Most of us spend our 20s and 30s trying to figure out who we are and what we want. We often search for that through our relationships with other people, how they view us, how we want to be viewed by them. We compare ourselves to others as a way to determine how well we are doing at life. But a shift occurs as we mature, and we start feeling a tug to find meaning and the desire to live a life of purpose becomes stronger.
While this shift may feel like it is coming out of the blue, we are following an established pattern that we all experience. Erik Erikson, an ego psychologist, developed a well-known and influential theory of psychosocial development that identified stages that we go through as we age. In each stage we experience a crisis or conflict that will help us reach the next stage of our development.
At around 40 years of age we enter Erikson’s seventh stage of our psychosocial development, middle adulthood, and the conflict or crisis of generativity versus stagnation. We exit this stage at 65. Erikson defined generativity as a “concern for establishing and guiding the next generation”. It’s the engine behind our concern for the future or our desire to leave something behind. It’s why we even ask ourselves the question “what is my purpose?”.
According to Erikson, if we successfully negotiate the stage we’re in, we develop strengths and skills that will help us as we enter into the next stage. If we do not resolve the crisis successfully, we won’t develop the set of skills the conflict is intended to develop and we will struggle with succeeding stages. Finding a purpose in your life after 50 sits squarely in the middle of the generativity versus stagnation stage.
Melissa Watson-Clark has been practicing as a psychotherapist since 2010. Working primarily with clients suffering with anxiety and depression she focuses on the power of nature to bring healing and restoration to her clients.