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METHODS article

Front. Psychol., 14 November 2016 |

Virtue Existential Career Model: A Dialectic and Integrative Approach Echoing Eastern Philosophy

Shu-Hui Liu1,2*, Jui-Ping Hung3, Hsin-I Peng4, Chia-Hui Chang5 and Yi-Jen Lu6
  • 1Department of Guidance and Counseling, National Changhua University of Education, Changhua, Taiwan
  • 2Chinese Career Research Center, National Changhua University of Education, Changhua, Taiwan
  • 3Department of Counseling Psychology, Chinese Culture University, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 4Department of Psychology, Fu Jen Catholic University, Xinbei, Taiwan
  • 5Bai-Du System Design Co. Ltd, Taipei, Taiwan
  • 6Tainan Municipal Fusing Junior High School, Tainan, Taiwan

Our Virtue Existential Career (VEC) model aims at complementing western modernism and postmodernism career theories with eastern philosophy. With dialectical philosophy and virtue-practice derived from the Classic of Changes, the VEC theoretical foundation incorporates merits from Holland typology, Minnesota Theory of Work Adjustment, Social Cognitive Career Theory, Meaning Therapy, Narrative Approach Career Counseling, and Happenstance Learning Theory. While modernism considers a matched job as an ideal career vision and prefers rational strategies (controlling and realizing) to achieve job security; postmodernism prefers appreciating and adapting strategies toward openness and appreciates multiple possible selves and occupations, our model pursues a blending of security and openness via controlling-and-realizing and appreciating-and-adapting interwoven with each other in a dialectical and harmonious way. Our VEC counseling prototype aims at a secular goal of living on the earth with ways and harmony (安身以法以和) and an ultimate end to spiral up to the wisdom of living up to the way of heaven (天道) with mind and virtue (立命以心以德). A VEC counseling process of five major career strategies, metaphorical stories of qian and kun, and experiential activities are developed to deliver VEC concepts. The VEC model and prototype presented in this research is the product of an action research following Lewin's (1946) top-to-down model. Situated structure analyses were conducted to further investigate the adequacy of this version of VEC model and prototype. Data from two groups (one for stranded college graduates and the other for growing college students) revealed empirical supports. Yang type of career praxes tends to induce actualization, which resulting in realistic goals and concrete action plans; yin type of career praxes tends to increase self-efficacy, which resulting in positive attitude toward current situatedness and future development. Acceptance and dialectic thinking often result from yin-yang-blending career praxes. Growing developers benefit from a strategy sequence of yang-yin-synthesized; stranded developers from a strategy sequence of yin-yang-synthesized. Our contributions and limitations are discussed in the context of developing indigenous career theories and practices for a globalized and ever-changing world.

Careers should always be seen as embedded in societal, political, and economic contexts (Collin and Young, 1986) and shaped by chance events (Bright et al., 2009). Nowadays, a critical challenge for career practitioners and scholars is to answer “how people live a summative life in such a globalized and ever-changing world.”

The key to this question lies in the conceptual framework of career views. A career view reflects how an individual views and copes with his or her career issues, and it consists of career visions and projecting strategies (Liu, 2005). A career vision identifies WHAT one wants in one's career. One needs to figure out a meaningful and feasible life for one to live up to in one's world. A projecting strategy, as a way of being-in-the-world, identifies HOW one gets what one wants or takes what one is given or encounters. It also indicates the ways to live up to one's career vision. Everyone has his or her own career view, which indicates his or her ideal career evolution and favored career evolution strategies. Furthermore, each career theory reveals a kind of career view underlying its theoretical arguments.

In western literature, modernism and postmodernism career theories have proposed two types of answers (career views) to the question of summative life: settling down or opening up (Chudzikowski, 2012). Table 1 summarizes the comparison of these two types of answers.


Table 1. The comparison of modernism and postmodernism career approaches.

Modernism (Chartrand, 1991; Kristof-Brown et al., 2005; Sampson, 2009) pursues the goal of settling down. It prefers a matched job and a linear sequence of employment-related positions, roles, activities, and experiences, which share common characteristics and cumulate occupational success and satisfaction. Change and career uncertainty are considered as something bad and people are encouraged to catch the constant parts out of changing lives. With the stress of instrumental rationality and subjectivity, the modernists rely on rational strategies (controlling and realizing, 掌控落實), which emphasize analytic thinking to capture a precise understanding of self and environment, to achieve job security. It values standardized quantitative assessments and aggregate factual career information.

Such a paradigm definitively has its merits; which is why it could survive for more than one century. Nevertheless, more and more western postmodern career theories have emerged to echo Trevor-Roberts's (2006) calls for positive reactions to career uncertainty. Gelatt's positive uncertainty (Gelatt, 1989, 1995), Krumboltz's happenstance learning theory (Mitchell et al., 1999; Krumboltz, 2009), and Pryor and Bright's career chaos theory (Pryor and Bright, 2003, 2006, 2007) are three of the most popular ones. These theories consider change and uncertainty as something good and people are encouraged to embrace the inconstant nature of lives. They advocate a life of opening up to multiple possibilities. With the concern of synchronicity and intersubjectivity, intuitive and expressive strategies (appreciating and adapting, 悅納變通) are provided for an experiential understanding of self and environment. As a result, the postmodernism summative career evolution may be a combination of employment-related or unrelated positions, roles, activities, and experiences, which may possess objectively different characteristics and subjectively constructed fulfillment and meaning.

