As changing seasons bring new colors and scents with them, so does the transition into adulthood. On one hand, it represents a milestone in life that is both exciting and daunting; on the other hand transitioning to adulthood can be difficult as well.
The “the seasons of a man’s life levinson pdf” is a book that discusses the transition into adulthood. It also talks about how different age groups are affected by different aspects of life.
Returning to our series on a man’s life seasons, which outlines the universal pattern of stages that underpins adult growth.
We gave a comprehensive overview of these periods last time, based on psychologist Daniel J. Levinson’s research and presented in The Seasons of a Man’s Life. We discussed how a man’s biological, social, and psychological development continues beyond adolescence and alternates between more stable, structure-building phases and more transitory, structure-changing periods throughout his life.
Today, we’ll look at the characteristics of these eras as they are experienced in the Early Adulthood age, which runs from the late teens to the early forties.
However, before we begin, it will be helpful to lay down a few explanatory notes that will aid in comprehending what is to follow.
First, Levinson’s results were primarily intended to be descriptive rather than prescriptive; that is, they outline what a man would experience throughout various stages of his life rather than advising him what to do during these stages. The information provided here acts as a map of the terrain that people will face throughout each stage of their lives.
However, there are a few of “shoulds” still in play: 1) Each phase has its own set of developmental duties that must be addressed and resolved; chores that are disregarded in one phase will simply resurface in the next, causing confusion and further complicating the process of progressive maturity. 2) While individual men’s choices and commitments to these developmental tasks will be infinitely varied, they can be made well or poorly, depending on the degree to which they are satisfying to the self (aligned with inner values, dreams, and priorities) and viable in light of external circumstances.
Second, the ages listed at the beginning and conclusion of phases are simply estimates. The stages might begin and end 1-2 years before or after this time frame.
Third, the phases don’t start or stop suddenly; you don’t wake up one day and realize you’ve entered a new season. Rather, much as winter does not immediately turn into spring, a person’s transition into and out of these periods is slow.
Let us now enter into the heated and tough, rich and frustrating age of Early Adulthood, with those cautions in place.
Early Adulthood is one of the seasons of a man’s life.
17-45 years old
Transitioning from Childhood to Adulthood (ages 17-22) begins with the Early Adult Transition and finishes with the Mid-Life Transition (ages 40-45). A man transitions from adolescence to adulthood during this period, moving from a budding “junior” member of his family, professional area, and greater society to a more established “senior” member.
“Early adulthood may be the most dramatic of ages,” Levinson argues.
During this period, a man’s life changes dramatically, moving away from relying on his biological family and toward establishing his own “home base.” The stakes are high, the choices are vital, and the questions are burning in the first part of Early Adulthood: Where to go to school? What should I major in? Which career path should you take? Who should I marry? What is the best place to live?
“The period of greatest biological richness and most contradiction and tension,” Levinson adds, “is the span from 20 to 40.”
The physical vitality, desire, hope, and motivation of a guy are at an all-time high. It’s the season of life’s summer. It’s a promising environment, and a guy traverses it with a feeling of heroic questing.
During a man’s twenties and thirties, he is attempting to construct what Richard Rohr refers to as the “container” of his life — the framework that will house his marriage, family, job, and all of his ambitions. He’s motivated by the need to build his identity: he wants to be correct; he wants to be validated and acknowledged; he wants to make a name for himself. It is a time of outward involvement and upward aspiration.
While a man in Early Adulthood appreciates the emotions of momentum and development, as well as the satisfactions of ambition, the weight of that ambition may be taxing, resulting in a demanding schedule, intense disappointment in the face of setbacks, and stress when he fails to advance at his desired rate. Dating may be fun, but it can also be stressful and dangerous. Being an employee or entrepreneur, a spouse, and a parent of small children has a high learning curve. Not to mention that this education must be completed when a guy is still establishing his financial resources and stability. And behind it all, there’s the nagging question: “Am I doing the right things with my life?”
