The Grant Study, of course, is highly biased, not only because it focuses only on men, but also because these men were all able (and qualified) to go to a premier university, such as Harvard. In many cases, they came from wealth and in most cases they led an adult life of privilege and accomplishment. They typically have not suffered from poverty, extended illness or other socio-economically based hardships. In many instances, however, these men have had to deal with alcoholism, career failure, depression, and/or life-threatening illness. Their lives were neither simple nor carefree. The remarkable thing is that there is still room for major life changes, new energy and achievements, and profound renewal during the last two to three decades of life. It is often surprising for Vaillant to discover that men who have made a mess of their lives can invent a new self and establish new relationships (or heal old relationships) during these final years of life.
So, what is the relevance for professional coaches? First, there is the obvious implication: we should do more work as coaches with men (and women) in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Development apparently does end with old age. There is a second implication, however, that may be much more profound. The insights that Vaillant offers can help us as coaches challenge the assumptions our clients make during their 40s and 50s regarding their own “stuckness.” One of the key concepts that Erik Erikson offers concerning mid-life is the choice we all have to become generative in mid-life or to fall into a state of stagnation. The ingredients of generativity include a commitment to other people, a concern for the long-term welfare of our community, and recognition that the next generation will be changing the world in which we now live (and that we have helped to create). Vaillant would now add to this recipe: a vision of hope for renewal and rebirth in our own personal future. As the title of Vaillant’s book suggests, there is triumph to be found in the experiences we accumulate during a long life of success and failure. As coaches, we can help our clients recognize ways in which to anticipate their own late-life triumphs. This, in turn, will provide hope and courage for our clients (and ourselves) as they (we) confront current life challenges and look forward to more challenges (and opportunities) in the near and distant future.
We encourage you to review the other essays contained in this issue of The Future of Coaching. Following are the links to each of these essays: