Seeking Challenge

Edited by:
S. Gayle Baugh, University of West Florida
Sherry E. Sullivan, Bowling Green State University

A volume in the series: Research in Careers. Editor(s): Sherry E. Sullivan, Bowling Green State University. S. Gayle Baugh, University of West Florida.

The fourth volume of the Research in Careers series contains seven chapters that focus on the theme of pursuing challenge in one’s career. In it, authors present work on the third parameter of the kaleidoscope career model (KCM). The two volumes preceding this one have considered the other two major parameters of the model, authenticity and balance. In this volume, challenge in the work setting is viewed as an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop. Seeking challenge involves engaging in stimulating work that offers opportunities to become absorbed in one’s work activities. The chapters in this volume take different perspectives on challenge and include different populations. The authors in this volume explore issues including (a) how networking is used to enhance challenge in a leadership development context, (b) the influence of a virtual professional community on responses to challenge, (c) pursuing challenge through entrepreneurship, (d) how challenge is viewed by a new generations of employees both in the U.S. and in India, and finally, (e) how challenge can stimulate development of expertise or, by contrast, may sometimes be “too much of a good thing.” While basing their work on a similar conception of challenge, the authors examine challenge in different contexts and offer different perspectives on its influence in the work place.

In the first chapter, Monica Forret and Shelly McCallum-Ferguson discuss networking as a mechanism to proactively obtain personal support in order to take on the challenge of developing leadership skills. While a great deal of attention has been focused on leadership development, these scholars indicate that individuals can facilitate their own leadership development through seeking challenge and then identifying and developing the support needed to face those challenges. This chapter has implications for development after the completion of formal leadership programs or outside of such programs.

Chapter two, authored by Anita Blanchard, Oscar Stewart, and Melissa Medaugh, investigates an alternative mechanism of obtaining support to take on the tasks of an inherently challenging profession. These authors look at engagement in a virtual community and the support offered for nurses to successfully navigate the challenges of their profession. In this career context, the socio-emotional, informational, and identity support offered by the virtual community is available for nurses at all career stages, but may be more important for those in the early stages of this career.

In chapter three, Magdalena Markowska offers a different perspective on proactively seeking challenge in the career. Focusing on the career path of high-profile chefs, she identifies entrepreneurship among chefs as a method for embracing challenge. While chefs have many opportunities to seek challenge through enhancing their culinary skills, entrepreneurship offers a qualitatively different type of challenge and one that many celebrity chefs have actively pursued. In addition to extending the entrepreneurship literature to an under-studied population, she adds the need for challenge and stimulation to the set of antecedents of entrepreneurship.

In chapters four and five, generational differences in the definition of and desire for challenge take prominence. While much has been written about generational differences in terms of work attitudes and work commitment, there has been little attention paid to how current generations are coping with an increasingly dynamic career landscape. In chapter four, Anashiya Madan and Ajay Jain present information about how individuals in Generation X and Generation Y seek challenge in order to maintain employability in the marketing and advertising field in India. Their qualitative study echoes the emphasis from the first chapter on proactively developing supportive networks in order to tackle challenging tasks that facilitate continuous growth and development and extends the investigation of challenge to another national context.

Sherry Sullivan and Shawn Carraher (in chapter five) turn attention to the United States to explore the definition of challenge among the newest generational cohort, Millennials (also referred to as Generation Y, as is the case in chapter four). It is crucial to explore the meaning of challenge in this new generation of workers, lest they become overwhelmed and discouraged by early experiences in the workplace that may constitute “too much of a good thing”—a caution that will be repeated in the concluding chapter of the volume. These two scholars offer numerous suggestions for both faculty and employers to set the appropriate level of challenge for Millennials as well as for setting realistic expectations among members of this generational cohort.

The final two chapters of the volume juxtapose the “bright side” and “dark side” of challenge on the job. The “bright side” of challenge is explored by Nikos Bozionelos and colleagues in chapter six. These scholars view the development of expertise as a result of seeking challenge. In addition, both organizational learning climate (a macro-level variable) and learning value of the job (a micro-level variable) are included as antecedents of expertise and the state of flow on the job is defined as a mediator between the antecedents and occupational expertise. Thus, challenge is situated in a nomological network of “bright side” variables that add explanatory power.

In chapter seven, the concluding chapter, challenge is viewed through a different lens. Veronica Godshalk and Barrie Litzsky offer the suggestion that high levels of challenge on the job may be “too much of a good thing.” Up to this point in the volume, challenge has been viewed as a positive characteristic of the job and the career that is sought after by individuals in developing their career. However, too much challenge, especially when it is externally imposed, may lead to a tipping point where challenge actually results in distress. This final chapter serves as a reminder that even positive organizational phenomena may at times become burdensome.

The volume presents a nice collection of scholarly work directed toward challenge on the job. As we discovered in developing the volume, challenge is an understudied area and we hope that this volume will stimulate further exciting research questions.

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