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Something that is really resonating with my coaching clients who are all working to live their lives consciously and on purpose is the adult stages of development described in Robert Kegan’s constructivist, developmental theory.  Kegan, a developmental psychologist and retired professor of the Harvard Graduate School in Education, describes five stages of development including 1) Impulsive Mind, 2) Instrumental Mind, 3) Socialized Mind, 4) Self-Authoring Mind, and 5) Self-Transforming Mind.  The two latter stages are particularly interesting for adults and especially those who are curious about life, who they are in this life, and how they want to live their life.  It is particularly interesting for those who have an internal sense that there is more they can access from their lives.  More meaning. More depth. More life. More self (Self).  Just more.

There are many theories of adult development indicating how we move through the different stages of development through infancy and into and through adulthood. These theories are all quite reasonable and seem relatively accurate for the most part.  For example, Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development indicates that in infancy through adolescence we are learning to trust, be autonomous, and independent.  Into and through adulthood we create intimate partnerships, and practice being good parents and active contributors to society through our work.  In later life, we are reflective on the lives we created.  While all of this is generally true, it has always felt to me that there is something else, something more that I can be as an adult versus what I do as an adult.

In spending time with Kegan’s theory, what I appreciate about his stages of development is that his stages indicate we have the potential to continue to grow and develop into more even as adults.  In this regard, it feels more developmental than simply advancing through stages.  I appreciate the possibility of being more!  More of me.  More of me in the world.

In Kegan’s theory, the self-authoring stage, post-adolescence through pre-midlife (pre-40; however, I’m not sure what this means if 40 truly is the new 30) focuses on our unique capacities as adults to know ourselves and be guided by an internal compass versus external influences.  In the self-transforming stage, which generally takes place at around forty years of age onward, we as adults have the developmental capacity to elevate our consciousness and appreciate and include all the different realities that exist in our world even while they are different and maybe even in conflict with our personal reality.

In early writings about this theory (not sure if this is still the case), Kegan indicated that 35% of adults may achieve a self-authoring mind.  I certainly can relate to this. Learning to know that I have an internal compass has been a challenge and then actually trusting this compass to guide me, without needing input or expertise from anyone else, has not been easy for me.  There is always what feels like a cast of 1000s willing to give me direction from their own perspectives at any given moment in time.  They are quite certain and persistent about what they know.  Their directions rarely factor into consideration my wants, desires, and needs.  Do you experience this as well?

Kegan also indicated that less than 1% of adults achieve a self-transforming mind.  As a person on a spiritual journey, and a naturally intuitive feeler, this makes sense to me.  I liken this stage to that self self-actualization which is a term used in a range of psychology theories to describe a stage in which one has reached his/her potential, or the ultimate, spiritual enlightenment and at the same time realizes that others can reach their very own unique potentialities.  There is room for all of it. I like the term radical inclusivity which is a term I first heard about and experienced at the Burning Man festival in 2017.  At Burning Man, everything is welcome and included.  It was interesting for me to see what I could and could not be with in my reality. There is definitely much room for development toward a self-transforming mind.  Luckily, I was with a friend who helped me understand inclusivity in a way that I could not on my own.  But I digress.  A topic for another post.

What I do know for certain from my own training and experience is that each one of us has an internal compass willing and waiting for us to access it so that it may guide us on our unique, individual journeys!  It may need to be fine-tuned a bit but it is there.  And, yes, for as much as we are in relationship with others, we are all on individual journeys.  We came into the world as part of a solo journey and we leave this world as part of a solo journey as well – even as we are surrounded by loved ones.  One of our life lessons is to learn to listen to our internal compass and follow its guidance in the midst of all of our relationships.

What I specifically like about this theory is that it gives me and other seekers in the world explicit language and stages to sink into on our journey of self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-awareness.  It gives us hope that there is more we can know about who we are and why we do what we do.  It gives us a framework that encourages us to discover and understand who we are in the world. Through this process, we are increasingly capable of consciously creating a life that aligns with our true selves and that feels purposeful.

For more information, please consider:

Kegan, R & Lahey, Lisa Laskow. (2016).  An Everyone Culture:  Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization.  Harvard Business Review Press.

Kegan, R. (2013).  The Future Reaches of Adult Development.


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