The purpose of this research is to propose the third type of answers (career views) about a summative life, which complements western modernism and postmodernism career theories with ancient Chinese philosophy from the Classic of Changes (易經, an ancient divination text, also known as the I Ching, the Book of Changes, the Zhouyi or Zhou Changes). Such an ancient Chinese wisdom has been considered as the very essential of Chinese culture as well as a world philosophy which is rooted in the universal humanity and appeals to entire human being (Hwang, 2009; Hwang and Chang, 2009; Cheng, 2013; Liu, 2014). The Virtue Existential Career Model (Liu and Wang, 2014; Liu et al., 2014, 2016; VEC model, Liu et al., 2015) uses the Classic of Changes and its subsequent Confucian and Taoist philosophies to address ordinary people's practical and existential career concerns. Such a model echoes Hwang's (2012) advocacy for culture-inclusive psychology as well as Liu et al. (2008) proposition for social and cross-cultural psychology as a global enterprise.

Moreover, echoing pluralism advocated by postmodernism, the VEC model intends to incorporate merits from both modernism and postmodernism career views. Martin and Sugarman (2000) have articulated a middle-ground position between modernity and postmodernity; Casey (2000) has called for a revitalized project to transcend the limitations resulted from modern or postmodern approaches alone; Zhao (2007) has argued that it takes the postmodern value of intersubjectivity and mutual connection to nurture one's inner self and, therefore, make a modern subject without alienation. Still more, Sampson (2009) has pointed out directly that career practitioners can provide better services if modern and postmodern career theories go hand in hand with each other. Hence, our model pursues an enjoyable blending of security and openness via career evolution resulting from controlling-and-realizing and appreciating-and-adapting interwoven with each other in a dialectical and harmonious way.

This paper presents the VEC model in three perspectives: (1) its theoretical foundation, (2) its counseling prototype, and (3) situated structure analyses of two VEC group experiences.

Theoretical Foundation

While modernism career paradigm is based on positivism and postmodernism career paradigm is derived from constructivism and contextualism (Sampson, 2009), the VEC model has its root in Chinese philosophy with its branches from modernism and postmodernism career theories and practices.

We will first introduce dialectical philosophy and virtue practice derived from the Classic of Changes. Both their original contentions and their applications in west psychology will be presented, followed by their applications to our model. Then, we will describe what and how our model adopts modernism and postmodernism theories. In addition, we also present what and how we adopt existential-phenomenological psychology and meaning therapy.

Eastern Wisdom: Dialectical Philosophy

The Classic of Changes articulated a cosmological model of changes via the fluxion of yin (陰) and yang (陽). Every element in every system of this universe is composed of these two essentials. Yin (literally, dark) represents receptivity and denotes the power of earth; yang (literally, light) represents creativity and denotes the power of heaven. Actually, yin and yang symbolize all kinds of dyadic opposites: anything relatively hard, high, light, strong, firm, moving, flow, noble is considered as yang, and anything relatively soft, low, heavy, weak, flexible, static, stuck, mean as yin. Dyadic opposites are not separable but rather form a unity together. Such yin-yang fluxion creates and transforms all things existing in between earth and heaven (Vincent Shen, 2003; Cheng, 2009a,b).

The principles underlying the yin-yang fluxion are basically dialectical, such as mutual completion and enhancement (相生相成), generation by opposition (對立轉化), and joint production (生生不息) (Cheng, 2009a; Liu et al., 2015). Harmony is the shared aim of these principles, which is signified in the opening passages of the Classic of Changes (Nelson, 2011). Through harmonizing, elements contradict and yet mutually supplement each other and thereby build a new relation or form a new unit (Vincent Shen, 2003; Cheng, 2009b; Yao, 2013). Such yin-yang fluxion entails a sustained and dialectical process as a temporally successive phenomenon with no linear theory of causality.

A similar dialectic philosophy has been articulated by Hegel, a universally influential philosopher (Brincat and Ling, 2014). This kind of dialectic thinking has been adopted by western psychological theories, such as Jung's Analytical psychotherapy (Solomon, 1994; Liang, 2012), dialectical behavior therapy (Bankoff et al., 2012; Linehan and Wilks, 2015), second wave positive psychology (Wong, 2011, 2012; Lomas and Ivtzan, 2015), and contextual action theory for career development (Dyer et al., 2010). Actually, more and more western research and theories have highlighted a dialectical nature of various psychological phenomena, such as human development (Komatsu, 2015) and creative process (Holm-Hadulla, 2013).

Based on all the above, our model applies this dialectic philosophy to career evolution and counseling. Appreciating-and-adapting types of career projecting are considered as yin; controlling-and-realizing types of career projecting as yang (Liu et al., 2015). Career development is a harmonizing process with a continuous and discontinuous interplay of preceding and consequent moments in time. Such a career evolution process is different from the traditional linear pattern advocated by the abovementioned modernism career paradigm; rather, it is closer to a boundaryless or protean pattern (Stoltz et al., 2013) described by the abovementioned postmodern career theories.

