With our archives now numbering over 3,500 articles, we've decided to republish a classic article every Sunday to help our newest readers discover some of the best perennial gems from the past. This article was originally published in November 2019.
The fun thing about getting older: At every stage, at every age (even from adolescence!), you think: “Well, this is who I am and what I will always be. My life, mind and personality have finished developing.” And yet, five or ten years later, you look back and think, "Wow, I really have changed a lot!"
The funny thing about life: nobody really explains how and why it happens.
We have a clear notion that there are stages of biological/psychological/social development in childhood and adolescence. But after that? The remaining decades of a person's life are considered a flat, featureless, and essentially static stretch from age 20 to old age.
However, this is simply not the case, as psychologist Daniel J. Levinson demonstrated half a century ago.
In the late 1960s, Levinson began a years-long study to better understand the contours of men's lives, especially from their late teens through their early 40s. He and a team of researchers conducted in-depth interviews with forty men, with ages ranging from 35 to 40 years. 45 years of age, and of different religious, socioeconomic, civil and ethnic status/origin. The interviews, delving into their life stories, became 'biographies' of the men, which were compared and analyzed to see what could be discovered about the process of adult development.
What Levinson discovered he neither sought nor expected: the existence of a universal and fixed progression of stages in adulthood, just as there is in childhood and adolescence. As detailed inThe seasons of a man's life., Levinson discovered that the entire life cycle, from birth to death, actually consists of "qualitatively different seasons, each with its own distinct character."
Instead of a frenzy of transformation that takes place in youth, only to be followed by stasis in old age, the phases of growth and interest, conflict and drama, change and renewal happen continuously throughout life and in a predictable pattern.
This, Levinson says, "is one of the best kept secrets in our society, and probably in human history in general."
The seasons of a man's life: an overview
If we think of stages, transitions, or sequences in adult life, we tend to think less in terms of age than in singular events like leaving home, getting married, starting our first job, having children, etc.
What Levinson found is that regardless of when these kinds of events happen along a person's chronological timeline, a more macro universal order underlies all of them. Although the timing of life events, the general content of life (family, career, lifestyle), and even the formation of a sense of maturity differ greatly among men, the sequence of the seasons - the general character of the structure of life - remains the same for everyone (as subsequent studies have shown, this includes women, for whom the basic architecture of the life cycle is quite similar, although some of the contents and contours of the periods are different , consistent with the unique experience of the female sex). As Levinson says, everyone else also goes through identical periods of development in childhood and adolescence, but they haveverydifferent experiences of youth: "Individuals pass through the periods [of adulthood] in infinitely varied ways, but the periods themselves are universal."
(That's because the life cycle of adulthood is independent of its discrete milestones (marriage, children, home ownership, etc.). The development Levinson discovered fifty years ago still holds up perfectly well.)
Like the seasons, periods of adult development are neither good nor bad; rather, as each season is determined by specific biological, psychological, and social factors, each simply brings "changes in the character of life." In addition to having a qualitatively different mood and texture, each season has unique developmental tasks: choices and commitments that can move a life forward and lay a healthy foundation for the next phase, or can create stagnation and crisis for years to come. . .
Diagram adapted fromThe seasons of a man's life.
The broadest of these life phases are four eras that make up the “skeletal structure of the life cycle”:
- Childhood and Adolescence: 0-22 years
- Early adulthood: 17-45 years
- Average adult age: 40-65 years
- Late adulthood: 60 years?
As you can see, the eras overlap, for example, early adulthood ends at age 45, while mid-adulthood begins at age 40. These overlapping periods are called transitions. Although the most important and critical transitions in adult development occur between eras (the transition to early adulthood, the transition to midlife, and the transition to late adulthood), there are transitions as well.withinthese times (the Transitions of the 30s and 50s).
Diagram adapted fromThe seasons of a man's life.
Each transition period of change of structure alternates with a period of construction of more stable structures. Let's take a closer look at the character of these different seasons:
Transition periods/change of structure
Duration: ~4-5 years
Transitions serve as bridges connecting eras/periods in the life cycle. They end the past life structure and initiate a future life structure, but they themselves are not fully a part of either. They are, therefore, “superposition zones”, liminal states; Just as winter does not end abruptly and suddenly turn into spring, transitions represent a time when one season of a man's life transitions to the next.
