People spend a lot of time categorizing and teaching youngsters about the phases of life. There are books about it with colorful graphics. There are courses to take. People spend a lot of time considering the best way to explain the ways we change and grow.
But all the books stop at about 18.
No one spends much time or energy figuring out how to teach the rest of us about how we continue to grow and change once we become legal.
Well, that’s not completely true. There’s the tried and true: young adult, middle age and senior adult categories, but I think there’s more than that.
I’ve been giving some thought to the stages of adulthood and the characteristics of what goes with those stages. (Move over, Erik Erikson.)
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re probably right. If someone would have told us about the so-called stages when I was younger, I probably wouldn’t have listened. However, there may have come a point when something would have registered and we would have started paying attention. And maybe, just maybe, I would have made a few different choices (which, for me, really boils down to having bought fewer counter-top appliances — but more about that later).
And then again, maybe we would have made the same choices after all.
Early 20-somethings: You are unstoppable. The world is your oyster. Generally, you don’t focus energy on learning even though you’re often in environments rich with opportunities to learn. It’s drudgery, but you know how to have fun. You’d like to acquire things, but you don’t have much money to acquire much (except t-shirts, and you have masses of them). You know your time to get away with being unproductive is short so you make the most of it. You are at your physical peak, but you don’t realize it at the time.
Late 20-somethings: It’s time to get productive. You want a nicer apartment. You try to find cool stuff. You have lots of visions of just how cool your apartment is going to be one day—and it really matters to you. You may believe that you’re behind where you thought you would be by now. So, you get even more serious about your job. You’d like to take the vacations you dream about, but it’s hard to budget it all. The time is nigh to cement the relationship.
30-somethings: You acquire, acquire, acquire. You can finally afford things and you excel at doing so. Later you will come to question your choices, but for now you believe you’ve got to get the right furniture and the right pictures and the right dishes and the right pots and pans. And appliances. You have a vision for your life and it involves lots of counter-top appliances. You genuinely believe all this stuff matters. Your family grows too. You spend crazy amounts of time carting family members around because you believe every one of your family members has to do everything.
40-somethings: You continue in the same pattern as your 30’s until you wake up one morning and realize, “Hey, I’ve got too much stuff to take care of. What was I thinking?” You are exhausted. You realize how you previously spent so much energy on matters that matter very little — and it’s not horrible. In fact, it’s wonderful and liberating. You tell your family members they can’t do everything either. You realize you were all running yourselves silly. You realize you are not what you own. You start chilling out more than you stress out. You now know that it really doesn’t matter if the placemats and napkins complement each other.
And what happens next? I’m not sure. But if you know, I’d be interested in reading your take on things. We all have to go through the stages, and a little shared wisdom doesn’t hurt at all. Email me at Jan@JanRisher.com if you’d like to share your thoughts.