Just as inclusive opposites is the power and energy of the harmonizing process, career explorers who flexibly utilized both types has been found to demonstrate more resilience, passion, and well-being (Lee, 2010; Kao and Liu, 2012; Peng et al., 2013). Empirical supports also revealed that the Middle Way (中庸, accepting the coexistence of yin and yang and emphasizing harmony) beliefs positively associated with life satisfaction (Huang et al., 2012) and mitigated the effects of stress on employee well-being and job satisfaction (Chou et al., 2014).

Eastern Wisdom: Virtue-Practice as Self-cultivation

There are many branches of interpretation; Confucian and Taoist philosophies are two of the most influential ones (Hwang and Chang, 2009). Confucian interpretations of the Classic of Changes are primarily ethical (Yao, 2013). Confucians take one's de (德, virtue) and cosmological tao (道) as the ultimate concerns of life meaning. The self is considered both the object that must be worked on, and the subjective agent that bears chief responsibilities for the well-being of oneself, one's family, and the world. Working on the self is to cultivate it, which undergoes a moral process starting from an ordinary person and reaching the ideal (Hwang, 2009; Yao, 2013).

Parallel to ethical living and self-cultivating advocated by Confucian in the east is “being-in-the-world-with-others” or “relatedness” advocated by phenomenology in the west (Becker, 1992). Phenomenologists consider humans as inherently relational beings. “We are summoned ethically to cultivate our way of interrelating so as to serve others and the non-human natural community (Adams, 2007, p. 24).” Such a point of view has been brought into psychology and psychotherapy (Becker, 1992). Similarly, contextual action theory considers a career as a joint parent–youth project. That is to say, career is embodied in how youth relate to others (Young et al., 2008).

Taoist interpretations of the Classic of Changes are primarily authentic (Hwang, 2009). Taoists seek to emancipate their selves from the ethical bounds of a societal world and follow the way of Nature (Karcher, 1999). By practicing methods of self-cultivation, such as qi-gong, tai-qi-chuan, and Taoist meditation, one may return to the state of authentic self (Hwang, 2009).

Taoist interpretations of the Classic of Changes were first introduced to western psychology by Jung. His three principles of psyche actually echo Taoism (Karcher, 1999; Liang, 2012). Taoist techniques have also been integrated into Jung and other psychological therapy models with empirical supports (Williamson, 1992; Hwang, 2009).

Recently, two kinds of voices pro virtue emerge in western psychology. One voice came from positive psychology. Sundararajan (2005) pointed out that “an empirically based version of the good life as proposed by positive psychology is a donut with something missing at the core—the moral map (p. 35).” To make an amendment, Wong proposed Positive psychology 2.0 and advocated meaning-orientation visions of a good life (2011) and self-transcendence (2016). The other voice argued psychotherapy is a moral encounter (Burns et al., 2012). A tradition-sensitive psychotherapy should function emically within the client's own virtue grammar (Dueck and Reimer, 2003; Peteet, 2013) and help clients cultivate the qualities necessary to live a good life (Stewart-Sickin, 2008).

Based on all the above, our model emphasizes virtue-practice in career evolution and counseling. An ideal aim of one's career evolution should be two-folded:.(1) a yin horizon of living on the earth with ways and harmony (安身以法以和) and (2) a yang horizon of living up to the way of heaven with mind and virtue (立命以心以德) (Liu et al., 2014, 2015, 2016; Liu and Wang, 2014). Therefore, an ideal career evolution is an endless process of self-cultivating, that is, living a moral life while being entangled by worldly affairs and struggling for living on the earth.

The two horizons can be articulated with the terminology of Hwang's (2012) mandala model of self. Living-on-the-earth-with-ways-and-harmony is related to one's career praxes to find a place in real world to fulfill one's biological needs (as individual), to find a position in social networking to carry out one's social responsibilities (as person), and to establish an identity to actualize one's psychological characteristics (as self). One's knowledge might be used to exchange various resources in one's career pursuing. A morally cultivated person seeks good from others and at the same time exerts good effects on these others, by which a harmonious relationship is established (Hwang, 2009; Yao, 2013; Liu, 2014).

Living-up-to-the-way-of-heaven-with-mind-and-virtue points to one's wisdom and self-cultivation to become a Self. It assumes that one's self needs to be created, developed, and realized in the ethical life while the potentiality of building a self is given (Chen, 2014). Specifically, one is expected to possess a balance between yin virtue (embracing all aspects of humanity and accommodating all matters in this world, 厚德載物) and yang virtue (unceasingly striving for improving themselves with their great perseverance, 自強不息; Cheng, 2009a; Liu et al., 2015). Such wisdom helps one adapt to the inevitable uncertainty within career evolution and appreciate the underlying way-of-heaven within each life experience.

Western Wisdom: Career Vision

There are three key questions about career vision. (1) What does one want from the world? (2) What can one supply to the world? (3) Why should one live one's life?