Transitions are the “border zones between two states of greater stability”, during which an individual experiences their life as more malleable and makes changes to its structure.
During these periods, "a man must accept the past and prepare for the future."
First look back: how have you been doing in various areas, such as career, relationships, spirituality, and lifestyle? How were the objectives achieved or not achieved and how were the specific values lived or ignored? Certain aspects of life inevitably feel stagnant and stuck in a rut, and a man must decide which parts of his past he wants to keep and which he wants to discard. The process of letting go of certain relationships, activities, dreams, and expectations can lead to anger, sadness, and a sense of loss.
At the same time that a man is ending certain relationships and activities, he begins to look for alternative options, different possibilities and new perspectives for his life. The parts of the self that were neglected during the previous period demand attention. A sense of renewal, hope, and starting over is often present during a transition.
Each particular transition has its unique development tasks, but they all have in common the need to work to integrate what Levinson calls the Young/Old polarity. A man may grow old prematurely or try to maintain the dominance of youth for a long time; each transition requires you to create a balance of these “appropriate for that time in life” energies:
Especially with the changing of the eras, there is often an increase in the old qualities of maturity, judgment, self-awareness, magnanimity, integrated structure, breadth of perspective. But these qualities are only valuable if they continue to be vitalized by the energy, imagination, wonder, capacity for silliness and fantasy of the young. The Young/Old connection must be maintained.
Transitions can be subtle and smooth. Rather than seek to replace significant components in his life, a man may simply reaffirm or readjust his commitment to the existing ones. His job may not change, but his attitude toward him will. The structure of his family life may remain the same, but his perspective may change. A relationship may continue to exist but on modified terms. You can deepen or separate his involvement in something you were more in limbo about. While it may seem that a man's life does not change significantly during his undramatic type of transition, at the end of it, the structure of his lifeEssubtly different, and hefeelingsdifferent.
A smooth transition can be the result of a man entering these periods with a fairly satisfactory life structure. However, it can also "result from resignation, inertia, passive acquiescence, or controlled despair." That is, a man can feel trapped in his current circumstances and believe that he cannot change, that he does not change. In these cases, he will probably have difficulties in the next phases.
On the other hand, transitions can also be moments of crisis. The need for larger and more significant changes is felt and combated. A man may feel that he is unhappy in his marriage (or celibate), that he is in the wrong career, that he wants to make a geographic change or that he needs to leave his faith. More dramatic pivots are contemplated.
Whether it's a calmer transition or a chaotic one, "it ends when the tasks of questioning and exploration lose their urgency." A man feels ready to move on with the new or renewed commitments he has made (or renounced). These choices "are the main product of the transition," and the next step is to begin building one's life structure around them during the more stable period that follows.
Stable/structural construction periods
Duration: ~6-8 years
During a transition, an old life structure is ended and a new one is created. During the stable period that follows, a man solidifies and enriches this new structure, giving it meaning and commitment, and pursuing his goals and values within his architecture.
Stable periods are not completely smooth, nor are they free of stress, difficulties and changes; The process of building and strengthening one's life structure, as well as the basic nature of life itself, is invariably fraught with challenges, but they are more stable, straightforward, and settled than transitory periods.
In addition to the underlying task of improving one's life structure, each specific stable period has its own set of unique development tasks.
Although the tasks of the stable and transition periods are universal to all, each man will do his work in them in very different and very individual ways, and the tasks may be performed well or poorly; although, as Levinson points out, making such judgments is difficult, since ideas of success are subjective and idiosyncratic. In this context, “success” is a matter of whether or not the development tasks of a given period are accomplished, and whether the changes and commitments resulting from that commitment are satisfying to oneself and feasible under the circumstances.
An important conclusion when examining the general structure of the adult life cycle is that aging, rather than being a process of creating a permanent and concrete stability -a monolithic structure that lasts three quarters of a century- is an oscillation of creation and recreation. , destruction and renewal, ideally with an ascending generative arc.
