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The Kaleidoscope Career Model  

Sherry E. Sullivan and Shawn M. Carraher

The kaleidoscope career model (KCM) was developed by Mainiero and Sullivan in 2006 based on data from interviews, focus groups, and three surveys of over 3,000 professionals working in the United States. The metaphor of a kaleidoscope was used to describe how an individual’s career alters in response to alternating needs for authenticity, balance, and challenge within a changing internal and external life context. As a kaleidoscope produces changing patterns when its tube is rotated and its glass chips fall into new arrangements, the KCM describes how individuals change the pattern of their careers by rotating the varied aspects of their lives to arrange their work–nonwork roles and relationships in new ways. Individuals examine the choices and options available to create the best fit among various work demands, constraints, and opportunities given their personal values and interests. The ABCs of the KCM are authenticity, balance, and challenge. Authenticity is an individual’s need to make choices that reflect their true self. People seek alignment between their values and their behaviors. Balance is an individual’s need to achieve an equilibrium between the work and nonwork aspects of life. Nonwork life aspects are defined broadly to include not only spouse/partners and children but also parents, siblings, elderly relatives, friends, the community, personal interests, and hobbies. Challenge is an individual’s need for stimulating work that is high in responsibility, control, and/or autonomy. Challenge includes career advancement, often measured as intrinsic or extrinsic success. All three parameters are always active throughout the life span, and all influence decision-making. One parameter, however, usually takes priority; this parameter has greater influence in shaping an individual’s career decisions or transitions at that point in time. Over an individual’s life, the three parameters shift, with one parameter moving to the foreground and intensifying in strength as it takes priority at that time. The other two parameters will lessen in intensity, receding into the background, but they remain active.