The ebb and flow of life is marked by a number of stages with the preceding one giving way to the next. Each one of life’s stages brings with it its own gift and it is for us to both recognise and treasure these gifts.
In order to benefit from the stages of life we have to accept the limitations of each one and move on to the next when the time comes. Each stage offers us the opportunity to successfully navigate the ever-changing currents of life. Some may get stuck in a particular stage and some may skip a stage altogether, not always of their own doing but determined by traumatic external events.
Learning through Mimicking
The purpose of our initial stage in life is to learn how to adapt to others in society and become aware of the rules of behaviour that govern our respective cultures. We do this by mimicking others around us. Navigating this stage successfully results in us becoming self-sufficient and autonomous human beings.
Getting stuck in this stage will result in us forever trying to please everyone else at the expense of pursuing what we want in life. We may go to great pains to avoid being judged by others and to gain their approval. It may also delay the process of getting to know who we are and what makes us tick as an individual. The challenge is to become a well-integrated member of our community whilst at the same time express our own unique talents and personalities.
The Passion of Adolescence
Passion bursts forth marking this stage one of self-discovery through experimentation and adventure. We undergo significant transformation both physical and emotional. We may reassess and challenge family ideas and customs aligning with the social, political and religious causes that resonate with our emerging values and beliefs. The challenge is to maintain a balance between developing independence whilst at the same time remain rooted to the support offered by our family and culture.
We go into the world to leave our mark through our education and experiences gained. It is during this stage that we develop the courage to discover who we are and what separates us from others. We experiment with things, make mistakes and learn from them, whilst continuing to develop.
This stage is marked by excitement and discovery and also the reason why some people get stuck in this stage. They constantly seek the thrill of exploration and adventure and may be reluctant to accept that all endeavours will eventually end.
Coupled with this is the recognition and acceptance of our limitations. Being confronted by our personal failures is part of the journey of personal growth. If successful we gain insight and acceptance that we cannot pursue everything. We have to be selective and focus on the important activities we want to spend our precious time on.
Commitment and Maturity
This stage is marked by consolidation and realising our individual potential. It is a significant stage in our adult lives and with the onset of midlife we begin to contemplate what the true meaning of our individual lives might be. It is the stage when we develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. On the other hand some might find themselves struggling with a midlife crisis often due to unfinished business in one of the previous stages.
This stage includes a de-cluttering of our life, ridding ourselves of time wasting activities and energy draining relationships. We may also start making significant changes in our lives. The result is that we nurture and treasure the activities and people that truly matter to us. In essence it is about creating the legacy we will leave behind.
Leaving this stage for the next means letting go of the need to achieve and accomplish. Some may struggle to accept that they will never achieve everything nor have the energy to constantly pursue elusive goals and the need for ever more.
This is the stage of wisdom and benevolence and a time when we can make significant contributions to society. The final stage in life is also when we come to terms with our own mortality.
The older generation become important volunteers and mentors to the younger generation. It is in my opinion this stage when it all comes together and we are able to enjoy the fruits of our labour.
Age is marked by a lengthy accumulation of knowledge and experience out of which hopefully wisdom may grow. Some cultures recognise the value and benefit the older generation has to offer their society. Alas in other societies, especially the West, the older generation are often discarded and forgotten.
Taking the time to reflect on what the purpose of our lives were and what it was all about will help us determine the legacy we want to leave behind. It will also help us to make the most of the final stage of our lives.