As to one's wants in career vision, we adopt Holland's interest (Nauta, 2013) and Minnesota's needs and work values (Swanson and Schneider, 2013). Vocational interests are defined as “a preference for activities expressed as likes and dislikes” (Hansen, 2013, p. 387). Holland's theory focuses most explicitly on interests and its RIASEC typology pervades career counseling research and practice (Nauta, 2010). Several meta-analyses have supported the existence of the RIASEC typology among a variety of people (Nauta, 2010), the stability of vocational interests (Low et al., 2005), and the predictability of congruence on career choice (Sheu et al., 2010), stability of choice (Spokane, 1985), academic performance and persistence (Spokane, 1985), job satisfaction, job performance, and turnover (Tsabari, 2005; Van Iddekinge et al., 2011).

According to Minnesota Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA), vocational needs refer to what one wants and expects from work; work values are defined as “second-order needs” or “underlying common elements of needs.” TWA's 6-value and 21-need classification is adopted by O*NET and becomes one of the most important value system (Rounds and Jin, 2013; Swanson and Schneider, 2013). Meta-analyses revealed value congruence was positively related to work satisfaction, overall work performance, and organizational commitment, as well as negatively related to turn-over intention (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005).

As to one's supplies in career vision, we adopt self-efficacy from Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) (Lent, 2013). According to Bandura (1986, p. 391), self-efficacy beliefs refer to “people's judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances.” Although, TWA emphasizes on one's ability to respond to environmental requirements (Swanson and Schneider, 2013), SCCT argues that self-efficacy, as subjective assessment of ability, is a better predictor of career development. Meta-analyses indicated that self-efficacy beliefs correlated significantly with academic choice, performance, and persistence (Brown et al., 2008; Sheu et al., 2010), vocational choice and work-related performance (Sheu et al., 2010; Brown et al., 2011).

As to one's meaning in career vision, Frankl (1992) asserts that the deepest and universal human need to reach beyond oneself and serve something greater. Along with this line of think, Kosine et al. (2008) proposed purposes; MacIntyre (1984, cited in Stewart-Sickin, 2008) proposed virtues. Wong (2016) takes one step further and suggests three levels of self-transcendence, which can be summarized as ultimate meaning, situational meaning, and one's calling. On the other hand, Cochran (1997) suggests that one explores the implicit personal webs of meaning embodied within narrative scripts or plots. The fulfillment of meaning is related to greater certainty regarding career goals (Tryon and Radzin, 1972) and better work adjustment (Bonebright et al., 2000).

Western Wisdom: Projecting Strategy

Key questions to projecting strategy are the following. (1) How does one construct and reconstruct one's career vision in one's career evolution? (2) How does one live up to one's career vision?

We adopt Holland's (as well as other modernism theories of TWA and SCCT) yang type of strategies to: (1) use quantitative assessments to identify one's interest (or ability, need, or self-efficacy) pattern, (2) develop a list of educational and/or occupational options congruent with one's interest pattern, (3) search for and process factual educational and/or occupational information, (4) choose an educational and/or occupational goal based on rational evaluation, (5) search information about resources and strategies helpful for one's specific goal, and (6) break one's final goal into sub-goals and set up a step-by-step action plan to carry out those sub-goals (Nauta, 2013).

We also adopt Cochran's (1997) yin-yang-mixed type of postmodernism strategies to: (1) enhance a sense of agency in reality construction; (2) gain information from divergent sources and to gain the best evidence; (3) envision oneself working in an occupation; (4) identify needs and establish a tentative priority; (5) determine strengths in the way an individual and family function to get things done; (6) map the formal and informal sources of support that might help a person solve a problem or move from a deficient state of affairs to a better state of affairs; (7) establish an optional alignment of needs, strengths, supports, and resources to meet needs; (8) actualize ideals in the present through searching for and engaging in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable.

Finally, we learn from Krumboltz's postmodernism strategies of treasuring serendipity and uncertainty. At first, Mitchell et al. (1999) brought out five yin type of planned happenstance skills: Curiosity refers to exploring new learning, persistence to exerting efforts in spite of setbacks, flexibility to adjusting to change, optimism to believing in new opportunities, and risk-taking to taking action in spite of uncertainty. Positive relationship between these skills and career evolution has been found (e.g., Magnuson et al., 2003; Kim et al., 2014).

Later, the revised Happenstance Learning Theory (Krumboltz, 2009, 2011; Krumboltz et al., 2013) proposed a counseling process with the following yin-yang-mixed type of strategies: (1) orienting the client to viewing unplanned events as necessary and normal to initiate a ready mode; (2) setting the goal of creating more satisfying lives to induce career action, (3) expressing empathic understanding of the client's situation and concerns to unfold a counseling process, (4) identifying the client's past success to strengthen self-efficacy and support current action, (5) assisting the client to capitalize on unplanned events for learning and exploration, (6) brainstorming the next action step with the client to produce desirable chance events; (7) helping the client to overcome blocks to action, (8) following up the client's action and reinforcing their success in the real world, and (9) in case of need, helping the client to overcome fear of making mistakes and to take action.

