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Entrepreneur :: Blog :: Tightrope Artist Model: The Art of Managing Career and Life Transitions
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Entrepreneur :: Blog :: Tightrope Artist Model: The Art of Managing Career and Life Transitions

June 26, 2006

The Tightrope Artist Model was designed by Dr. Sally Gelardin. If you would like to refer to any part of this Model, please cite the source: Gelardin, S. (2006). lifeworkps.com/entrepreneur/weblog/818.html.


The art of managing career and life transitions can be compared to a "tightrope" artist. Walking on the "high wire," like conducting a job search, exploring a career change, deciding whether to open a business, coping with caregiving and career, or making retirement plans, requires balance and focus. Inspiration for the tightrope artist metaphor came from a Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) "Touch" Tightrope Video.

The framework of the Tightrope Artist Model is based on the following four steps outlined by Knowdell (1999) in his Career Development and Job Search Profile:

Step 1. Assess. Your Strengths and Style
Step 2. Explore Your Full Range of Options
Step 3. Focus on the Best Available Option for You
Setp 4. Develop a Plan To Get You To Your Goal

Following are the paramaters of The Tightrope Artist Model:

  • In addition to the career values, motivated skills, personal style, and career interests presented in the Profile, the Tightrope Artisl Model includes family and environmental influences, innner motivations, and preferred learning styles.
  • In the Tightrope Artist Model, you can start at any step, but in order to manage your career developemnt process most effectively, like the Profile, you should cover all the steps.
  • In the Tightrope Artist Model, "Step 3: Focus on the Best Available Option for You" is fluid; it can change. In other words, you can choose an option, and later change this (job/career/business/caregiving/retirement) option to a different option.
  • In the Tightrope Model, time is fluid. The word "goal" is replaced by "intention" in the Tightrope Model.  Therefore Step 4: Develop a Plan To Get You To Your Goal" becomes "Set an Intention and Develop a Plan" in the Tightrope Model. If you change your focus, you may choose to set a different intention and develop a plan of action, or you may choose not to take action at this time.
    Whichever model you follow, it's a good idea to go through these steps every five years, if not more frequently (i.e. every year) because your personal attributes (Step 1) may change over time, as may your goals.

    Step 1: Identify Your Strengths and Style

    Knowdell suggests that you assess the following four personal attributes to make a career decision, such as whether to start a business:

  • Skills

  • Interests

  • Values

  • Personality Traits

  • Four additional factors are important in managing career and life transitions:

  • Environmental preferences

  • Family influences

  • Inner motivations

  • Learning style preferences
  • .

    Environmental preferences
    Here are two activities to become aware of the kind of environment you prefer. If you are presenting a career workshop, consider doing the first activity at the beginning of the workshop as an icebreaker and do the second activity at the end of the workshop to help your participants tie their learnings together.
    I Am From Poem
    Creating Your Ideal Environment

    Family influences
    View Career Development Forums discussion and Family Infuences eCommunity.

    Inner motivations
    Primary motivations can be divided into following three categories:

    1. security
    2. passion
    3. quiescence

    Are you primarily a risk-taker, a relationship person, or a peacekeeper?

    View Fanita English's Inner Motivation Exercise to identify your primary motivations.

    Preferred learning style
    Learning styles can be divided into five categories (Sturdevant, 1998):

    1. visual-spatial (sight)
    2. musical (sound)
    3. interpersonal (storytelling)
    4. kinesthetic (moving)
    5. intrapsychic (inner guidance)

    Understanding your learning styles can be helpful in facing career, caregiving, self-care, and life challenges.

    View Preferred Learning Style Chart

    What is your preferred way of learning? In other words, do you learn best by reading or viewing movies (visual), listening to audiotapes (auditory), writing or playing cards (kinesthetic), talking and eating with others (interpersonal, sense of taste), reflecting (intrapersonal)?

    It would make sense to work in an environment in which you learn in your preferred way. For example, do you need to write (kinesthetic) as you listen (auditory) to remember what you hear? Do you prefer to move around (kinesthetic) or sit at your computer (visual) as you type on your keyboard (touch)? Do you enjoy meeting with associates (inter-personal) most of the time or working by yourself (intra-personal)? Do you like to talk and meet with others around mealtimes (taste)? Are you a visionary? Do you meditate? If so, breathing (olfactory) is important to you. Pink introduces one additional concept - empathy. Reynolds notes that presenters who listen (auditory) to their audience may choose to alter a pre-planned agenda and are more able to connect with their audience.

