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Intolerance of Uncertainty, Anxiety, and Career Indecision

Intolerance of uncertainty (IU) refers to the tendency to fear the unknown and to worry excessively about potential future negative outcomes. In the career decision-making process, college students experience uncertainty regarding the future of occupational opportunities and the evolution of their interests and capabilities. Anxiety is a well-established predictor of career indecision. Therefore, this study examined the role of anxiety as a mediator in the relation of IU and rumination to three dimensions of career decision making difficulties among college students (N = 678). Results of path analyses indicated that as hypothesized, after controlling for age, intolerance of uncertainty was directly and indirectly (though anxiety) related to the three dimensions of career decision making difficulties: lack of readiness, lack of information, and inconsistent information. Results suggested that career choice interventions may be enhanced with a targeted emphasis on coping with the uncertainty involved in career decision making among college students.

...The chaos theory of careers (CTC), which incorporates and normalizes uncertainty in the career development process, is another promising approach to facilitate college students’ ability to manage uncertainty in the external environment (Kwok, 2018). Rather than attempting to eliminate uncertainty, CTC interventions reframe uncertainty as a potential source of opportunities and emphasize openness, flexibility, and readiness to take advantage of unplanned events that often surround career decision making (Pryor & Bright, 2006). Schlesinger and Daley (2016) developed and tested a model of career counseling (Explore, Prepare, Start, Adapt; EPSA) that integrated traditional career exploration activities with CTC interventions designed to increase students’ flexibility, comfort with unpredictability, and awareness of their capacity to adapt to unforeseen events.

Compared with their peers who received traditional individual career counseling, a larger proportion of college students who participated in individualized EPSA career counseling reported increased comfort with the “uncertainty associated with career exploration and job searching” (Schlesinger & Daley, 2016). Future studies may examine to what extent increased comfort with uncertainty promoted by CTC interventions leads to decreased anxiety symptoms and facilitates career decision-making, particularly among those who present high levels of intolerance of uncertainty.

Keywords intolerance of uncertainty, anxiety, career indecision, rumination, college students
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Staff member
Apr 15, 2021


Robert Pryor's and Jim Bright’s chaos theory of careers recognises that change and chance influence our lives and career development as much as stable factors like our ability and personality do.

By learning to be adaptable and resilient, we begin to live on what Pryor and Bright call the “edge of chaos”.

Summing up the chaos theory of careers​

The chaos theory of careers recognises that:
  • different factors influence our career development, such as economic conditions and the job market, and our own values, family and culture
  • change is a part of life
  • certainty about the future is impossible
  • setbacks are opportunities to learn
  • it's OK to make decisions with limited information