The VEC Counseling Prototype

A Whole Picture

Figure 1 portrays our model with a cone. The yin-yang tai-ji (太極) diagram at the bottom of the cone displays the characteristics of yin-yang fluxion. Yang career strategy of controlling and realizing is symbolized by the white. The white body of fish on the upper part (Controlling) represents creative career praxes, that is, all kinds of directing and controlling toward one's career vision; the white eye of the black fish in the middle part (Realizing) represents a realistic effort to manage personal weakness or environmental requirements or restrictions. On the other hand, yin strategy of appreciating and adapting is symbolized by the black. The black body of fish on the lower part (appreciating) represents receptive career praxes, which result from appreciating whatever one is given or encounters; the black eye of the white fish in the middle part (adapting) represents a flexible effort to transfer one's capacities or environmental resources to find alternative ways for one's career vision in the reality. Career praxes, generated by the above four career strategies, serving as means for the secular goal of living on the earth with ways and harmony, construct the bottom of career evolution pyramids. However, the greatest end for career praxis is to spiral up to the wisdom of living out of personal virtue, which is congruent with cosmological tao.


Figure 1. Virtue existential career model.

Based on the Classic of Changes, it should function best when Controlling, realizing, appreciating, and adapting interweave with each other at a good timing and the tai-ji diagram becomes an unceasingly running circle in career evolution. Realizing and adapting in small circles in the middle part are career strategies with yin-yang-mixed transformative power. They play a critical role in connecting the pure yin power (appreciating) with pure yang power (controlling), and, in a paralleled or symbolic way, also connecting rationalism with constructivism, objectivity with subjectivity, the ideal with the reality, the heaven with the earth, as well as the wisdom (or virtue or self-cultivation) with the praxes.

The Outline of Counseling Prototype

Dialectical philosophy is applied to our prototype in four ways: (1) mixing yin and yang types of career strategies; (2) guiding people to appreciate, master, and synthesize both yin and yang types of career capacities and strategies; (3) guiding people to make connection between their secular and spiritual horizons; (4) using our metaphorical stories of qian and kun as well as creative activities to help people develop versatile perspectives.

Virtue-practice is embodied in the following VEC concepts: (1) the unceasing and dialectical nature of yin-yang fluxion in career and life; (2) the harmonious and integrative way of blending yin and yang career capacities and strategies; (3) the coexistence and mutual influence between secular and spiritual horizons within career evolution; (4) career evolution as a learning process to make a living, have a satisfying yet moral life, and cultivate wisdom and virtues.

The VEC counseling process consists of five major career counseling strategies interwoven with each other in a dialectical and harmonious way. The five are CA-controlling (yang), CA-realizing (yang in yin), CA-appreciating (yin), CA-adapting (yin in yang), and CA-synthesizing (yang with yin). Table 2 lists core and optional aims for each strategy. The arrangement principles are the followings. (1) A complete circle consists of a reflecting activity (to initiate a reflective attitude to find out underlying principles embodied within career phenomena) at the beginning, CA-synthesizing (to blend yang and yin power together) at the end, and the other four strategies in the middle. (2) For growing developer (those who are expecting to move on to the next developmental phase), CA-controlling or CA-realizing (to pursue what is wanted with or without consideration of environmental constraints) comes first; for stranded developer (those who are stuck in difficulties), CA-appreciating or CA-adapting (to accept what is given or encountered with or without consideration of one's wants) comes first. (3) CA-realizing and CA-adapting (both of which have a nature of blending of or transforming between yin and yang) are necessary between CA-controlling (pure yang) and CA-appreciating (pure yin). These three principles result in two possible sequences: for growing developer, a typical sequence may be: (1) reflecting, (2) CA-controlling or CA-realizing, (3) CA-realizing and CA-adapting, (4) CA-appreciating or CA-adapting, and (5) CA-synthesizing; for stranded developer, it may be: (1) reflecting, (2) CA-appreciating or CA-adapting, (3) CA-adapting and CA-realizing, (4) CA-controlling or CA-realizing, and (5) CA-synthesizing. Figure 2 visualizes these two routes.


Table 2. The outline of VEC counseling prototype.


Figure 2. Two sequences for growing and stranded developers.

Activities and Materials

Various career activities are developed to help developers learn VEC concepts in an experiential way. Our prototype incorporates yang type of career praxes (e.g., quantitative assessments, factual career information, rational evaluation, and action plans) and yin type of career praxes (e.g., normalizing and reframing unplanned events, identifying past success, and brainstorming the next action step). In addition, graphical materials, expressive therapeutic skills, guided imagination, mandala drawing, and meditation are adopted to stimulate right-brain functions and spiritual energy. These career praxes appear as possible activities in Table 2.

Specifically, our stories of qian and kun are designed to deliver the principles of yin-yang fluxion in a metaphorical way. The Classic of Changes consists of 64 guas (卦); a gua is a figure composed of six stacked horizontal lines (爻), where each line is either yang (an unbroken, or solid line) or yin (broken, or an open line with a gap in the center). Each gua symbolizes a common human life situation; its yin-yang fluxion denotes appropriate action strategies and self-cultivation goals within such situatedness. The qian gua with six solid lines represents a pure yang situation; the kun gua with six open line represents a pure yin situation. Variation of these two guas results in the other 62 guas. In other words, these two guas are the door to all varieties of life situations (乾坤易之門, Huang, 2003). We intended to make our metaphorical stories universally-applicable. Our qian story narrates six growing-up statuses of the protagonist dragon in sequence: (1) hidden to learn and improve oneself, (2) visible to be noticed and given opportunities or resources, (3) diligent to work hard in a mindful way, (4) jumping to try to leap up to a higher level, (5) flying to bring into full play, and (6) over-excited so as to exceed proper limits and result in regret. Our kun story narrates how the protagonist mare searches and serves a right master with six statuses in sequence: (1) cautious to watch out for any unremarkable sign for danger, (2) righteous to supports everything in a nature way, (3) dedicated to devote one's brilliance to the superiors without claiming credit for oneself, (4) invisible to hide one's candle and avoid making mistakes or threatening the superiors, (5) humble via doing influential work but adhering to one's subordinate role, and (6) arrogant so as to exceed proper limits and incur terrible danger. The qian and kun stories could be used in yang and yin types of strategies, respectively.

