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Life’s Twists and Turns

Your choices are affected by your experiences in life, your joys and pains, and the concerns you feel. These are often attributed to phases or stages of your adult life:

  • As a youth, you established your own identity and self-worth, separated from your parents, and gained independence.
  • As a young adult, you completed your education, explored options, and ambitiously pursued a career; you became a self-reliant, contributing person.
  • As an adult, you strived for significance at work and in your career; you built deep relationships with family and friends.
  • As a middle-aged adult, you realize that some ambitions will not be met and you work through who you truly want to become, what is most meaningful to you, and what you want to achieve.
  • As an older adult, you are more selective in your activities, aiming to enjoy life, sharing what you have learned and mastered; giving back to the community, and leaving a legacy for the next generation.
  • As an elderly adult, you will value integrity and wisdom, seek social interaction to avoid loneliness, embrace healthy aging, and cope with issues. Ultimately, you may become dependent on others for your care.

Stages of life such as these may help you reflect on your experiences and think about your future psychological development. Similar questions have been put forth by philosophers, authors, and psychologists for centuries and are popular because they have common appeal across generations. Because people tend to have similar experiences at roughly the same times of their lives, you may find comfort in knowing that what concerns you is similar to concerns of others. By taking life stages into account, you can roughly assess the challenges you will most likely face and benefit from learning how others overcame them. During transitions from stage to stage, you may experience discomfort, questioning, reassessment, and rediscovery, followed by consolidation and stability until the next transition.

Greek philosophers, most notably Hippocrates and Plato, defined eight stages of life, which were aligned with the forms of the soul, eight seasons of the year, and the celestial spheres (moon and planets). More recently, psychologists Erik Erikson, Daniel Levinson, George Valliant, and author Gail Sheehy, among others, have contributed insights from their research to the thinking about life stages or phases and life planning. Gail Sheehy’s books have provided the most popular interpretation as she is a cultural observer of people’s lives and development.

While age periods are traditionally associated with life stages or phases, they are defined by authors; individuals’ experiences can vary widely. Growth and development from infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood are typically more sequential than adult phases. Recent research studies have shown that people simply do not live in predictable life stages. Transitions are triggered by life experiences and personal development; they are not necessarily tied to certain ages. Thus, you may want to reconsider your identity, your aspirations, and what is most meaningful to you at any age. For example, considerable attention has been given to the mid-life transition at age 40–45, the so-called mid-life crisis, and a particularly difficult transition for many adults. However, this introspection and redirection may occur at any time in life, occur more than once, or never occur.

Accordingly, it makes more sense for you to consider the concerns you face when you experience them without regard to your age. Consider the influence of your past choices and the influences of experiences or turning points in your life. You need not make choices based on your age or sequential phase, but instead you need to consider why you want to do what you want to do. Maddy Dychtwald argues in her book, Cycles, that we should follow a more flexible, open-door approach to life’s options

In an era when you can join AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) at age 50, it is not very clear when old age sets in. AARP is no longer merely about retirement or seniors, but rather is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people over 50. The organization promises “the power to make it better.” “It” is broadly defined as the perceived interests of the members.

Boomers will typically have more years to spend after their children grow up and leave home than they spent raising them. As a result, as the role of parent fades, it will be overtaken by other roles and activities. As the saying goes, “Life begins when the dog dies and the kids leave home.”

For boomers, the expectation is that most will be able to extend their careers or pursue other work and interests through their sixties and well into their seventies. Many persons remain engaged well into their eighties. However, for most persons, it will be difficult for reasons of health, energy, motivation, or age discrimination to continue this level of activity into their late seventies and eighties. At some point, boomers know they will have to cope with limitations on activities.

Where does retirement fit in? It is a choice to withdraw from the workforce—entirely or partially. However, retirement has many different meanings primarily shaped by marketing influences from financial institutions, retirement communities, marketers of leisure goods, and services companies. As such, retirement is essentially a self-declared state—an abandonment of work (at least full-time career work) and commitment to alternative activities—leisure and community involvement.

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