Not lost in translation: Managerial career narratives and the construction of protean identities

Carola Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How can managers remain in charge of their own careers based on personal values and motivations, rather than surrendering to the vulnerabilities of modern day corporate bureaucracies? This question represents a core issue for managers whose careers have been significantly affected by changing business environments, new organizational forms and the related changes of work organization in modern day corporations. Managers can no longer rely on the traditional linear models of organizational careers. It is increasingly demanded that they be more flexible and direct their own careers, which is captured in new career concepts, such as the ‘protean career’. Drawing on narrative identity theory, this study sets out to investigate how managers construct a protean identity and how specific narrative practices support individuals in shaping, implementing and defending this identity. The life stories of 29 individuals, all of whom have experienced significant career changes, are analysed. Based on these stories, four core narrative building blocks at the heart of protean identity construction and related narrative practices are identified, including (i) the discovery of conflicting expectations, (ii) the exploration of one’s own values and capabilities, (iii) the commitment to one’s own path and (iv) defending that path.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-533
Number of pages29
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number3
Early online date19 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

© Sage 2018. The final publication is available via Sage at


  • life story
  • management careers
  • managerial work
  • narrative identity
  • protean career


Dive into the research topics of 'Not lost in translation: Managerial career narratives and the construction of protean identities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this