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The Big Picture, Civic Engagement and Generativity Four

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This extension in space beyond our own death is an important concept because it leads us to a final exploration of the interplay between generativity and both spirit and soul (a topic to which we turn in the final essay in this series). This type of extension is captured in the title of John Kotre’s Outliving our Selves (Kotre,1984) . It also builds on the fundamental concept of generativity offered by Erik Erikson, who proposed that the primary developmental task during the final years of our lives is to seek ego integrity and not fall victim to existential despair. Erikson thought that by the time we reach 60 years of age, we begin preparing for our own death. Now, increased life-expectancy is giving the average senior 15, 20, or even 30 more years to choose between vibrant engagement or stagnation and decline. As a professional coach, we might find work with clients who are far past the traditional retirement age.

Yes, there are people who withdraw and lead a life of despair; Erikson’s challenge is an accurate description of the unfortunate men and women who choose to retreat behind gates and closed doors. For whatever reason, such people seek to disengage or are forced to disengage. Maybe it is burn-out, lack of energy, or illness. Perhaps it is insufficient finances or the absence of a caring family. And for some seniors who have made this choice, the end of generativity may have come earlier in life.

Civic Engagement

We have found that the 50 Senior Sage leaders (ages 56 and older) in our Western Nevada County, California, project are too busy to fall into despair or worry about pending death. They are fully engaged in leading social reform and other forms of community service. They have made the choice—usually conscious—that “Withdrawal is not for me!” They aren’t going to stop now—at this point in their lives. And in so doing, they have helped to identify the fourth set of generativity roles for which the citizens of Nevada City and other communities should be grateful.

There is an additional something for which the Senior Sage leaders are themselves grateful. We know from the literature (and particularly in a series of ongoing studies conducted by the MacArthur Foundation) that we stay vibrant in old age if we remain socially, intellectually, and physically active. And when we do, we live longer. Professional coaches should take note of this important finding—especially if they are involved in health-based coaching (Bergquist, Carrier and Cary, 2019: Teurman and Bergquist, 2019).

At some level we all know (and the Senior Sage Leaders particularly know) an important truth: “if we don’t use it, we’re going to lose it.” So, it is reasonable to conclude that civic engagement and the fourth level of generativity can be based on a wonderfully selfish motive—a recognition that we need to be civically engaged if we want to stay vital and remain alive! A professional coach can articulate this conclusion when working with their mid-centurion clients.

As we are about to demonstrate, however, our Sage leaders taught us much more about Generativity Four than just a strategy for living longer; this was especially the case with our Emerging Sage leaders (ages 26-55), who are likely to live many more years and are not yet pondering their own mortality. In our exploration of this complex matrix of motivations, we begin by reviewing the different ways that Generativity Four is enacted. As is the case with Generativity Three, there are a wide variety of narratives conveyed and stories to be told about Generativity Four—and once again professional coaches should take note of these diverse narratives.

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