free online assessment, the Career Test for the Soul
is a valuable tool for anyone trying to choose a path. It's
also another opportunity to test drive the book, since it's
based on the workbook exercises.
Earlier we mentioned the work of people such as Erik Erikson
and Daniel Levinson, who conducted extensive research and
identified a series of very predictable life stages healthy
people go through in their journeys through life. At each
stage we tend to reassess and re-balance our life values priorities.
It's helpful to know what some of these stages are so that
when we pass through them we can be aware of what's happening
and know that it's normal. Since our focus here is on careers,
we will briefly summarize six stages of adult career development
that we have synthesized from the work of many who have studied
the adult growth process. For a more in-depth understanding
we recommend the writings of Erikson, Levinson, Groeschel,
Fowler, and others (see bibliography) who describe the process
in more detail.
Stages of Growth
Addressed with the right mindset these are stages of personal
growth. The movement through the stages is a progression.
As we pass from one stage to the next, often with some difficult
periods of transition, we learn and mature in the process.
If we acknowledge and work through the issues of each successive
stage we become better human and spiritual beings.
These following stages carry us from our late teens to post
retirement. The ages shown for each stage are only rough estimates.
People may pass through the stages several years earlier or
later than the estimates shown. Individuals vary widely in
their progression through the stages.
Stage 1. Autonomy and Tentative Choices (Approximately 18-26)
In this stage we are typically developing personal autonomy
and leaving the family to establish an independent home, finances
etc. We're developing our own sense of personhood as separate
from parents and childhood peer groups. We try out new relationships
(e.g., romantic interests, professional associates, peer groups
and friends). This is typically a period of tentative or provisional
commitments. We're comfortable there is plenty of time ahead
to change our minds on provisional decisions concerning things
like location, occupation, plans to marry or not marry, friends,
key life values, etc. Our focus is on defining ourselves as
individuals and establishing an initial life structure.
Stage 2. Young Adult Transition (Approximately 27-31)
This is usually a period of significant turmoil - of looking
at who we are becoming and asking if we're really journeying
in directions we want to go. We question most of our earlier
tentative choices. Have we made the right decisions? Are we
running out of time for changing our decisions? Are our decisions
becoming permanent before we want them to? Do we really want
to make this location, career path or romantic relationship
permanent? Will we or will we not settle down and have a family?
Is time running out? Often with considerable angst similar
to the better known mid-life crisis we rethink our provisional
decisions and maintain them or change them in the process
of making more permanent choices.
Stage 3. Making Commitments (Approximately 32-42)
This is typically a period of relative order and stability
where we implement and live the choices made in the young
adult transition. We settle down into deeper commitments involving
work, family, church, our community ties etc. We focus on
accomplishment, becoming our own persons and generating an
inner sense of expertise and mastery of our professions. By
now we have a better developed and fairly well defined, though
not usually final, dream of what we want to achieve in life.
We put significant energy into achieving the dream.
This is the stage of mid-life questioning that's been discussed
so much in the popular press. Here we tend to question everything
again. If we have not achieved our dreams we wonder why not.
Were they really the right dreams? If we have achieved our
dreams we look at what values we might have neglected in their
pursuit. Was it worth it? Either way we're probably disillusioned.
A period of reassessment and realignment usually takes place,
including recognition and re-balancing of key polarities ,
Immortality vs. Mortality - While young people know
better intellectually, emotionally they seem to feel they
are immortal. In mid-life we start to realize it may be half
over and we want to make the best of what remains. This typically
requires some revision of priorities and values - perhaps
less emphasis on values already achieved and more emphasis
on those we have neglected.
Constructive vs. Destructive - Up to mid-life, most
of us fool ourselves that our behavior has been constructive
while we had to deal with others' destructive behavior. In
mid-life we get the uncomfortable insight that we have also
engaged in our share of destructive as well as constructive
behavior. This insight is painful but essential if we want
to continue growing intellectually and spiritually.