Member Experience of Two VEC Groups

Research Methods

The VEC model and counseling prototype presented in this research is the product of a previous action research following Lewin's (1946) top-to-down model with a cyclical-spiral process. In the planning stage, data from the third stage of the previous circle would be presented to a panel consisted of career experts and Classic of Changes experts. Based on the panel discussion, a revised VEC model and prototype would be proposed. In the action stage, groups would be conducted accordingly. During the evaluation stage, we conducted basic content analyses of observers' group process notes as well as products of and feedback from group members. Five versions of VEC model and prototype have been developed in this process from 2012 to 2015 (details reported in Liu and Hung, 2015). All studies conformed to the regulation of Research Ethics Committee of National Changhua University of Education.

The current study conduct situated structure analyses (Liu et al., 2016), a kind of phenomenological data analysis derived from Ricoeur (1981), Giogi (1989), and Gee (2005), to further investigate the adequacy of the fifth version of VEC model and prototype. Data from the third and fourth groups will be used. The third group was a 3-day 9-h group for 10 college graduates who had been seeking job without success and were referred by government's occupational placement service stations. The fourth group was a 3-day 18-h group for 8 recruited college students who were eager to prepare for future employment. Tables 3 and 4 present the designed activities and their corresponding projecting strategies, functioning mechanism, and member participations for these two groups.


Table 3. VEC group design and member experience for growing college students.


Table 4. VEC group design and member experience for stranded college graduates.

Constituent Themes

The constituent themes emerged from situated structure analyses of member experience are presented in Table 5. There were five clusters of themes. (1) Sense of situation (SS) described Ms' perception about their career development status. (2) Acceptance (Ac) referred to Ms' attitude toward their developmental status. (3) Self-efficacy (SE) indicated Ms' confidence about their power to unfold their career. (4) Actualization (At) pointed to Ms' planned or actual actions to unfold their career. (5) Dialectic thinking (DT) signified Ms' perception about the dialectic nature of career evolution. The SS themes were revealed in pre-group interviews; the others within group process.


Table 5. Constituent themes of VEC group experience.

Situated Structure

Figure 3 shows growing developers' transformative experience during group process. At the beginning, they stood along with no past or future since they didn't know where they were and where to go. At step 1~4, with yang strategies and our qian story, they got an accessible future with a clearer career vision and a vague path toward their target. They felt more comfortable with uncertainty after step 1. They moved on and worked on their career visions, which resulted in a better sense of what they wanted from the world and what they needed to supply to the world. At step 5~9, with yang strategies and our mind map technique, their future became concrete. They personalized their occupational strengths and went into details about their learning plans and job-hunting preparation, which resulted in self-efficacy. At step 10~12, with yin strategies and our kun story, they got a powerful past, that is, lived workplace strengths applicable to future workplace adaptation and socialization. Their self-efficacy increased with a continuity from their past to their future. At step 13~14, with yang strategies, they got an action-oriented now. Their self-promoting skills were improved via practicing. At step 15~16, with yang strategies and mandala drawing, they depicted a cyclical-spiral action process toward future.


Figure 3. Growing developers' transformative experience during group process.

For stranded developers (see Figure 4), at the beginning, they stuck in a hole since they saw no way out. At step 1~2, with yin strategies, they got a valuable self. Via their lived past, they were moved and empower. At step 3~5, with yin strategies and our kun story, they got a workable now with a dialectic perspective. They accepted their current situatedness and found out their individual power to transfer their job-hunting frustration. At step 6~7, with yang strategies and our qian story, they got a symbolic working-through experience with a dialectic perspective. Their self-efficacy and dialectic problem-solving skills increased, which resulted in their motivation to take action for their real-life challenges. At step 8~11, with yang strategies, they got a workable future with a clearer career vision and a concrete path toward their target. They came out with what they could think and do differently for their real-life situatedness.


Figure 4. Stranded developers' transformative experience during group process.

Yang and Yin Strategies for the Growing and the Stranded

An examination of Table 5 reveals differential group experiences associated with yang and yin strategies. Although, not exclusively, yang type of career praxes tended to induce actualization, which resulting in realistic goals and concrete action plans; yin type of career praxes tended to increase self-efficacy, which resulting in positive attitude toward current situatedness and future development. Acceptance and dialectic thinking often resulted from a blending of yin and yang type of career praxes.