Stress and plenty.
The Novice Phase includes the transition from adolescence to adulthood, as well as the age 30 transition.
17-33 years old
Levinson not only defines the stages of Early Adulthood, but he also labels the first three of them — the Early Adult Transition, The Transition to Adulthood, and the Age 30 Transition — as the “novice phase.” Between the ages of 17 to 33, a man’s novice period of adulthood occurs, during which time he finds his footing and position in the world as an independent adult.
Given how often we criticize young men’s “arrested development,” the fact that a study conducted half a century ago described “entry into adulthood” as lasting until a man’s early thirties may come as a surprise; however, despite the fact that 65 percent of Levinson’s participants were seasoned military veterans (having grown up during WWII and the Korean War), he still discovered that:
It takes around fifteen years for a young man to grow out of adolescence, find his place in adult society, and commit to a more stable existence. This period is a necessary element of maturity. It is not a ‘delayed adolescence,’ even in its most chaotic or immature form.
A man’s progress toward, and ideally greater crystallization of, what Levinson refers to as “the Dream” is a key component of the novice phase.
The Dream is a picture of the happy life for someone on the verge of adulthood: “a hazy sensation of self-in-adult-world.” The Dream encompasses all parts of a man’s life, including his family, hobbies, community, faith, and general lifestyle, but his job “is frequently the major medium through which [his] future ambitions are established, as well as the vehicle he utilizes to chase those dreams.”
The Dream includes the possibility of being one’s true self and employing one’s true self in a task that one feels called to accomplish. It provides a young guy a feeling of meaning, purpose, and vitality when he thinks about it. “A man’s Dream is his own tale, an imagined play in which he stars as a would-be hero on a noble journey.”
Some young men understand the exact contents of their Dream: they wish to succeed in a certain area, receive a specific award, and reside in a particular location. Others have a fuzzy understanding of the Dream: they have a strong sense of its importance but have difficulty expressing its contents; they may have a vague sense of wanting to achieve something remarkable with their life but aren’t sure what. Others are completely unaware of or unconcerned with their Dream.
Whatever stage the Dream is in when a young man takes his first steps into adulthood, his duty for the following decade and a half is to concretize it and establish a life structure that is consistent with it. “The novice period is critical for developing one’s life’s Dream,” Levinson explains. Failure to lay a good foundation for the Dream in a man’s twenties and early thirties will make future transitions more tumultuous, as he will need to make larger changes to align his life with it, and such moves will become increasingly difficult to pull off as the years pass and his circumstances calcify.
During the novice period, questions about selecting and establishing the Dream, especially about vocation, loom big. And the problem was no simpler to solve for Levinson’s study’s men than it is for today’s. As he states:
It is often considered that by his early twenties, a man should have made a professional decision and be working in a well-defined field. This assumption is incorrect… We discovered that the sequence is more complex and lengthier than the above version implies.
While “an initial serious decision” is made between the ages of 17 and 29, Levinson discovered that “even when [this] first choice seems to be extremely precise, it frequently turns out to reflect a preliminary characterization of interests and values”:
It is seldom an easy or direct procedure to convert one’s passions into a profession. A young man may battle for years to sort out his many interests, determine which vocations, if any, could serve as a vehicle for pursuing his passions, and devote himself to a specific area of employment. He often explores two or more professional options.
Some professions, such as becoming a doctor, lawyer, or professor, have a well-defined path. Even so, applicants may enter the program years after graduating from college with a degree unrelated to it. Individuals in other areas often take a variety of zigzags before settling on a more stable professional path. Indeed, Levinson noticed that establishing one’s professional foothold requires the whole of adulthood’s rookie period.
The novice phase’s responsibility is not limited to establishing a living structure that supports one’s Dream; let us look at all of its associated phases and the work that needs to be done inside each.
