Is Your Life More Like An Arrow, a Spiral Staircase, or “Whatever Happens”?

love_1000005251-120613int

How would you answer (today, anyway) the following question:

“What, to you, are the typical stages or phases, if any, of a normal human lifetime?”

I have asked this question to around 500 people and the answers they have given fall into three basic categories or kinds of Life Course Schemas: Linear, Cyclic, or Seamless.

If you consider a life as structured according to developmental stages, like infancy, childhood, young adulthood, adulthood, elder status (bordered by Birth and Death), or if you similarly describe critical stages such as innocence, education, marriage, career, empty nest, and retirement (still bounded by an Entry and Exit), then your Life Course Schema is a LINEAR model. This is a very popular schema and most educated Westerners have been conditioned to this model from learning about such developmental psychologists as Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget or Abraham Maslow. Erikson in particular defined eight life cycle stages that people could be expected to pass through as they mature, facing critical challenges at every stage.

stairs-vector_f1jlXxDd

 

But Erikson’s framework, devised in 1950, may actually have fit a typical life course better then than now. What happens when the linear expectations (one education, one marriage and family, one career) hit a roadblock? Then one might perceive themselves as falling into a midlife crisis. Nowadays, since change is more likely than stability, many people are composing their own more flexible models of the life course.

seamless-pattern-with-spiral-elements_GJodvp9_

If you think of your life as being cyclic or like a spiral, with opportunities for ‘starting over’ with every cycle change, then you can plan for the next cycle or Chapter even as you finish the one you are in. Frederic Hudson, in The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal, is a psychotherapist who coaches clients to reflect on where they are at in a “cocooning” phase of a Chapter in order to decide whether to improve where they are, or plan to leave and start over elsewhere. In my studies of the life course, I have found that many people whose parents divorced while they were young or who had some other sort of early critical life disruption were more likely to construct a cyclical Life Course Schema than a Linear one.

spiral

Or are you more likely to answer the above question by saying you don’t believe life has any fixed structure or pattern at all; it just happens, and you deal with what comes up? This may seem a more creative model, though I find many people expressing this schema tend not to be highly goal oriented.  They love the mystery, though, of what might be up around the corner; they revel in the surprise!

colorful-abstract-circles_G1qw3_S_

Do Life Course Schemas matter? I think they might, a lot.  Schemas are cognitive frames; they orient our minds according to the structures they impose. They serve like filters between our experiences and our interpretation of that experience. So they can lead us to develop self-fulfilling prophecies or to feel stuck in repeating kinds of situations (like job loss or relationship failures). Or, they can lead us to “mop it up” and try again with greater focus or even to decide in advance of a cycle’s end how we will improve the situation next time around.

grunge-spiral-brush-stroke_mJUPWf

So, where are you in your current Life Chapter and where do things appear to be heading for you? I invite you to reflect on your Life Course Schema. How might it help you or hinder you from making desired changes in your life?

I welcome your insights and stories!

 

 

Life Path Stories

mazem-2-111813-222.eps

“What, to you, are the typical stages or phases — if any — of a normal human lifetime, whether or not they are typical of yours?”

When you review your response to this week’s prompt (above), what is your “go to” Life Course Schema—Is it mainly Linear, Cyclic, or Seamless? More importantly, in what ways might this model influence your perception of life events or your decisions and behavior, either with regard to your own life, or others? Allow me to share a few stories from some life mappers today.

Time

When I began studying Life Paths by conducting interview research, I placed an ad in a local paper that simply stated: “Mid-life Crisis?” followed by my contact information. I interviewed eleven people who responded to that ad. Each of them expressed a LINEAR Life Course Schema.  John, for example, had lost a series of jobs to downsizing in the airline industry. He felt debilitated because he had trained for that career and felt, in his early 40’s, that his career was a failure. This is so common that people who believe in a LINEAR stage model of life may have difficulty dealing with change, which may feel like a disruption of the one-education, one-career, one-relationship life progression they hope or might have grown up expecting to maintain. That is why a LINEAR model is less appropriate or a bit dicey, at least, in today’s world of flux. We need a flexible model that allows for change and adaptation.

celtickblems-111813-70.eps

I found in my interviews  that people who had experienced an early family disruption like their parents’ divorce or a natural disaster often adapted by developing a CYCLIC Life Course Schema instead of a LINEAR one. Sandi, for example, who has been a globe trotter most of her adventuresome life, said she feels she has been living several lifetimes in this one; and she means that literally, as she holds a strong belief in reincarnation. Hers is a CYCLIC adaptation that allows for a great deal of creativity and flexibility.

Wooden stairs or path to the bright ocean

Then there was Esther, also a person who has lived in several countries in her life. Her big move from a Nordic country as a child to the US for an athletic opportunity and then to marry and raise her family in the US was possible because her philosophy of life—her SEAMLESS Life Course Schema—allowed her to take major leaps when the opportunities arose. Esther described life as like a chain with links that form unpredictably; they fit together in retrospect but until a new experience ‘happens,’ you won’t really know what is around the bend, and this is good.  Esther eschews setting goals; she much prefers to welcome change and the rich opportunities they manifest in her life.

quilt4-111813-253.eps

   One note: You might find that you hold one Life Course Schema with respect to one ‘angle’ of your life experience and another for a different dimension of your life. You might then be able to “borrow” from one side (read, archetypal orientation or role perspective) to aid another side of you to help make a decision or deal with a change. Please put this idea on the back burner for now; it will resurface when we talk in two weeks about your recurring Life Themes, and then later, when I invite you to Meet & Greet your own ‘ensemble cast of mythic archetypal characters”!

I welcome all of your insights and stories!

(Dear fellow bloggers, Tweeters and readers: I am traveling for the next 18 days. I will continue to put up posts but it might take longer than usual to respond to your cherished and welcome comments. – Linda)