Home Concepts Adult Development Peak Life Experiences: The Beginning of Emerging Sage Leadership

Peak Life Experiences: The Beginning of Emerging Sage Leadership

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I was a good guy who hung out with bad kids just because they gave me self-esteem. I wasn’t very proud of my grades or my lack of involvement in school. One of the hardest things my parents ever did was making the decision to hold me back a year. Because of this decision, I became an honor roll student and was involved in school sports and student council leadership. These leadership roles went all the way through high school and college.

Competence in Meeting a Challenge

Contents of their stories vary widely, but an underlying theme is emerging sage leaders’ sense of competence, a belief that they rose to the challenge and as a result are now able to provide valuable service. “I can do this” becomes the clarion cry of the emerging leaders. In many instances peak experiences happened because someone, usually a mentor, invited them to take on a challenge and expressed belief in their ability to achieve it; this was inevitably a very personal experience, a powerful interpersonal connection that made it happen. The mentor pushed the emerging sage forward (the role of challenge) while providing reassurance and encouragement (the role of support). Nevitt Sanford believed that all peak experiences, and especially significant adult learning, occur under conditions when challenge and support are in balance: the greater the challenge, the greater the need for support (Endnote 1). This parallels the model of “flow” offered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is the threshold between anxiety and boredom (Endnote 2).

Challenge without Support

In several cases, the emerging sage leader experienced all of the challenge but none of the support earlier in life. One emerging sage notes that he was hanging around with the wrong kids and was failing in school; his parents held him back, and he was forced to take eighth grade over again. Now with support and different friendships, this emerging sage forged a different kind of life for himself. Another emerging sage leader talks about a tragic car accident that forced her to reflect on the reasons she was placed on this earth, to question why she is still alive while others died, and what she is meant to do with this life she has been granted. Other emerging sages also report certain traumatic experiences as being “peak.” These difficult challenges taught them about endurance and persistence, about compassion and justice, about privilege and opportunity—and about collaboration.

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