Is (Your) Life a Spiral, a Line, or an Ellipsis?

Tunnel to Future

A majority of adults in Western countries have been conditioned to think of “a life course” in terms of a LINEAR model. This stems from several psychological theories of ‘developmental stages’ which our parents grew up with and passed on to their children. Erik Erikson, in Childhood and Society (1950) proposed the most widely accepted Linear Stage model of eight ‘psychosocial stages’ that he believed was universal, for all people everywhere; a biologically and socially normal series of stages we must all pass through.  Infancy, Early Childhood, Play Age, School Age, Adolescence, Young Adulthood, Adulthood, Old Age: Does this sound familiar and seem “right”? (Earlier Western models were also mainly LINEAR; like Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage…with seven stages”; even so far back as in the Medieval Ages there were 5, 7, or 11 stage-models that were considered normative).

Corporate Ladder

Erikson said that during each of the eight ‘maturational’ stages he identified in 1950 we have a challenge to meet; for example, Productivity in Adulthood, or a search for Identity in Adolescence.  But this LINEAR Life Course Schema also sets up a one-directional, gradual, “progressive” Life Path. If a person gets married but later divorces, or gets a job but then loses it, then this LINEAR model registers these life changes as disruptions of the one education–one marriage/family–one career trajectory it sets up as the goal for a “successful” life. All of the people who told me in my life mapping interview studies that they were experiencing or had experienced a “MID-LIFE CRISIS” expressed a LINEAR model similar to Erikson’s.

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Did you express a CYCLIC model with this week’s Life Mapping Tool (see right panel) instead of a LINEAR one? Do you tend to think of life in terms of 7 or 10 or 12 (or other) -year cycles? How does this help you or influence you? Several contemporary life course theorists—e.g. Fredric Hudson and Mary Catherine Bateson/ including me, based on my life mapping research—find that a CYCLIC model often helps people to adjust to life’s changes with greater flexibility and creativity. When one loses a job or a relationship, which is so common in our “post-modern” lives, a CYCLIC Life Course Schema can help a person to think of this life change as an opportunity to “start over” rather than as a disaster.

maze

Or perhaps instead of either a LINEAR or a CYCLIC model, you might think of life as not necessarily structured at all, without any fixed or predictable stages or cyclic phases? If so, you are not alone! A SEAMLESS model is a fairly frequent contemporary Life Course Schema that co-exists in our postmodern cultural reality alongside LINEAR and CYCLIC models. I found that people expressing a SEAMLESS model tend not to like to set too many ‘fixed’ goals in their lives; they like being surprised and want to see where things go instead of limiting themselves. At the same time I also found that people with Life Metaphors (see last week) like “Life is a Flash in the Pan” or “A Mere Sliver of Time”—guess what?—tend to also express a SEAMLESS Life Course Schema. Maybe that’s because they feel more like they are living “in the Moment”? I wonder.

Abstract Binary Code Lighted Tunnel Showing Technology And Computing

Anyway, the Life Course Schema you hold may impose profound influences on how you set your goals, make your choices, and respond to life changes.  Can you change a Life Course Schema if you don’t like how it is affecting you? Yes, you can!  You can create a new Cycle, add a new link in a chain of events, or, at least, lengthen the span of time you associate with a ‘stage’.  How? I invite you to journal, contemplate, or talk with your loved ones and friends about this. Of course, you are always welcome to share your insights, questions, and your stories here! Check in Friday for some stories I will share from some other life mappers’ experiences.

2 thoughts on “Is (Your) Life a Spiral, a Line, or an Ellipsis?

  1. As the saying goes, ” life is what happens when you are making plans”. I suppose that comment places me in the Seemless model?

    What I like about Erik Erikson’s development model is that the stages are interdependent and there is always an opportunity to resolve them. For example, even adults can still be negotiating the ‘Trust vs Mistrust’ stage.
    Not so with Freud’s psychosexual phases.
    Interesting material – thanks ❤
    Emy

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    • Hi Emy, Thanks for chiming in! A good book IMO that I have used as a text in support of the approach I’m developing here is Fredric Hudson’s THE ADULT YEARS: Mastering the Art of Self Renewal. You make a good clarifcation about Erikson’s Neo-Freudian model. Yet still, his stages seem to me to make more sense in 1950 than now. That’s not to say they are not still relevant; Gail Sheehy says they have shifted to later time frames. But they still seem very much a Western 20th century cultural model versus the cyclical or seamless construction. The Seamless model–which your phrase does nicely express–is not considered much in the literature but it shows up regularly in the life mapping cases.I look forward to hearing more from you!

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