The Early Adult Transition
17-22 years old
The Early Adult Transition is a key stage in a man’s life since it is both a transition and a cross-era transition. He is coming to the conclusion of his teenage life structure and entering adulthood.
During the Early Adult Transition, there are two main developmental tasks.
The first is to leave the realm of pre-adolescence. Terminations, losses, and separations occur throughout all transitional phases. As he sails off to college, a young man will likely say farewell to his old friends, parents, and hometown.
Even if he does not become physically independent of his mother and father and chooses to remain at home (as 42 percent of study participants did even five decades ago), he will be progressing toward psychological, emotional, and financial independence from them. This rising indifference or ambivalence toward his parents might produce conflict, but it can also arise peacefully in the shape of a growing indifference or ambivalence toward them, which is not always unloving, but just a sign of increased detachment and individuation.
In general, a young man at this age will begin to question his role in the world and choose what aspects of his childhood he wants to carry over into maturity.
While “all terminations convey a feeling of loss, a sadness for what must be given up, a concern that one’s future existence as a whole may not deliver satisfactions equivalent to those of the past,” Levinson argues that they also create “hope and expectation of a future brighter than” the past.
Indeed, the young man will be gazing toward new horizons at the same time as some parts of his former life are coming to an end. “To take a preliminary step into the adult world: to investigate its possibilities, to see oneself as a participant in it, to make and test some tentative decisions before completely joining it,” says the second key developmental objective of the Early Adult Transition.
In his late teens and early twenties, a person may experiment with various political and religious ideas (which he would frequently accept with ardent, black-and-white enthusiasm), as well as diverse lifestyles. He’ll also take the initial steps toward transforming his childhood ideas about his Dream into more real objectives and paths.
The nature of the Early Adult Transition might be a little erratic. The prefrontal cortex, the “executive” region of the brain that helps check emotional impulses and prepare for the future, is starting to “set” at this stage of life, although it is still growing. As a consequence, a young man may feel stable and balanced at times, and at other times, he may get involved in different types of “drama”; he may make adult and foresighted judgments at times, and at other times, he may make wholly immature and boneheaded mistakes (which, in the decades to come, he will look back on with some mixture of disbelief, embarrassment, humor, and horror).
He will, however, have a growing feeling of solidity and self-assurance by the age of 21 or 22, around the time he is a senior if he went to college, a sensation that he has found his feet. He’s going to take his first steps towards adulthood.
Entering the Adult World
22-28 years old
Despite the fact that Entering the Adult World is a “solid,” structure-building phase in the adult life cycle, it is fraught with anxiety. Though all such periods include opposing developmental demands that a person must seek to manage, the two found inside this one are especially diametrically opposed.
One of the most important tasks of Entering the Adult World, like with any stable era, is to structure one’s life around the decisions made during the prior time of transition. A young twentysomething wants to go ahead and establish a name for himself, which necessitates deciding on a path and sticking to it.
The twenties are an ideal time for launching initiatives and kicking off goals. Physical energy is at an all-time high. Dopamine, which pushes people to seek out rewards, is at its highest level. The prefrontal brain has matured enough to make sensible judgments, but it is still “porous” enough to allow life’s full emotional charge to be retained; a person behaves with emerging maturity and strong feeling.
Doing things like squatting in a small apartment, sleeping on a friend’s sofa, and pulling all-nighters in the sake of “making it” seem completely achievable, and even enjoyable and exciting, with this mix of energy, ambition, and drive. This energizing combination, which peaks in one’s twenties but fades into one’s thirties, also explains why Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s recent research shows that everyone from artists to scientists is more likely to do their best, most impactful work in the first two decades of their careers; this isn’t because people are more inherently creative at a younger age, but simply because they’re more productive. According to Barabasi, as you become older and your production drops, you purchase fewer “lottery tickets” and hence get fewer “wins.”
