It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Life-Career Process Theory (Life-is-Career)

Anna Miller-Tiedeman 1999


The central proposition Miller-Tiedeman makes is that ‘life, not job, is career’ (Miller-Tiedeman, 1997, p. 87). Miller-Tiedeman puts a strong outcome on the process, and not the outcome, of career (or in this case life) planning. Miller-Tiedeman argues for a holistic approach and for not seeing ‘career’ as separate to life but integrated within it. She also argues for the individual to be their own theorist going through their life-career and integrates career theory within life-career for specific clients. ‘Going with life’ so Miller-Tiedeman argues, creates flow and allows life to balance itself.

The approach she takes has a spiritual, but not necessarily religious, flavour based on the individual’s core wisdom and life experience. For the adviser, their role is to create a moment for the client where everything they are struggling with slots into place. To bring the client in contact with their inner core and realign them with that, making decisions from their inner wisdom and life experience possible. Her approach and work are heavily based on Quantum Theory in science, claiming that “our need to control and our inattention to life’s desire gets in our way” (Miller-Tiedeman, 1997, p. 111).

Life-is-career theory Miller-Tiedeman.

Put differently, Miller-Tiedeman (1998) argues that, in addition to life-as-career:

  • Anticipating and going with ‘approaching forces’ or ‘things that are around the corner’ will make life easier and increase motivation
  • Change, which is unavoidable, offers perpetual uncertainty but also surprise and newness
  • Less is more
  • Listening to our inner guide and intuition will help us decide what to do next, even if that’s nothing
  • Life itself is self-organising
  • Life goes in all directions and each direction provides equally important information
  • Each person creates reality created each moment
  • The present is rarely problematic

There are certain themes recognisable apart from the main obvious one that life-is-career. Uncertainty and how and why to embrace it runs strong through the veins of this theory as well. I can also spot links with Buddhism even, in that Miller-Tiedeman argues in favour of living a simple life based on the present without losing sight, in a balanced way, of the current of the world around is. Miller-Tiedeman herself draws a line between her theory and quantum theory in that both deal with uncertainty and sees the social and us as larger, more complex elements of the same whole, an entirety that is self-organising.

What is revolutionary in her theory, and one of the reasons why it’s not based on career literature, is the idea of the client as ‘theory maker’. This seems to lean against the principle in the narrative approach that the client writes their own story, but it goes a step further. She argues that traditional career theory is too much about getting the square peg in the right square hole without considering or ‘surfing’ the process (Miller-Tiedeman, 1997, p. 88). At the same time she argues that traditional career planning and management is contained within the life-career paradigm, but that the other way round is impossible.

Classic theory, in short, sees education, career planning, occupational choice, job search as separate from each other, in a reductionist perspective. The theorist handing down their vision offers a fragmented perspective. Life-Career perceives the individual as a whole system, functioning within a larger system and their environments. Miller-Tiedeman (1997) sees the individual as the theory maker in their own day to day life. Personal theories supersede the classic theories in the sense that they are not important when someone is in the middle of looking for work. Personal theory matters on a day to day basis while classic theory is used for academic debate.

This doesn’t mean that with a limited number of clients, classic theory can be useful. The proviso for it to be useful though, is that every area is explored.

The Big Bang Theory show and the life-career paradigm.

To illustrate this, there is a good example in comedy with its exaggerations for comedy effect, which can be used as a magnifying glass. In the Big Bang theory, Leonard’s mum is a renowned child psychologist who applies her theories and nothing else, raising her own children. Because of this, his mum is largely unemotional about her son and Leonard has had an dysfunctional childhood as a result. Child psychology theory doesn’t translate well into reality (it’s a theoretical abstraction) as it doesn’t take into the account the day to day unplanned realities of human existence and the world around us.

Every other mother will, in the paradigm of life-theory, be their own theorist, pragmatically theorising and making decisions in the real world on a daily basis.

This doesn’t mean that theory is separate to life. It’s a part of it in the sense that you can apply it’s principles when raising your own children, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into good child rearing if you don’t also adapt and use your own day to day ‘theorising’. The individual parent still needs to be their own theorist and make it work for them in practice. Child psychology is contained within the parenting-life paradigm but at the same time it’s mainly there for academic debate.


Life-is-Career in practice

Miller-Tiedeman (1997) proposes 3 major principles are important in applying the key concepts of Life-is-career theory.