    Tightrope Artist Assessment Variables
    In summary, the Tightrope Artist Model includes the following eight factors that would be helpful to assess to manage career and life decisions:

  • Career Values
  • Motivated Skills
  • Personal Style
  • Career Interests
  • Family Influences
  • Environmental Influences
  • Inner Motivations
  • Preferred Learning Styles

  • Step 2: Conduct Field Research

    Knowdell says that the words "informational interviews" are misused because the interviewer is often seeking the interview to find out if there are any jobs in the interviewee's organization. He prefers to call this exploration "field research." After surfing the Internet and performing occupational research on the Web and in books, he suggests that you research your field of inquiry by approaching several individuals who have a job or are living in a way that appeals to you. "Field research" is to those in career exploration the way "market research" is to those who are exploring whether they want to become an entrepreneur and if there is any opportunity in a specific area where they would like to open their business.

    Step 3: Focus on the Best Available Option for You

    Most career decision-making models, like Knowdell's model, are linear. They often include a series of steps, such as in Knowdell's Profile:

    1. Become aware of a career dilemma
    2. Assess your strengths to manage the problem
    3. Research options
    4. Identify and implement goal

    In the Tightrope Artist Model, life and work are intertwined. Since many variables influence your ability to manage your work and life, making a decision can be overwhelming. Therefore, instead of "making a decision," in the Tightrope Artist Model, you "manage the career and life transitions process."

    In the Tightrope Artist Model, awareness of the present is essential to move through past regrets and future fears. Like the "Active Living Model" (Avis & Connelly, 2001), which asks the questions "Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going?, in the Tightrope Artist Model, you explore past family influences, examine what's happening in your life right now, and envision how you might conduct your life (personal, as well as work) in the future. In the Tightrope Artist Model, you experience different periods of time simultaneously.

    To assess your ability to be fully present in the here and now while making sense out of the past or preparing for the future, a tightrope artist can be used as a metaphor. In order to take her next step, she is aware of how she is balancing and feeling each moment ( fully present in the "here and now").

    An example of this step in the "Tightrope Artist Model" is to reflect on a past or future event and to visually scan your current surroundings while thinking about a problem that you need to solve. Like EMDR, a therapeutic technique that uses rapid eye movement, (REM) to help individuals manage axiety or trauma, the Tightrope Artist Model sychronizes present body/breath awareness to move you through fixating thoughts on the past or future that can freeze you from taking action, making choices, or simply accepting your current state.

    Step 4. Take Action or Not

    Most decision-making models move you from identifying your strengths, performing research, and setting a goal to taking action. However, sometimes the wisest decision is not to take action at the present time. The Tightrope Model is for those who desire to be "human beings," not just "human doers."

    Tightrope Artist Exercise
    Sit in a cross-legged position on the floor or a cushion with your back straight (or sit on a straight-back chair with your legs uncrossed and feet hip distance apart and flat on the floor) . Rest your hands on your knees, upward facing. Touch your thumb to your index finger. Your thumb represents the past and your index finger represents the future. The place where they meet is the present. This index finger/thumb connection locks and guides energy flow and reflexes to the brain, stimulating knowledge and ability. Yoga gestures and positions, such as Mudras, may appeal to those who prefer to learn through their senses; i.e., kinesthetics (movement), touch, and olfactory (breath).


  • Avis, J. and Connelly, M. (2001). A Model for Counseling Older Workers and Their Families. Career Planning and Adult Development Network Journal.
  • English, F. (1998). Videotape: The forces within us. International Transactional Analysis Association 436 14th Street, Ste 1301, Oakland, CA 94612. Email: ITAA@ITAA-net.org.
  • Gelardin, S. Expand Your Services To Counsel Entrepreneurs
  • Control Your Internet Presence
  • Knowdell, R. Career Planning and Adult Development Network.
  • Touch Tightrope Video. PBS documentary series: Art:21 Art in the Twenty-First Century.
  • Pink, D. A Whole New Mind.
  • Reynolds, G. Presentation Zen.
  • Sturdevant, K. (1998). The Laugh and Cry Movie Guide: Using movies to help yourself through life's changes. Lightspheres.
  • Posted by Sally Gelardin @ Entrepreneur

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