Nonetheless, although a twentysomething may be heading down one road, other options remain on his radar; he understands that the temporary life structure he’s selected for himself is just that: provisional. As a result, he want to leave his options open. He wants to keep looking at other options for his life. He has a strong desire for adventure. He doesn’t want to commit too soon or too deeply to anything.
The different nature of this era is created by the contrast between the two fundamental developmental objectives of Entering the Adult World. As Levinson points out, there is a natural conflict between the impulse to go on with commitments and the need to leave one’s alternatives open; between not making decisions too quickly and not delaying them excessively:
One of the great ironies of human growth is that we must make critical decisions before we have the information, judgment, and self-awareness to make sensible decisions. However, deferring these decisions until we are actually ready may result in additional and higher expenditures. This is particularly true of early adulthood’s two major decisions: work and marriage.
The duty of either seeking stability or pursuing exploration may take precedence in each person’s life.
In the first scenario, a guy in his twenties makes large, long-term commitments early in his twenties. This approach may provide him an advantage over his colleagues and provide a more secure framework in which to pursue his objectives, but he may later regret not exploring additional options for his life.
In the latter situation, employment, location, and relationship obligations are held lightly, changed often, and not fully involved in. Though this path may provide a man with more diverse experiences in his twenties, as the decade progresses, he will likely sense a “growing desire and external pressure to focus on the other task and to bring more structure, purpose, and connection into” his life.
Individuals may fall somewhere in between these two extremes, with a strong commitment to one career but little interest in deepening relationships, or vice versa.
Whether a man’s life revolves on exploration or stability at this period, both will be present to some degree, and as Levinson points out, “Finding a balance between both duties is not a simple matter”:
If the first is dominant, existence has a very fleeting, rootless feel to it. If the second is dominant, there is a risk of committing to a structure too quickly without enough study of alternatives. Exploring the new adult world while also attempting to construct a secure existence within it is an exciting but sometimes confused and unpleasant experience.
While it’s tempting to mock individuals who “fail to launch,” Levinson’s research found that 70% of males in the Early Adult Transition and/or Entering the Adult World suffered moderate or severe crises, leading him to conclude:
These results call into question the generally held belief that by their early twenties, young men have completed their “adolescent” period of uncertainty and exploration, following which they select a career and follow it in a pretty consistent and stable manner. Few young men are able to construct their first adult life structure without trouble.
Transitioning to 30 Years Old
28-33 years old
As previously stated, the first structure of a man’s life is always provisional in some way, and while this looseness can at first appear liberating and exciting, the uncertainty that comes with it, combined with the stagnation that comes with having so many potential options but not pursuing any of them, can become more burdensome than enjoyable.
“The uncertainty and rootlessness of this existence begin to weigh on him,” says the guy who has been more experimental in his twenties. The bachelor who has been content in his bachelorhood may begin to rethink his prior relationships with women, and may begin to feel increasing internal and external pressure, if not to marry, then to take his dating more seriously. A guy who has been moving from one temporary employment to the next may be feeling an increased urge to settle down. On the other side, a guy who has already made significant commitments may discover that they aren’t guiding him down a suitable road and that he is ready for a change.
More than half of the males in Levinson’s research “felt their lives were unfinished, oppressive, not going anywhere, or moving in the wrong way” in their late twenties. Simultaneously, they felt a higher sense of urgency in dealing with this fact:
Around the age of 28, the twenties’ provisional aspect fades, and life becomes more serious, more ‘for real.’ ‘If I am to alter my life — if there are things in it that I want to modify or omit, or things lacking that I want to add — I must begin now, before it is too late,’ a voice inside the self says.
This is where the Age 30 Transition comes in.
Before the novice period of adulthood ends, this shift allows people to repair defects in the initial life structure they’ve established and bring it closer to harmony with their young ideals and Dream. This “second opportunity to establish a more satisfying life structure within early adulthood,” as Levinson puts it, is both “a tremendous gift and a responsibility.”