  • Principle 1. Abandon judgment.
    • since everyone has their own values and theory for dealing with life, making a judgement about a client’s organisational skills is judging yourself. One person’s good is another person’s bad.
  • Principle 2. Consider decision making a natural phenomenon.
    • Miller-Tiedeman uses examples from nature to show that decision making is a natural process, echoing the tenet of ‘going with life/nature’.
  • Principle 3. Encourage living from the inside out, not the reverse.
    • the greatest learning comes from trial and error, even though advice and suggestions can help. There is no grand plan in nature and the end result is there because of trial and error.
    • supporting exploration is therefore crucial, even if you think they won’t work. The client needs to learn from failure as well as success so they can attune to the previous two points.
    • according to Miller-Tiedeman the main goal is to help students find value and feel comfortable with all of their decisions.
    • at the same time, she is worried about us making any judgement, even briefly, as it will be communicated. This may pose a barrier between you and the client and you, depending on their awareness and it may inhibit the client’s creativity forming a barrier to natural flow. It’s key to support the client’s career theory.

Miller-Tiedeman goes on to propose 8 specific ways to provide support (Miller-Tiedeman, 1997, pp. 109-111)

  1. Tell clients up front they have a career already – Life
  2. Ensure clients know that they know best how and if something is working
  3. Encourage trial and error without judgement
  4. It’s not because a client excels at something that they shouldn’t look at other areas as well. Looking at other areas needs to be encouraged.
  5. Allow for decision making over time, rather than having to decide everything now. Encourage longer term plans to develop and changing plans as they go along
  6. Ensure the client understands that their internal information is primary
  7. Be a role model for change. Let clients observe your enthusiasm for change
  8. Encourage students to focus on action, not outcome

Rather than a clear methodology to use in any consultation or intervention, Miller-Tiedeman rather gives a set of tenets or attitudes from which to work with the client.



Miller-Tiedeman proposes a very different kind of perspective to both career planning (career is life) and practising career counselling. At first sight, the career professional doesn’t have any role to play anymore as she claims that the client is their own theorist, they focus on their personal reality and on their inner feeling of what is right. However within this is the possibility for the client to be ‘misaligned’ with their internal truth and the flow of the world. This offers a role for the practitioner to be the conduit along which the client can re-align themself as long the practitioner is fully aware and ‘on board’ with the principles of Career-is-Life Theory.

Personally I feel some of the aspects of Life-career theory sit very easy with me and I use them routinely in my own practice. I can also see how the general gist of the theory makes sense and that the holistic approach she takes integrates a lot of aspects, such as gender, ethnicity, etc… automatically, which other approaches lack. I feel this may not resonate with everyone. Values are different and what people want to get out of a job or life is different. Some people may rightly or wrongly consciously segregate ‘life’ and ‘work’ and see both as very different areas of their life (there’s a paradox!). Others may have a very black and white view of the world, again rightly or wrongly, and their personality may be heavily focused on statistical evidence for making their decisions. For those people, working in this way with them as clients may not work. They may even struggle against it.

I feel there is also room for error in applying this theory. Some people’s core feelings may be obtused or so disrupted, challenging them may cause rebellion and anger. If you see the client often enough, the client has the time and you have the skills, you can work through this. How often do we have the chance however, especially with the way career guidance is organised in England at the moment, with a focus on short term employability, ‘getting a job’ and the success of the economy at heart, rather than long term individual (spiritual) fulfilment. An approach which goes directly against the grain of Life-is-Career theory.

Miller-Tiedeman claims the outcome can either be reversion to the previous state or transition. She claims that life will find its balance if allowed to let it do that. She only hints at a different kind of balance with a very negative outcome for the client. You could argue that a negative outcome is a learning opportunity, but I would really struggle to support the client in making a decision which is going to put them on a path of destruction without talking through the (rational) consequences of such a decision with the client and then allowing them make the decision, for worse or for better.

These are some of my thoughts, but have a look to see what you think:

  • What do you think? Is this a fair representation of how you feel the theory to work?
  • If you’re able to, try and read some of Miller-Tiedeman’s original work and ask yourself how you feel. Do you find it easy to align yourself with her work?
  • Do you find it easy, or difficult to make sense of, which if you claim this to be a judgment of her work, rightly says something about your inner workings, values and ideas of course.
  • Again, have a look at Brown and see how Life-is-Career Theory measures up.
  • How would you work with this theory? Have you used aspects of it?
  • Does it align with how you feel about how career works? Is career and life the same or on the same plane?
  • Miller-Tiedeman draws a firm line between Life-is-Career and other, classic theories. Can you find any theories that align in some way with the principles or detail in her work?
  • Will this approach work with anyone? Or would this resonate more with specific people and not others?


Useful links and further reading:


Miller-Tiedeman, A., (1997). The Lifecareer®1 Process Theory A Healthier Choice. In: Bloch, D. and Richmond, L. Connections Between Spirit And Work In Career Development. London [England]: Routledge, pp.87-112.