This exercise provides you with an opportunity
to review significant decisions you have made in the past. It will
also assist your personal reflection and develop insights which may
further your careers work with doctors in training.
Think about how you have made important
decisions in the past: for example, career-related decisions about
A-level subjects, applying for medical school, specialty/training
choices, etc., or personal decisions that are unrelated to work,
such as taking a gap year between school and university, starting
or ending a significant personal relationship, relocating etc.
Then, follow the instructions below. (And see
Fig.1 below for an example).
- Take a sheet of paper (ideally A3
or flip-chart paper. But A4 will work if it is all that is
available). Turn it round so that it is 'landscape' rather than
- Draw a horizontal line across the
middle of the paper. Note down your age at the right-hand end of
the line. Then, put in a 'plus' (+) above the horizontal line (to
signify times that you look back on with pleasure) and a 'minus'
(-) below the line (to signify those times when things were not
- Before you go any further, think
very carefully about the course the line will take. Where are the
high points and the low points? Which parts of the line (if any)
are relatively stable?
- Now mark in the significant life
events. Include experiences which influenced your achievements, and
both good and bad events that have occurred in your life to date.
Allow yourself sufficient space, as including one event may trigger
a memory of another.
- Connect up the points that you
- Identify a couple of decisions
that you have marked on your Lifeline which you feel (in
retrospect) have worked out well. What made them good decisions?
How did you go about making these particular decisions?
- Now, identify a couple of
decisions on your lifeline that you feel (in retrospect) didn't
work out so well? What made them poorer decisions? How did you
approach these decisions that didn't work out so well?
- A much-favoured adage of
psychologists is that the best predictor of future behaviour is
past behaviour. Bearing this in mind, can you use this analysis of
decisions to throw any light on how you should approach the career
choices that you are currently facing? One way of doing this is to
look at your answers to questions 6 and 7 in order to identify the
best way for you to approach your current decision, as well as
approaches you should avoid. For example, do you seem to be
somebody who makes good decisions when you rely on your 'gut'
feelings, or are you somebody who has made your best decisions when
you adopt a more structured approach?
- Has anything else struck you from
completing this Lifeline exercise?
Figure 1: An example of the timeline exercise:
“Careers supporters have used
the Lifeline exercise in workshops (with both consultants and
trainees), we have often heard the comment that there is no such
thing as an entirely 'bad' decision, as good elements can emerge
even from decisions that didn’t turn out at all smoothly. We would
both entirely agree with this, and have examples from our own
personal career histories that illustrate the point. Moreover, in
our professional practice we often hear clients describe career
decisions that they regret taking, but which they do realise also
allowed them to develop certain useful skills.
However, in terms of the Lifeline
exercise, we do think that it is possible to identify decisions
that you have taken that, in retrospect, you feel were not the best
ones. These are decisions where, even though you can see that some
good things have emerged from them, you have a sense that a
different decision at that point in your life would probably have
been a better option. It is these sorts of questions that we would
like you to identify in question 7”
This exercise has
been taken from:
The Roads to
Success – Elton, C and Reid J, 2008