The Age 30 Transition, like other transitions, involves a man reflecting on his past and looking forward to his future. According to Levinson, the following are the first questions that arise when the time begins:
- What aspects of my life do I need to give up or drastically alter?
- What am I losing out on in my life?
Other questions develop as the change progresses:
- What have I accomplished in my life?
- What am I supposed to make of it?
- What new paths should I pursue?
A guy reevaluates his relationships, job path, and lifestyle at this period and analyzes opportunities for changing, adjusting, and/or improving them. His main developmental job between the ages of 28 and 33 is to create a new life structure that he will invest in for the remainder of his thirties. He must make decisions that are in line with his ambitions, talents, and external reality in order to have a satisfying Settling Down phase (ages 33-40).
These decisions should be more specific and less ambiguous than those made in the preceding decade. They include an endeavor to “create a work business and ladder that will bring him to the pinnacle of his adolescent strivings,” among other things. By the conclusion of the Age 30 Transition, a man will be more established in the professional world, and often within his own family, and prepared to make deeper commitments for the remainder of his thirties if he has successfully tackled this developmental job.
Dealing with these developmental responsibilities might be a hard or easy transition, as it is with all changes.
In the latter situation, the shift is smooth and uneventful, with no interruption or upheaval in the living structure. This might happen when a guy is content with his work path, relationships, and life’s overall direction. Alternatively, even if “the life structure is substantially faulty,” a man’s life may not change much if he “is unwilling (for different internal and external causes) to recognise the defects and attempt to change them.” Illusions and ignored troubles often appear later in life, at a higher cost.” In any instance, a man will make some changes to his existing life structure, whether physically or mentally, such that by the time he reaches the Age 30 Transition, his life will seem slightly but obviously different.
The majority of the males in the research, however, did not have such a seamless transition, and instead suffered through what Levinson refers to as the “age thirty crisis.” This kind of guy feels trapped between the future and the past — “he finds his current life structure unpleasant, but is unable to build a better one” — and hence sometimes feels unable to continue. He is gloomy, and in the worst-case scenarios, completely hopeless, about the future.
Because the stakes are so high, many men see the Age 30 Transition as a crisis; as Levinson puts it, “the transition from the conclusion of the Age Thirty Transition to the start of the following era is one of the most significant milestones in adult development.” The initial years of one’s thirties mark the conclusion of the “preparatory phase in early adulthood,” and as the novice phase fades, the Settling Down era approaches, during which adulthood’s choices will become more entrenched. The phase of settling down will truly set the tone for the next few decades of life. While there are more transitions that follow, making large, meaningful adjustments in one’s life structure becomes progressively difficult in these later times. As a result, the Age 30 Transition is the cycle’s final more changeable transition. If a guy desires to make significant adjustments to his life structure, he should try to do it during these years.
The Period of Adjustment
33-40 years old
During the Settling Down era, a man increases his commitment to the adjustments, adaptations, and decisions he made during the Age 30 Transition. “The fundamental job is to’settle on’ a few essential choices, build a larger framework around them, engage as completely as possible in the many components of this structure (career, family, community, solitary activities, friendships), and pursue long-term plans and goals within it.” A man’s feeling of urgency to ‘get serious,’ to be responsible, to choose what is actually essential and design his life appropriately is stronger.”
This broad duty may be subdivided into two more particular ones:
TASK 1: To carve out a place for oneself in society. Digging in, constructing a nest, and pursuing one’s interests according to a set of rules. Settling Down begins with this stage. A guy need a life that is sufficiently structured and steady. It’s time for him to dig deeper into his roots, to ground himself more securely in his family, profession, and community. Knowing who he is, having his own home base, establishing proficiency in a chosen trade, belonging, and being a respected part of a recognized collective body give him a higher feeling of pride.
“Rather than trying big structural changes, a man chooses to cope with difficulties by making concessions within the current framework during the Settling Down era.” If he isn’t married, he often aspires to be, or accepts the prospect of being a long-term, maybe lifelong bachelor (with determined enjoyment, heartbroken resignation, or anything in between). He is more likely to wish to stay with his present professional path than to change professions or even organizations.