Nurturing vs. Aggressive - Whether we have focused
on aggressive (e.g., fast track corporate careers) or nurturing
(e.g., teaching, social work, or homemaking) behavior to date,
in mid-life we often want to re-balance. Some aggressive corporate
people want to spend more time nurturing with their families
or in socially oriented work, and some who have been in more
service-oriented nurturing careers want to pursue something
more aggressive or financially rewarding.
The experts stress that acknowledging the turmoil, experiencing
the pain, and facing and resolving the polarities is essential
for continued growth and satisfaction. Refusing to acknowledge
or experience mid-life anxieties and questions - or at some
unconscious level trying to go back and be twenty again is
usually a sure way to get stuck and disgruntled in a way station.
Stage 5. Leaving a Legacy (Approximately 49-65)
The period after completion of the mid-life transition can
be one of the most productive of all stages. We are usually
at the peak of our mature abilities here. If the issues of
the mid-life transition have been acknowledged and addressed
we can make our greatest possible contributions to others
and society. Here we can be less driven, less ego-centered,
less compelled to compete with and impress others. Instead
we can focus on what really matters to us, on developing younger
people, on community with others, on leaving some personal
legacy that really makes things better for people (whether
it's recognized as our personal legacy or not), and on accomplishing
values that our maturity and greater spirituality tell us
have the most true meaning in the overall scheme of life.
Stage 6. Spiritual Denouement (Approximately 66 and Beyond)
This is the stage of tying things up, of completing the design
of what we want to become, of finalizing our growth and assessing/fine-tuning
the persons we have made of ourselves. This stage can go on
for many years. It can be hopeful or cynical depending on
how realistically, humbly, and effectively we have resolved
(or now finally resolve) the issues faced in earlier stages.
We may move into this stage sooner or later depending on how
rapidly we have developed in earlier stages - how much we
have moved beyond our narrow selves. Here we come to grips
with the ultimate limitations of life, ourselves and mortality.
We can look hopefully and unflinchingly at the ultimate meaning
of our life and the life of others in the larger context.
We do the best we can to pass whatever wisdom we have gained
on to others. We accept others for what they are, seeing them
as growing like we are and part of humankind's diversity.
Our sense of community continually expands as we prepare for
survival of the spirit beyond our mortality.
A Reason to Be
What ultimately is career and life success? What are we striving
for? Why? What is our reason to be? The answer to these questions,
and the significance we find in each of the life stages, will
be very different depending on which world view we take.
[In another chapter, we discussed two worldviews, Naturalism
and Supernaturalism. Naturalism is based on the asumption
that human reason is supreme and this world (i.e. nature)
is all there is. Supernaturalism is based on the assumption
that there is more - that beyond nature as we know it there
is an intelligence far surpassing our puny human intellects
and we are charting our courses to a higher place.]
If Naturalism is our world-view, much of this life, including
the life stages, doesn't make much sense. There is no ultimate
goal. We perfect ourselves more every step of the way in life
and then, at the height of our growth, we cease to exist.
Not a very motivating scenario. Also a risky scenario. If
we were betting on the wrong world view the negative consequences
are far more severe and lasting than anything that happens
to us in this life.
Naturalism's idea that we humans represent the ultimate intelligence
can seem - at least momentarily - very sophisticated and flattering
to our egos. Many very intelligent people have been seduced
by this idea and spent their entire lives stuck in this rut.
However, inevitably, those who have tried to replace God with
human reason (especially when it has been their own reason
they decided to revere) have done more harm than good. They
have usually also ended up disillusioned and unhappy. However
well meaning their original intentions were, the seduction
of power - the idea of 'being' rather than 'serving' God -
got them, and us, in trouble.
The result has been much suffering, pain, unequal justice,
and bad things happening to good people in this world. Hitler
and Stalin occur to us as two extreme examples of people who
took this path. Naturalism has not given us much to celebrate.
