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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Meaningful work and childhood stress Naylor, Carol Anne


A multiple case study method was used to investigate the relationship between adult experiences of meaningful work and childhood experiences of existential stress. Three male participants were selected on the basis that they were engaged in personally meaningful work. In-depth interviews were used to collect stories from their childhood and current work life. Childhood and work narratives were transcribed from taperecorded interviews. Each account was reviewed and validated by the case study participants. The accounts were analyzed by comparing the childhood and work narrative plots and the participant's role within these plots. An analysis of the narratives revealed a pattern of experience that was common to all three cases. Overall, participants were found to play similar roles in their childhood and work narratives. In childhood, participants did not feel equipped to fulfill the role in which they were cast. As a result, participants were repeatedly cast in dramas in which the overriding stress of their childhood was played out. In work, however, participants were able to fulfill their roles and were engaged in activities that were instrumental in producing desired outcomes. Those activities cited as meaningful were directly and symbolically related to the resolution of the central stress from their childhood. Several implications emerge from this study. First, the study supports the findings of previous researchers who describe a relationship between childhood stress and meaningful work. Second, it describes a very complex relationship that includes such factors as an individual's sense of agency, enactments of family dramas, re-targeting sources of resolution, and engagement in significant activities. Third, it lends support for the practicability and usefulness of narrative approaches to career counselling. Finally, it supports the idea that meaningful work does not belong only to extraordinary or gifted people.

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