A man’s twenties and early thirties are frequently spent working long hours to establish himself and advance. It’s all go, go, go; he feels like he’s always on the move, and that he only has enough bandwidth for his profession and perhaps his significant other. Alternatively, if he is married with children, this is new and stressful for him, and he believes he only has time for home and job. The fact that he spends this time with his head down, along with youth’s innate egocentricity, lends this stage of his life a sort of blinkered quality, as if he isn’t paying attention to what’s going on around him.
A guy acquires a bit more assurance and confidence, and with it, a little more breathing space, once he enters the Settling Down era. He could eventually glance up and realize for the first time that he’s paying attention to the people around him. He may have ignored his friendships in prior years, at first using the knowledge that he still had links to his college pals to satisfy that emotional need, but subsequently allowing even these ties to erode. However, as he enters his thirties, he has a desire to reconnect with former acquaintances and to devote more time in forming and nurturing new connections. He is less self-centered in general, and he may want to get more engaged in his community as a whole, volunteering or participating in local events and activities. This is all part of the natural desire to dig deeper roots during the Settling Down era.
TASK 2: Work for progress. Planning, aiming for success, advancing forward and upward, and sticking to a schedule. The first duty adds to the structure’s stability and order, while the second entails advancement within the system. I use the word ‘advancement’ in the widest sense: improving one’s life, honing and using one’s abilities, becoming more creative, contributing to society and being validated by it, all while adhering to one’s principles. Wealth, power, status, recognition, scientific or artistic success, and certain types of family and communal life are all possible aims. In the early adulthood scenario, the Settling Down era is the time for a man to achieve his Dream, follow his objectives, and become the hero.
A man is transitioning from a novice, “apprentice” adult to a more established fully-fledged grown-up during the Settling Down era; “It is a time for a guy to join the tribe as a complete adult on conditions he can accept.” He wants to contribute to his “tribe,” whether it’s his job, his town, his religion, or the country as a whole. “Everyone during Settling Down is deeply tied to a sector of his society, responding to its demands, and seeking the recognition and benefits it delivers,” says one character. Whatever the substance of a man’s chosen Dream and the type of the ladder (whether actual or metaphorical, solid or shaky) he builds for himself during the Age 30 Transition, the thirty-something guy wants to feel like he’s climbing it.
The two tasks of Settling Down are in some ways antithetical, as are the developmental tasks of each structure-building period: the desire for upwards striving is often incompatible with the desire for stability, for roots — if you’re ambitious, you have to be willing to move, or sacrifice time with family and friends. This period’s nature is shaped by the balance of these two pressures.
Being One’s Own Man is a process of becoming one’s own person.
While the two duties listed above run throughout the Settling Down era, the second job becomes more important in the second half, and the ages 36 to 40 constitute Levinson’s “Becoming One’s Own Man” phase. It is the phase that marks the end of the Settling Down period and the beginning of the Early Adulthood era in general.
In Becoming One’s Own Man, a man’s primary developmental tasks are to achieve the goals of Settling Down, to progress sufficiently on his ladder, to become a senior member of his enterprise, to speak more clearly with his own voice, to have a greater measure of authority, and to become less dependent (internally and externally) on other individuals and institutions in his life.
“He wants to be his own man, but he also wants badly to be understood and appreciated, to have his abilities confirmed, to succeed in his business,” says the author, “but he also wants desperately to be understood and appreciated, to have his talents affirmed, to succeed in his venture.”