The reality of Naturalism is that, when we get beyond its
original seductions, it tends to keep our gaze focused down,
on the mud. Most of us from the depths of our too often neglected
souls ache for more. Something in our innermost being cries
out for a higher purpose - real meaning and goals that can
be more satisfying and enduring than the transient successes,
the 'vanities' of this life. We long to make that all-important
simple turn of the head. We don't want this troubled existence
to be all there is. We want to lift up our eyes beyond the
restricted ceiling of earth and hope for heaven.
Supernaturalism gives us that hope. Supernaturalism goes
substantively beyond Naturalism and provides meaning, even
to our sufferings. Supernaturalism makes life a positive journey
towards a higher place, with rewards far surpassing anything
Naturalism can promise. Also, not only our spiritual, but
even our finest scientific leaders tell us the 'faith' of
Supernaturalism is much more consistent with the universe's
observed logic and order than Naturalism's faith in the chaos
of nothingness built solely on chance. Supernaturalism gives
us an over-arching reason to be, an ultimate destination.
Fortunately, it turns out that the most advanced modern research
on life stages helps outline a path to that destination with
defined way stations that can help us map our progress during
They tell us the purpose of each stage is to further our
growth - to increase our learning and give us new, more mature
insights. Our primary purpose in life is not business, money,
recognition, professional expertise or career progression.
Our primary purpose is to become complete human beings and
to help others become complete human beings as we work together
in cooperative community on resolving the issues of each life
stage. How open we stay to this never-ending learning, and
how effectively we assimilate and grow from the often painful
insight of each stage, seem to be critical determining factors
in how far we progress - and in whether or not we experience
satisfaction and the peace that can only come from movement
towards an ultimately meaningful goal.
Effective progression through the stages is congruent with
what generations of spiritual writers have defined as the
real purpose of life, spiritual growth - the process of purifying
and preparing ourselves for a higher life. This is much more
important than what specific career field or profession we
choose, or how much material recognition and reward we receive
for what we do. A successful career is one that enhances our
spiritual growth. Our occupational choice should be one that
can best enhance that growth. In later chapters we will present
some proven techniques for helping us make that important
If you continually track your progress, as we recommend,
you may find you even want to change career fields occasionally
as you progress over the years, reach plateaus, and need new
challenges to start you towards the next stage.
There are many who have received very high levels of material
recognition and reward, but appear to be frozen and unhappily
stagnated at one of the lower level life stage way stations.
Likewise there are people who are wise and at peace in very
high level developmental stages who have never sought or received
much material recognition and reward. Which group would you
consider more successful?
There is nothing wrong with material success and recognition,
if they don't distract us from more enduring realities and
endeavors. If material success and recognition become ends
in themselves, if they define the ultimate destination in
our career and life journeys - there has been a great deal
of social, psychological and spiritual wisdom accumulated
over the centuries - that tells us we will find arrival at
that ultimate destination terribly disappointing.
The rich man in the parables, who ignored the beggar Lazarus
at his gate, discovered too late that Lazarus and not he found
his final destination in heaven. In recent times we've all
read about case after case of wealthy, renowned media, literary
and financial personalities who ended their days in very public
alcohol or drug ridden despair. Like the poet we cited earlier,
most of these probably needed to lift their eyes and discover
a higher reality.