More importantly, a comparison of Figures 3 and 4 indicates the growing and the stranded developers need a different arrangement of career strategies. At the beginning, for those growing developers missing a context, CA-controlling or CA-realizing (yang power) helps to make their goals clear and put their strengths together. For those stranded developers suffering, CA-appreciating or CA-adapting (yin power) helps to stop complaining or giving up, to come down, and to make up their mind to start with whatever they have. In the middle, a switch of yin and yang types is needed to create harmonization. For those growing developers, subsequent CA-realizing or CA-adapting or CA-appreciating helps to make them humble and open-minded. For those stranded developers, subsequent CA-adapting or CA-realizing or CA-controlling helps to make them strong and focus. Both growing and stranded developer needed to have CA-realizing and CA-adapting between CA-controlling and CA-appreciating to bring yin-yang-mixed power and transformative strategies into their career evolution. CA-synthesizing at the end blended yang and yin power together, created a sense of integrity, built up a broader framework of career evolution, and strengthened both yin and yang power to be applied in the future.

Experience of Our Metaphorical Stories

The stranded developers revealed the following learning from our qian story. (1) One should keep hope and goal for one's life and never give up for learning or trying (S2 and S8). (2) One should build up one's strengths before setting off (S8). (3) One should accept others' help when needed (S11). (4) One should not get over-excited when things go well (S3 and S7). (5) Career evolution, like any other kind of human growth, unfolds step by step (S9). (6) Life goes on no matter what's absent. (7) You never know you may fly in the sky as a dragon someday. Ms also grasped the dialectic nature. S1, S2, S3, and S9 mentioned “goals could emerge from frustration” and “resources could be found within obstructs.” S5, S6, S7, S8, and S11 mentioned “caution should be maintained after success.” They claimed to take action instead of worrying about possible difficulties or problems. The growing developers failed to follow L's request to identify with the flying dragon. Nevertheless, they reflected on how and why the protagonist dragon could swim under the water and fly in the sky.

As to our kun story, the growing developers learned the following. (1) The kun mare needs to find their right masters; one needs to find one's right occupations (G5). (2) One can't identify one's strength and weakness unless one sets up a specific goal (G5). (3) Knowing one's strength and weakness is the starting point of current occupational preparation (G1, G2, G6, and G7) as well as the base for future workplace adjustment (G4). (4) One should calm down and use what one has creatively as well as improves what one has progressively (G3). The stranded developers learned the following. (1) “One should live within one's means and not go to inappropriate places (S3, S7).” (2) “One should improve one's skills first so as to seize opportunities (S2).” (3) “One should live in the present (S2).” (4) “Problems could be solved via circumventing obstruction (S8).” (5) “Frustration should be faced with a firm stand (S4).” (6) “One should adjust oneself even if life was not friendly (S2 and S5).” (7) “One should choose a rightful environment (S3, S6, S7, and S10).” (8) “One should appreciate, respect, and pardon everyone (S1).” Ms also expressed that they felt relieved and supported for “having other Ms as companions in the same boat.”

In sum, experience difference between our qian and kun stories was vague. Both stories helped developers to grasp the dialectical nature of yin-yang fluxion. They reframed themselves and their surroundings so as to find out versatile perspectives of managing their situatedness, which was helpful for their secular goal of living on the earth with ways and harmony.

VEC Concepts Learning from Experiential Counseling Activities

According to Ms' products and feedback, the followings are of special value to deliver VEC concepts. They induced Ms' reflective attitudes and opened the door to the yin-yang fluxion principles and a new perspective of their situatedness.

Via portraying individual power tai-ji diagram for job-hunting situatedness, the stranded developers revealed their learning of the VEC concept of “completion and enhancement.” For example, S3's good quality of “being good at observing others and environment” was found to have a negative effect of “being oversensitive and hesitating in any action.” S1 found that his so-called risk of “low confidence” actually had a positive effect of “easy going.” Such learning made a positive change in their evaluation of individual power.

Via constructing lived workplace strengths, the growing developers revealed the followings. (1) “I appreciated my life; whatever happened in my life was not a waste.” (2) “Capacities used to deal with one's past life events could be transferred to adaptation and socialization in the future workplace.” (3) “Even ‘bad’ thing could be worthwhile.” (4) “I became much more confident in my workplace adaptation and socialization since what I have demonstrated or learned in my past life was much more than I thought.” In sum, Ms grasped the VEC concepts of mutual completion and enhancement and joint production.

Via practicing “meaning-making game in life field,” the growing developers revealed the following learning. (1) Change is inevitable in real life (S1). (2) One should appreciate and live with whatever happens (S1). (3) Obstructions can be overcome, adjusted, circumvented, transformed, or made use of (S3 and S6). (4) Unexpected stuff could create inclusive opposites and generate the power and energy needed for a harmonizing process (S4, S8, and S11). (5) One should accept what couldn't be changed at this moment and wait for a good timing or opportunities for transformation (S8, S10, and S11). (6) One should be responsible for making one's life meaningful to and loved by oneself (S1 and S3). Ms grasped the essentials of our kun story, the generation by opposition principle and the nature of harmonizing.

Via making a sequel to “job-hunting situatedness,” the stranded developers demonstrated their learning of the principle of “joint production of yin and yang” in their sequels. The sequel to “where's the road” turned out to be “Move on, young man.” The sequel to “invisible support” was “visible obstructs.”

