Life Career Rainbow

Learn how to use the Life Career Rainbow to re-centre your personal and professional priorities.

What you will learn

  • How to build the best work-life balance for you, step-by-step 
  • How to identify your life priorities 
  • About the stages and roles that make up your lifetime 
  • How to continuously reflect on your priorities

We all transition through different stages in our lives and careers. And, when demands are high in both our personal and professional lives, we may become stressed, overstretched and unhappyIt’s for this reason that attaining a work-life balance is vital. 

In this article, we will be exploring how Donald E. Super’s Life Career Rainbow can help you find the right work-life balance for you. 

What is the Life Career Rainbow? 

Super’s Rainbow helps you think about the various roles you play at different times in your life. It’s a visual diagram that's shaped like a rainbow. See figure 1.  

The Rainbow is made up of five life stages and eight life roles. 

Each coloured stripe of the rainbow reflects a different life role. The age is written on the outer edge of the rainbow, increasing in five-year increments. 

To build the optimal work-life balance for you, let’s look at the components of the Life Career Rainbow in more detail. 

Note: The Life Career Rainbow shown in figure 1 is for illustrative purposes. It may not reflect your own life and career.  

 

Five life stages

Super identified five life stages that we typically go through, each with its own characteristics and priorities

Can you identify which stage you're in right now? 

Growth (0 to 14 years – Childhood) 

This is the first stage in lifePhysical changes are the central focus, but your interests and talents are starting to develop too. 

Exploration (14-25 years – Adolescence)

In this phase you'll have your first experience of work. You'll learn what it takes to be successful in different careers.  

You may try a career and discover that it doesn’t suit you. Or you may explore different types of work.  

 
At the end of this phase, you're likely to know where you want to go. You'll be starting to take the steps you need to take to get there.  

Your first experience of exploration usually happens between 14 and 25. But you may return to this stage later in your life, or whenever you rethink your choices. 

Establishment (26- 45 years – Young adulthood)

In this phase, you’re settled. This could mean that you’ve started a family, completed years of study or are now in a permanent job. Taking responsibility and genuine satisfaction in your work are common in this stage.  

Maintenance (46-65 years) Middle-aged

During this phase, job security is the most important. You may make a career change, but this tends to be at the beginning of this phase.

Disengagement (65 years plus) Late adulthood

In this phase, you’ll tend to slow down and reflect on your working life. You may choose to retire from work. Emphasis shifts towards leisure and relaxation activities.

Eight life roles

Super also defined eight life roles we typically adopt in our lives. When you’re considering your own Life Career Rainbow think about the descriptions below and how much time you spend in each role right now, if at all. 

The eight roles are: 

Child

This role starts at birth, continuing until both parents are deceased. As you can imagine, you spend a lot of time in this role early on in your life. This tends to become more stagnant until your mid-life, when there’s often an increased demand for time and attention from elderly parents. Remember, everyone is someone’s child. 

Citizen

This is the time to dedicate to working for or in your community. People tend to engage in this as children, through education, or as their children get older and they have more time.  

Student

In Scotland, you can become a student as early as four-years-old and must continue until you can leave school at 16.

It’s increasingly common to keep studying well into your 20s depending on the academic route you take. You may also pursue further training and education throughout your life to keep up with the ever-evolving demands of jobs. Distance learning, such as the Open University, is also garnering popularity among people of all ages. 

Leisurite

The term ‘leisurite’ was coined by Super to describe the time we spend on – you guessed it – leisure activities.

Leisure time is particularly common during childhood, adolescence and after retirement, stages when people have fewer personal commitments. Leisure time is vital for our wellbeing but it’s not always considered a priority during the middle phase of life, resulting in a poor work-life balance. 

Worker

This is the time and energy you spend in paid employment.

Some people start working as early as they can and continue until the later stages of life. Others have to stop working for health or personal reasons. How long have you been a worker?

Parent

This is the time and energy you spend raising children.

This role is normally significant until your children are in their mid-teens, which is typically when they find paid employment for themselves or study.

It’s not unusual for adult children to stay at home while they study at college or university, or for them to move home afterwards, so this phase may continue for much longer. 

Spouse

This is the time you spend in a relationship.

Homemaker

This is the energy you use maintaining your home – it’s typically characterised by household tasks such as shopping, cooking and cleaning. It is less prevalent in childhood and usually comes to the fore when you move into a home for yourself. 

How to find a better work life balance

Reflect 

If you’re feeling stressed and unhappy, it may be because you feel like you’re being stretched too thinly across personal and professional demands. 

Using the free Life Career Rainbow worksheet think about how much time you spend in each of these roles right now. Draw a larger dot to indicate a lot of time energy, and a smaller dot to indicate less time and energy. 

Look at your dots - are these the right priorities for you right now? Are there roles you feel you need to spend more time in? 

Identify 

Using another blank rainbow, start to identify your ideal work-life balance. 

Which roles do you want to spend more time and energy on? Which roles would you spend less time within, if at all? Draw some dots on your new rainbow. 

Bare in mind that, in some cases, the time we spend at work will be the same every week – but this should be manageable. Remember that career commitments also include the time we spend commuting to and from work, business trips and any time we stay on later to finish something. 

Plan 

Compare your two diagrams. Are there consistencies between your two rainbows? 

Are some dots larger in your current rainbow than in your ideal scenario rainbow? Can you see where you can potentially spend less time and energy and put it into other areas? 

Set some life and career goals 

Once you’ve identified what your ideal work-life balance looks like, start to set small, attainable goals to help you move towards it. 

One thing to remember is that something will always have to give. For example, if your goal is to raise a family, you may have to accept that you’ll need to cut your working hours down and so on. 

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