Home Concepts Adult Development Essay XVII: Moving from Generativity Two to Generativity Three–Returning to Major Life Issues

Essay XVII: Moving from Generativity Two to Generativity Three–Returning to Major Life Issues

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Being In-Sync or Out-of-Sync with Society

This choice between generativity and stagnation is not as easy as it may appear on the surface. We often chose stagnation and risk the wrath of an unacknowledged voice. If we take actions based on the voices from other rooms, then we may be likely to be condemned by our family and friends—and even condemned by our own psyche. An insightful developmental psychologist, Bernice Neugarten, suggests that we often experience a developmental crisis in life when the actions we take and the decisions we make are bold and generative. These actions and decisions are often out of sync with expectations of the society in which we live because crises in development occur when we do something at a time in our life that does not square with societal rules.

Gerald is an Autumnal man whom one of us coaches. He co-owns and has served as president for nine years of an educational institution that primarily serves mature men and women preparing for a second career. Gerald’s timing was off in acquiring this institution for a half million dollars. He wasn’t really at an appropriate age for taking on this high-risk, entrepreneurial venture. He would have been better suited for this risky venture when he was 35 or 40. Gerald was 48 years old when he and his wife bought the school and assumed a major five-year debt. His wife was also in her late 40’s. A younger couple should have bought this educational enterprise. A younger man or women would be expected by society to be sufficiently energetic and visionary to make a venture like this succeed. A husband and wife who are about to enter their mid-centurion years are much too old for such a venture.

Gerald often confronted himself with many disturbing questions and statements during our coaching sessions:

What in the world was I was doing taking on the task of leading an educational institution? My work at the institute is always exciting but also terrifying. Is something wrong with me? Was I foolish in taking this on? Was I too old? Was I kidding myself regarding my interest in and ability to take on this venture?

The mature men and women that Gerald serves in his educational institution have no doubt often asked themselves the same kind of questions. Like the president of their training institute, these middle-aged men and women are inevitably in crisis because they have chosen to return for a degree at a much later point in life than is usually the case. They are not your typical young men and women, fresh out of high school or college. They are experienced persons who want to enrich and renew their understanding of the world, while also getting an advanced academic degree. This interest is understandable and commendable. Yet their families, friends and colleagues often do not understand why they went for further training and education: “Hasn’t he already had enough education?” “Why doesn’t she just settle down and take things a bit easier? What is she doing starting a second career this late in life?”

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