Let’s look at both of these tasks:
Developing into a “Senior” Adult
A man in his late thirties “must advance toward being a complete peer of his previous mentors, instructors, employers” in order to become a “senior” adult within society as a whole and within his numerous organizations and affiliations. At this age, a man realizes that these characters are no longer much older and more authoritative than he is, and that he is no longer one of the young boys. “A guy in his late thirties is becoming a whole generation older than those just entering adulthood,” Levinson observed. He shouldn’t strive to be a peer, a fellow “cool guy” with those who are substantially younger (and a man in his thirties will eventually find that they don’t view him as such), nor should he justify his mistakes by saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing either!” By the time he reaches the Becoming Your Own Man phase, a man should have a strong understanding of what he’s doing and be more comfortable stepping into his own authority, rather than relying on specialists.
As a guy in his late thirties moves away from his role as an apprenticed adult, he may gradually move away from, or more dramatically break away from, a mentor he’s had from childhood and who has now fulfilled his function. Levinson discovered that “Men seldom have mentors until approximately 40,” despite the fact that he may seek counsel from others throughout his life.
At the same time, a guy in his late thirties will begin to take on the role of mentor (a process that will really blossom in the decade to come). Another reason he shouldn’t cling to his status as a “junior” adult is that if he doesn’t endeavor to establish himself, he won’t be able to accept responsibility for and nurture others.
Having an Affirmational Experience
An person going through the Becoming One’s Own Man phase wants to feel that his labor over the last decade and a half or so has mattered, has meant something, and “to attain objectives that will in turn create a basis for his life in the years to come.”
The previous need for affirmation is typically expressed as a “ultimate objective of progress,” which is “often defined concretely in terms of a crucial event that reflects actual accomplishment in the man’s thinking.” This incident conveys the ultimate message of society’s acceptance of him. ” Having a book published, earning tenure, receiving an award, making a big breakthrough in research, becoming a manager or executive, and so on are all examples of important life events. It’s an accomplishment that makes a guy feel like he’s “made it.”
A man will often attach a lot of fantasies, hopes, and significance to this key event: he believes that if he achieves it, it will mean that all of his years of striving were worthwhile, that he is a true success, and that his future is bright; if the culminating event fails to materialize, he believes he is a failure, that he is unworthy, and his future is bleak.
Either result sets the stage for a time of transition.
Even if the Settling Down period’s concluding event is a success, a man’s glow of goal accomplishment and acknowledgment often falls short of his expectations. In addition to appreciating what he’s accomplished, he’ll consider the price he paid for it – the elements of himself and his life that he ignored in order to put others first. In the same way, success in one line does not guarantee that a man would stay on that road in his forties; “the top rung of the first ladder frequently turns out to be the lowest rung of the next ladder.” Though he has progressed effectively during his thirties, he will be ready for a change as he approaches forty.
Other men show signs of being ready for a shift at midlife because their Settling Down time was less than ideal. The “important event” they were hoping for didn’t happen, or didn’t come close to occurring in the manner they had hoped. Tenure is not granted to professors. A would-be author is unable to find a publisher for a book that has been in the works for years. A manager gets promoted laterally and experiences a stumbling block in his career progress (as Levinson notes, the pyramidal structure of business hierarchies ensures that this will be the fate of the vast majority of employees). At this time in life, there are a variety of progress ceilings that may be attained.
The end of the thirties can be especially demoralizing for a man who hasn’t found any real traction with family, place, and/or steady, well-paying work, who is still having trouble honing in on his Dream, whose Settling Down structure was not close to satisfactory either in aligning with the self or with external circumstances. Progress is behind schedule, both on a social and individual level. Youth may operate as its own source of energy and identity — almost as if it were its own purpose in and of itself — and when it fades in the later part of the thirties, one’s lack of actual purpose becomes apparent.
Men frequently feel ready to make some changes and adjustments around the age of forty, whether or not their thirties were a success in their eyes. Unfortunately, change is difficult to come by at this time. In fact, the Mid-Life Transition may be so stormy that it’s the only time of adult growth that’s well acknowledged in popular culture, and, although it doesn’t have to be, it’s dubbed “Midlife Crisis.”
Next time, we’ll look at its opportunities and difficulties.
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