Via practicing harmonizing with mandala drawing, the growing developers presented their positive-negative-coexistence in a creative and harmonious way. Here were several examples. (1) G4 distinguished his positives and negatives clearly and placed them in separate areas within his mandala circle. However, he was surprised that those positives and negatives pieces formed a big peace symbol. (2) G8 placed his essentials in an umbrellas shape. He brought out a story that: “One should remain curious. If encountered something bad, one just learned to probe with curiosity.” (3) G6 put a shining sun in the center, light blue sky on the upper half, and deep blue ocean on the bottom. His story was that: “A bright sky might be an illusion; just like one's limit might be imagination. Both light and dark were parts of oneself. One should explore widely and develop oneself at a good timing in order to bring one's potential to full play and realize one's version.”

Contributions and Limitations

The purpose of this research is to complement western modernism and postmodernism career theories with eastern Chinese wisdom derived from the Classic of Changes. Based on thorough theoretical analyses and an action research, we construct a VEC model and counseling prototype, aiming at a secular goal of living on the earth with ways and harmony as well as an ultimate end to spiral up to the wisdom of living up to the way of heaven with mind and virtue. There are five major career strategies to constitute a VEC counseling process. Situated structure analyses revealed primary empirical support for our model and prototype. In the context of developing indigenous career theories and practices in a globalized and ever-changing world, our contributions appear to be the followings.

(1) Echoing pluralism advocated by postmodernism, we propose a concrete career model to blend the virtues of modernism and postmodernism. Postmodernism emerged as the forces of reaction to modernism. As predicted by the yin-yang philosophy (Cheng, 2009a), such contradictoriness between these two paradigms did create the power of harmonization for the evolution of career literature. Our model and prototype present an important example which takes advantage of both paradigms and results in harmony.

(2) Derived from dialectical philosophy, we built up a complete yin-yang continuum of career praxes. In addition to Controlling (with pure yang power) and appreciating (with pure yin power), we include realizing and adapting (with yin-yang-mixed transformative power). Therefore, a broader range of career praxes is brought into play.

(3) We enrich the modernism and postmodernism career practice. Instead of plain preaching, a couple of experiential counseling materials and activities are developed to deliver dialectic philosophy. Two metaphorical Stories and several experiential activities guide participants to think or act in a dialectic way by unfolding the other sides, including the opposites, or making a dramatic extension or turn.

(4) We enrich the Middle Way literature. The yin-yang-mixed strategies are the apple of the Middle Way philosophy, which has produced fruitful and substantial influences in the indigenous psychology rooted in Confucian philosophy (e.g., Huang et al., 2012; Chou et al., 2014). Nevertheless, the Middle Way literature has little production in career theories or practices. Our model and prototype help to supply this gap.

(5) We extend the Middle Way literature by proposing specific arrangement principles. The Middle Way tends to focus on those strategies with yin-yang-mixed transformative power only; it fails to include strategies with strong yin or strong yang power. Our arrangement principles help to combine various strategies in a dialectical and harmonious way.

(6) Echoing second wave positive psychology and virtue psychology, we extend the mixture of modernism and postmodernism by embracing the spiritual/ethical essential of career evolution. With Confucian philosophy emphasizing both horizons, our model and prototype set up relevant conceptualization and practices to connect the secular and spiritual/ethical horizons in the process of career evolution.

To establish an alternative career theorization and practices for eastern and western people in a globalized and ever-changing world, the VEC model and prototype need further elaboration. As indicated by yin-yang philosophy, the limitation of our model and prototype lie on the other sides of their contributions. Serving as a meta-theoretical framework, our model and prototype possess great depth and wisdom, which also result in a need for more practical details. Also, future research should extend its applications to various career issues or phenomenon. Finally, standardized control studies are needed to further verify our breaking points.


This research project was granted by Ministry of Science and Technology of R.O.C.'s funding (NSC102-2410-H-034-005-; MOST 103-2410-H-018-008-; MOST 104-2410-H-018-010); we thank for the support.

Author Contributions

SL was the leader of this project. Her major contribution was the conceptualization and design of the project, interpretation of data, and writing this report. JH was co-leader of this project. His major contribution was the conceptualization of the project and interpretation of data. HP was the executor of counseling groups. She also helped to analyze data and wrote stories. CC was the literature organizer and help with group observation and data analyses. YL was the data interpreter.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


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Keywords: career theory, postmodernism, dialectical philosophy, virtue psychology, existential therapy, indigenous psychology, Chinese philosophy, Classic of Changes (Yi-Jing)

Citation: Liu S-H, Hung J-P, Peng H-I, Chang C-H and Lu Y-J (2016) Virtue Existential Career Model: A Dialectic and Integrative Approach Echoing Eastern Philosophy. Front. Psychol. 7:1761. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01761

Received: 13 December 2015; Accepted: 26 October 2016;
Published: 14 November 2016.

Edited by:

Yung-Jong Shiah, National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan

Reviewed by:

Kwang-Kuo Hwang, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
Catherine Tien Lun Sun, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Hong Kong
Paul T. P. Wong, Trent University, Canada

Copyright © 2016 Liu, Hung, Peng, Chang and Lu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Shu-Hui Liu,;