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Coaching to a Las Vegas State of Mind

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The noted psychologist, Erik Erikson, proposed that “a turning point, a crucial period of increased vulnerability and heightened potential” (1968, p. 96), occurs at eight different stages of a developing person’s life.  In each stage an individual either achieves or fails to achieve resolution in working through the conflict presented.  He proposed that each stage has a specific goal to be achieved: trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity.  He also saw that each goal if not attained would typically result in a respective undesirable psychosocial effect: mistrust, shame, guilt, inferiority, role-confusion, isolation, stagnation, and despair.  While each life stage has a main psychosocial focus, he did not believe these things to be attained and then settled once and for all.  Rather he saw life in motion and realized that these goals fluctuate and reappear throughout development.  Erikson believed that:

Identity development is an inherent component of emerging adulthood and there appears to be considerable overlap with the social tasks of adolescence. According to Erikson (1968), identity formation begins when the usefulness of identification ends. Taking on characteristics of others no longer provides satisfaction; the individual experiences a desire to shape his or her world in unique ways. Identity formation begins with a synthesis of childhood skills, beliefs, and identifications into a coherent, unique whole that provides continuity with the past and direction for the future (Sokol, 2009, p.)

What Erikson suggests is that the developmental task of adolescents begins when a young person goes beyond competent imitation of others and moves into a world of crafting their repertoire of experience into one synthesized whole that is uniquely them.  This is no small feat.  The challenges today are making the task more difficult still. It is hard to be young adult living in a Las Vegas world.

Digitally-Based Identity Formation

One of the major challenges to development today is the sheer volume of experience made available by our electronically networked culture.  The rate at which the virtual content around us changes is astonishing, presenting a very difficult challenge to assimilate experiences into a meaningful identity.  Sherry Turkle, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has done extensive research on the subject of the psychological impact that computer technology has on people.  Her research began in the late 70’s as the personal computer was developing.  Continuing her research to the present day, she has gained a wealth of knowledge on the subject.  She describes the problem well: “Today’s teenagers…grew up networked, sometimes receiving their first cell phone as early as eight.  Their story offers a clear view of how technology reshapes identity because identity is at the center of adolescent life” (Turkle, 2011, p.169).  Turkle’s research has led her to believe that technology is having a serious impact on the identity stage of development.  She joins with Kegan and Johansson in her belief that it is creating space for identity exploration and innovation that has never existed before in history: “Beyond all of this, connectivity offers new possibilities for experimenting with identity and, particularly in adolescents, the sense of free space, what Erik Erikson called a moratorium” (2011, p.203).

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