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!

 

 

Your Crests and Valleys

Dear All: I am posting Friday’s blog early this week due to a rather major event in my own life occurring Friday that I am preparing for this week. So this post will serve as the Friday post. 🙂 L.

hand holds flower spill many flowers and butterfly

There are so many different approaches people take to reconstructing their history of significant life events.  I have met a woman over 70 who recalled just seven shaping events over her rich life experience, yet I also composed a Life Map for a 21 year-old young man who identified over 130 events, with many significant events happening every year.  Next week this should start becoming more clear as we will shift to looking not just at single events or time frames but at recurring KINDS of events in your life, or Life Themes.

arrow2-01-111413-9

For now, I invite you to reflect on the list of shaping events you have thought about or charted on a timeline this week. (Please see the Life Mapping Tool in the right panel and you might wish to check Sunday’s and Tuesday’s posts this week to ‘catch up’ on what we’re up to this week if you are just joining us.)  As you reflect on this particular list of life moments or phases you have recalled as your “shaping” events, do you recognize any obvious patterns or trends?

One life mapper, Mercedes, realized as she composed a timeline of her significant life events how her most challenging times almost always culminated with an event she associated with a Life Lesson. Another person, Hope, realized she had suffered from a long series of Meltdown phases as a result of some major family dysfunction, yet she always found ways to lift herself out of these Meltdowns by engaging in a Nature related event.

08c99aa1a1a37

What obvious trends come to light for you from reflecting on your own history of shaping factors?  Were there happier periods involving specific kinds of events? Are there trends relating to romance or family? Did your family move a lot while you were young (for example) and if so, are there patterns in the history of events associated with these moves? Overall, do you recognize patterns or changing developments over time in the overall history of your “shaping factors”?

sign direction new life - old life

I invite and welcome your feedback, stories and insights!

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.

2426-1013-A2471

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.

Your Life Course Schema: Linear, Cyclic or Seamless?

Carriage Castle Fantasy Backdrop

In addition to Metaphors that can shape our understanding of life and our interpretation of life events, there is an even more ‘totalizing’ way that we cognitively frame how a lifetime—including our own–is structured. Theories of the “life course” abound with frameworks that define how we construct our Life Paths.  From interviewing many people from various backgrounds, I have uncovered three overlapping (culturally co-existing) contemporary models of how our lives are structured. We can call these “life course schemas”. The three contemporary types of life course schema models are: Linear, Cyclic, and Seamless.

This week’s Life Mapping Tool (see right panel) asks you to reflect on the prompt: “WHAT, TO YOU, ARE THE TYPICAL STAGES OR PHASES, IF ANY, OF A NORMAL HUMAN LIFETIME, WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE TYPICAL OF YOURS?”

How you answer this journaling prompt reflects how you conceptualize life in terms of a Life Course Schema. And which of these models you tend more to think in terms of can affect where you see yourself as “at” with respect to the larger picture of how you conceive of where you are Now, how you’ve come to being where you are, and where you’re headed.

{I invite you to take a few minutes now to journal your immediate response to the above prompt.}

3245-1013-B0676

Does your answer have five or more “stages” (like Birth—Childhood—Teen Years—Adulthood—Late Adulthood—Elderly) or a similar set of stages? This is a LINEAR model or Life Course Schema.

1158-spiral-floral-design-1013tm-mix

Does your answer refer to a series of repeating “cycles” or phases (like 7 year cycles, decades, or 12 year cycles, or a similar series of periodic phases)? This is a CYCLIC Life Course Schema.

chain

Does your answer suggest that there simply are NO typical stages or cycles that everyone goes through in similar ways (like saying life “just happens” relatively randomly, so you need to be able to adjust to the unexpected) or a similar idea? This is a SEAMLESS approach.

quill_pen_book_ink_well

For now, I invite you to journal, contemplate or talk with a loved one about how you may have come to your specific Life Course Schema model (is it from your parents? or from some other set of influences?). On Tuesday I will share some more about how each of these Schemas might influence your life, both for the positive and as a limiting construct.

I welcome your response to the prompt or any other insights. You may use the Comments button below or  send me your longer response.

Better Endings to You! Linda