When people talk, or even think, about careers, they typically use metaphors. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which one concept, usually a relatively abstract one, is substituted by another, usually more concrete, to provide clarity and dramatic effect. Thus, Nelson Mandela did not title his autobiography My Career or My Life, but Long Walk to Freedom. In this metaphor, his career becomes a journey, on foot, to a known destination. The metaphor gives clarity, additional meaning, and color to the subject matter. (Baruch, 45)
In their career discourses, people employ metaphors frequently. Many of these are variations on the journey metaphor: for example, career path, career trajectory, career plateau, career ladder, fast track, rat race, getting to the top, zigzag career, roller-coaster ride. All of these attribute “journey like” characteristics such as movement and direction to the career, and some of them provide cues as to the kind of career that one should have (moving upward, fast, in competition with others, etc.). Career talk is not confined to journey metaphors, however. There are many different associations that people habitually employ when talking about their careers. Each of these metaphors reveals particular truths, and by considering each one in turn, we can develop a multifaceted view taking us closer to understanding some total truth about careers. (Grant, 45)
A metaphor is not just a “figure of speech.” Scholars of the relationship of language to thought advise us that metaphor is more than an affectation, more than a smart way of talking, and more than a means of persuasion: It is a representation of how we think. Consider the metaphorical implications of the common career-related phrases, wrong side of the tracks, silver spoon in his mouth, and story of my life, self-made man, playing a part, square peg in a round ...