Figure 1 outlines some key issues contemporary research tells
us must be addressed and resolved at each life stage if we
want a happier and more rewarding destination at the end of
Figure 1. Adult Life Stages
/ Tentative Choices
Tentative vs. Lasting Choices
sense of personhood as separate from parents and childhood
self as an individual and establishing an initial life
out new relationships (e.g., love interests, peer groups,
focus from family of origin to new peers and groups
Settling Down vs. Keeping Things Open
sense of self and who/what we want to become
initial life style and making more permanent choices/
out and deciding which relationships will become more
and evaluating commitments and connections
Permanent vs. Tentative Choices
up/establishing a more permanent sense of self and who/what
we want to become
a life direction and defining/ aggressively pursuing
a dream of what we want to accomplish in life
more permanent commitments to love relationships, friends,
more permanent connections and community ties/ responsibilities
Immortality vs. Mortality,
Constructive vs. Destructive,
Nurturing vs. Aggressive
realities of projected ego and image vs. true self and
struggling to define/accept true self
the dream whether or not it was achieved and developing
a more mature sense of what is really important
acknowledging one's own negative, as well as positive,
impact on relationships and correcting course for deeper,
more authentic connections
from group and cultural pressures/norms to re-evaluate
and restructure priorities
vs. Personal Benefit,
Other vs. Self Centered,
Social vs. Independent Accomplishments
go of earlier inaccurate ego images and accepting oneself
as a worthwhile being with weaknesses as well as strengths
the best of the time one has left to help others and
leave a positive legacy
into more realistic and rewarding relationships based
on recognizing/ forgiving each otherís imperfections
as human and helping each other grow
on a deeper, more objective, less driven and more productive,
level with family, friends, and society
Survival of Spirit vs. Mortality
Surrender vs. Control
self as dependent on a wisdom greater than oneís own,
recognizing that wisdom as benevolent, and submitting
oneís self and life to that wisdomís will
things up and completing the development of the person/spiritual
being we want to become
others and recognizing/ respecting humankind's diversity
as part of a greater wisdom's plan
that life is only part of a larger, more enduring spiritual
community and helping others understand that
Where Are You Now?
We do not, of course, move in simple linear fashion from
one stage to another with no going back. It isn't that simple.
Instead we move through the stages in cyclical fashion, hopefully
with a longer term forward momentum, but inevitably cycling
back and re-working concerns of earlier stages as we face
unpredicted events, traumas, and fluctuating career, family,
or interpersonal situations.
As you review these life stages think about where you are
now. What stages have you passed through and which do you
face next? What might that mean in terms of what you're thinking
and feeling about your work and life today - and about your
choice of life values to focus on at this point in time? As
you look through Figure 1 how are you progressing? Which of
the key issues have you resolved and which are you working
on now? Where do you stand today in terms of the key issues
and other categories listed across the top of Figure 1? Where
do you want or need to concentrate your efforts next? The
following brief reflection can help you consider these questions.
Read down each column under the categories listed across
the top of Figure 4 (Key Issues, Self Image, Relationships
etc). Using an erasable pencil, put a checkmark ()
in the one box in each column that best defines where
you think you are today. It may not be a perfect fit,
but pick the one that comes closest. Then look at the
boxes above the one you checked and put a question mark
(?) in any you feel may still need some attention.
Look at your checkmarks and question marks as clues
to where you currently are in your progression through
the stages. What does this tell you? What impact might
it have on the life values you feel are most important
to you right now - or on your sense of changing if you
are in a transitional situation between stages?
If you are part of a couple, you're not assessing your values
or passing through the life stages alone. Two of you are making
value choices and tradeoffs. It's helpful to know and share
where you both are now in your life stage progression and
where each wants to go next in your individual and joint journeys.
There will probably be differences that you need to accommodate
while also respecting each other's individual growth needs.
Then important future career decisions (e.g., a job offer
for one of you at another location) can be made with full
awareness of what values each is trading off, and plans can
be made to maximize growth for both of you after the decision.
It's important that we continually revisit, re-evaluate,
and link our life values to our deeper, more spiritual aspirations
and growth as we pass through each life stage. It's important
that we recognize and accept the fact that the values we are
spending our time pursuing might have to change, sometimes
dramatically, as we grow and mature. This doesn't necessarily
mean we've taken a wrong turn. However, most of us do take
wrong turns along the way, and recognizing that gives important
insight that helps get back on course. Correcting course and
continually re-balancing are not signs of failure. They are
simply signs we haven't frozen our designs. We're still moving
ahead and improving the final product of what we want to become.
We're still focusing on the stars and lifting our gaze out
of the mud.
Prioritizing your life values and tracking your life stage
progression are the first two tasks in the Taking Charge Process.
The next task is deciding what kind of work will best achieve
your values and advance your progression in directions you