning outcomes

Participants experienced career design as a new and fresh approach to reflect and design their careers. Some of participants are planning to found their own art education practice soon when some others were, for example, interested in finding community art spaces either in Finland or their countries of origins. Following quotes describe how a few participants experienced the workshop. 

Student experience quote
Student experience quote

Aalto Career & Alumni Services

Aalto Career & Alumni Services serves both students and employers, and also provide information and statistics on the placement and careers of Aalto University graduates. Dr. Kirsi LaPointe is a new project manager of Career Design in Aalto Career & Alumni Services. Prior to joining Aalto this fall, she worked as a lecturer and advisor in a MA program in Organizational Change Leadership program in the U.S. where she taught adult learning, organizational development, and meaningful work design. Her research and expertise focuses on cultural and narrative approaches to meaningful work, identity, and career change, and she has written articles, blogs and a book on these topics. In addition to her academic experience, she has worked as an HR consultant, facilitator, and entrepreneur.


Kirsi LaPointe

Portrait of university student

Written by Anni Rupponen
NoVA student from Aalto University

Career design for a sustainable and meaningful career

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