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

Peak Life Experiences: The Beginning of Senior Sage Leadership

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When I was a senior in high school, our schools in Louisiana became integrated. A small group of extremely bright, wonderful students from the all black McKinley High were placed in all white Baton Rouge High. It was incredibly difficult. We couldn’t leave the classroom to go to the bathroom without an escort. It really wasn’t about white girls; it was about white males bothering black females. When we exited the school, students left via different quadrants of the building to be picked up by their families. It was terrible.

Variety of Peak Experiences

Much as William James noted at the turn of the 20th Century in Varieties of Religious Experiences, some persons are twice-born (Endnote 1). They change as a result of specific, powerful events in their lives; they are “converted” or transformed. Others are once-born. They change gradually as a result of a set of small events or the accumulation of gradual societal changes. They “transition” rather than transform. Their life is on a trajectory rather than being piloted by a set of abrupt changes. These two different life models can lead senior sage leaders to similar civic interests and involvements, but they may also lead these future leaders down quite different paths—and they require different kinds of mentoring. Mentors to the once-born person are there to assist and support their mentee over the “long haul”; they provide sustained support and offer penetrating insights throughout the lengthy transition. Conversely, mentors to the twice-born are there at the right time and in the right place to support mentees as they confront the big event in their lives. This kind of mentor supports the twice-born in ways that the peak experience is not just traumatizing—it is an event that teaches and transforms.

Major Societal Events

Some senior sage leaders have been witnesses to major events earlier in their lives that forever changed the communities in which they lived or were visiting—ranging from growing up in WWII London during air raids to observing the integration of schools in the Southeastern United States, to collapse of the Soviet Union and tearing down of the Berlin Wall. This range of profound social transformations provided these men and women with great appreciation of the need for social justice. Such events altered their perspectives about the world, and more generally about the nature of humanity. They came away with a dramatic recognition of the great differences that exist in other societies and distant regions of the world, and this helped them gain a strong sense of what they wanted to do with their lives.

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