In this series, we'll take a closer look at specific periods of that trajectory. While Levinson's study made some speculative hypotheses about the nature of the life cycle after midlife, his research focused primarily on the periods from late adolescence to age 45. Adulthood, and then devote a separate piece to the midlife transition.
Read the rest of the articles in this series:
- The seasons of a man's life: early adulthood
- The Seasons of a Man's Life: The Midlife Transition
The seasons of a man's life.
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Daniel Levinson's Seasons of Life Theory is comprised of sequence-like stages. These stages occur during two types of periods: the Stable Period, in which crucial life choices are made, and the Transitional Period, in which one stage ends and another begins.
Answer: The four stages of life, mainly for the men of the household are (1) sisya, or brahmacarya, (2) Grihastha, (3) vanaprastha, and (4) samnyasa. ...Who is associated with the seasons of a man's life? ›
Daniel J. Levinson, a psychologist, was one of the founders of the field of positive adult development. Levinson's two most prominent publications were his series of books entitled, The Seasons of a Man's Life and The Seasons of a Woman's Life.What are the three stages of a man's life? ›
Three main stages of a man's life are: Childhood: Where he is dependent upon others, a seeker of knowledge, a learner, playful and active. Youth and Adulthood: He experiences love, affection, earns and takes responsibilities of others. Old-age: He is experienced.What is the key concept of Levinson's seasons of life theory? ›
Daniel Levinson's theory of adulthood development is based on the idea that adulthood is made up of alternating periods of stability and transition. The most important of the transition periods is the Age 30 Transition, when adults start planning their futures and make important life-changing decisions.What are the 4 seasons and their meaning? ›
In spring, the weather begins to get warmer and trees and other plants grow new leaves. Summer is the hottest season and has long, usually sunny, days. In the fall, the weather becomes mild and leaves start falling from many types of trees. Winter is the coldest season, with short days.What are the 7 stages of man's life? ›
The seven stages of life as stated by Shakespeare include Infancy,Schoolboy, Teenager, Young Man, Middle age, Old age, and Death.What are the 7 stages of man? ›
The stages referred are: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and old age.What are the 5 stages of manhood? ›
The five stages outlined in the article are: Stage 1, Unconscious Masculinity; Stage 2, Conscious Masculinity; Stage 3, Critical Masculinities; Stage 4, Multiple Masculinities; Stage 5, Beyond Masculinities.What is the main message of the human seasons? ›
By animating the seasons, Keats creates a vision of human life that mirrors natural processes, reinforcing the bond between humans and the environment. Furthermore, Keats paints a romantic vision of what it means to live, in a form that conveys a reverence for life's sequence and structure.
A theme throughout all of Levinson's adult stages is the concept of a dream. Essentially the dream describes one's ideal life, and usually includes ideas about work, family and community roles. People often compare where they are at in life with their dream.What does the Bible mean when it talks about seasons? ›
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV. Ecclesiastes gives us many examples of seasons we'll face in life: times of birth, death, weeping and joy. The Bible shows us that experiencing good and bad times in our lives is normal and to be expected.What are the three P's of being a man? ›
It's all about the "three P's." Oprah.com: Can a list help you find love? "We profess, we provide and we protect," he says. "A man has got to see where he fits into the providing and protecting role.What is the 7 stages of love? ›
Dilkashi (attraction), uns (infatuation), ishq (love), akidat (trust), ibadat (worship), junoon (madness) and maut (death) – these are the seven stages of love outlined by Khalujan, played by Naseeruddin Shah, in the 2014 Bollywood film Dedh Ishqiya.What is the first stage of a man's life? ›
The first stage in a man's life is that of an infant. He is helpless in this stage and keeps on mewling and crying for attention from others. He cannot do anything on his own and is dependent on others. This is followed by the second stage.What seasons represent which life stages? ›
The cycles of life have often been referred to as seasons. Spring can represent birth and childhood. Summer can represent the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Fall is the older, mature years, and Winter refers to the declining years leading to death.What are the five stages of a man's life? ›
Each stage is critically important from the birth, weaning, boy, man, father, and elder.What are the 7 stages of human life? ›
The major stages of the human lifecycle include pregnancy, infancy, the toddler years, childhood, puberty, older adolescence, adulthood, middle age, and the senior years.