“Engagement is the therapeutic response to meaninglessness.” This comes from Yalom and I’ve been thinking about the last two stages in Erikson’s psychosocial development theory. While I’m a slow developer and have taken my sweet time, I’ve reached the age of sixty-five. It’s the turn-around time.
A quick trip to Google reminds me. The Seventh Stage, roughly from 40 to 64, is called Generativity Vs Stagnation. It’s all about established careers and relationships. Those two big questions, what will I do and with whom? I can answer both of them correctly.
Supposedly, we’re no longer children. We work at assuming responsibility and not playing the blame game. Ideally, it’s the time to give back and repay our many debts of love. But it can also be a time of disappointment and give-up. Erikson writes that success in this stage leads to the virtue of Care. It’s an interesting word.
Hope, Will, Purpose, Competency, Fidelity and Love are the first six tasks to achieve. At any point, we can regress and lose Hope. I’m guessing the older we grow, the steeper the hill.
The Eighth Stage, which statistically begins at 65, is called Ego Integrity Vs Despair. It’s the slow-down, retirement and time to reflect. We look at our life, does it look like us? What do we see, how do we feel?
Success in this stage leads to the virtue of Wisdom. I’ve had some good guides. Reece said, “Being diagnosed with terminal cancer during the happiest time of my life, you’d think I’d despair. But I’m grateful. I look back on my life and smile.” He had that sense of closure and completion Erikson describes, and his acceptance of death was profound. I still study him.
Being sixty-five and retired, I’m entering new territory. I’ve waited all my life for this. Now is the goal.
Recently, I ran into a song I wrote thirty-some years ago. I was traveling at the time and trying to figure out what kind of a life, what kind of a person, I would choose to live and be. The song’s called, “What the Hell is Wrong with Me?
The Sixth Stage, Intimacy Vs Isolation, the twenties and thirties, are all about Love. So much depends on this struggle for relationship. Not just with others, but with self. I was judging myself rather harshly during this time of life and wondering if I’d ever arrive at the next stage.
Now I’m at the gates to the final stage and asking a different set of questions. My life definitely looks like me and despite having been a teacher, I’m still a student. It’s a primary identification. One of the goals of therapy, according to Yalom, is being able to make a free choice. I choose love and learning.
I feel unstuck in time, like Vonnegut’s character, Billy Pilgrim. I look back and go forward. I have no idea where I’ll end up, although from an outer point of view, I’m going in ever-smaller circles close to home.
I agree with Yalom all the way, engagement matters. I don’t know how this stage will play out, but I plan on staying engaged. I was lucky with my career. I lived in highly engaging communities. I can’t imagine my life without Timberline and the college. These journals and Sansaku.
Marriage and home ownership caught me by surprise. I was slow to develop. I know why those stages give us time to grow. We need to feel both sides of the spectrum, intimacy and isolation, work and stagnation, integrity and despair. I think about despair.
I’m sure I’ll be engaged.