“Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.” – Mufasa
Life, we live it. We love it, but it has no formula. As much as you can or want to plan for the perfect life, life happens. If 2020 has taught me anything, it is the simple fact that you can never be fully prepared for life.
What I have also realised is we experience three emotional states throughout life.
State #1 Comfort
The first one is the state of comfort. This is where we all want to be in, but that isn’t necessarily what is in our best interest. In this state, we experience a sense of security and pleasure, but little emotional growth happens. It’s like being on vacation rather than in real life.
State #2 Growth
The second state is one of emotional challenge. Because most of us haven’t trained in how to hold space for challenging emotions, we often want to resist or avoid this state and head back to the comfort state.
The more we resist our uncomfortable challenges, the greater the chance is that we will feel stuck in them, rather than the exhilaration that can come from learning and growing. Growth is not comfortable, but there is a reason why.
State #3 Trauma
The third state is one of trauma. The trauma state is when our well-being gets jeopardised in some way. Perhaps there is a traumatic event affecting us, or our stress levels have reached a level that feels overwhelming. Our mind may seem as if it is on a hamster wheel, and our thoughts may be making things worse. We may also enter the trauma zone when we are triggered, perhaps without even realising it, and re-experiencing emotions from a traumatic event that happened long ago. Whenever we are in this state, it is extremely important to reach out and get support.
Life tends to unfold in stages, and problems happen when we get stuck on one stage. I mean we all have had moments we have said to someone ‘grow up’ or that has been said to us. The simple reason is that you will be acting outside of your supposed stage. With the 3 emotional states above, I would like to further expand how we go through life stages.
Stage 1 – Copying
We are born helpless. We can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t feed ourselves, can’t even do our own laundry.
As children, the way we’re wired to learn is by watching and mimicking others. First, we learn to do physical skills like walk and talk. Then we develop social skills by watching and copying our peers around us. Then, finally, in late childhood, we learn to adapt to our culture by observing the rules and norms around us and trying to behave in such a way that is generally considered acceptable by society.
The goal of Stage One is to teach us how to function within society so that we can be autonomous, self-sufficient adults. The idea is that the adults in the community around us help us to reach this point through supporting our ability to make decisions and take action ourselves.
But some adults and community members around us do not know how to support us at this stage. They punish us for our independence. They don’t support our decisions. And therefore we don’t develop autonomy. We get stuck in Stage One, endlessly copying those around us, endlessly attempting to please all so that we might not be judged.
In a “normal” healthy individual, Stage One will last until late teenage years and early adulthood. For some people, it may last further into adulthood. A select few wake up one day at age 45 realising they’ve never actually lived for themselves and wonder where the hell the years went.
This is Stage One. The mimicry. The constant search for approval and validation. The absence of independent thought and personal values.
We must be aware of the standards and expectations of those around us. But we must also become strong enough to act in spite of those standards and expectations when we feel it is necessary. We must develop the ability to act by ourselves and for ourselves.We must develop the ability to act by ourselves and for ourselves. Tweet Me
Stage 2 – Self-Discovery
In Stage One, we learn to fit in with the people and culture around us. Stage Two is about learning what makes us different from the people and culture around us. It requires us to begin making decisions for ourselves, to test ourselves, and to understand ourselves and what makes us unique.
Stage Two involves a lot of trial-and-error and experimentation. We experiment with living in new places, hanging out with new people, imbibing new substances, and embracing new cultures.
In my Stage Two, I ran off and visited other countries, I learned new languages and new cultures. My best friend’s Stage Two was diving headfirst into the opposition political system in Zimbabwe. Everyone’s Stage Two is slightly different because every one of us is slightly different.
Stage Two is a process of self-discovery. We try things. Some of them go well. Some of them don’t. The goal is to stick with the ones that go well and move on. Stage Two lasts until we begin to run up against our own limitations. This doesn’t sit well with lots of people. But despite what your favourite motivational speaker may tell you, discovering your own limitations is a good and healthy thing.
You’re just going to be bad at some things, no matter how hard you try. And you need to know what they are. We all must learn what we suck at. And the earlier in our life that we learn it, the better. So we’re just bad at some things. Then there are other things that are great for a while, but begin to have diminishing returns after a few years. Athletism and sports is one example. Staying up until the wee hours of the morning is second. Drinking on a Tuesday night is a third. There are many more. Trust me.
Your limitations are important because you must eventually come to the realisation that your time on this planet is limited and, therefore, you should spend it on things that matter most. That means realising that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. It means realising that just because you like certain people doesn’t mean you should be with them. That means realising that there are opportunity costs to everything and that you can’t have it all.
At some point we all must admit the inevitable: life is short, not all of our dreams can come true, so we should carefully pick and choose what we have the best shot at and commit to it. Many are stuck here because they think that they are limitless. That they can overcome all but risk the “Peter Pan Syndrome” of the forever young, always discovering themselves but finding nothing.Your limitations are important because you must eventually come to the realisation that your time on this planet is limited and, therefore, you should spend it on things that matter the most. Tweet Me
Stage 3 – Commitment
Once you’ve pushed your own boundaries and either found your limitations (i.e., athletics, the culinary arts) or found the diminishing returns of certain activities (i.e., partying, video games) then you are left with what’s both a) actually important to you, and b) what you’re not terrible at. Now it’s time to make your dent in the world.
Stage Three is a great consolidation of one’s life. Out go the friends who are draining you and holding you back. And the activities and hobbies that are a mindless waste of time. Out go the old dreams that were outrageous and are clearly not coming true anytime soon.
Then you double down on what you’re best at and what is best for you. You double down on the most important relationships in your life. You double down on a single mission in life, whether that’s to work on the world’s energy crisis or to be a phenomenal nail artist or to become an expert in brains or have a bunch of snotty, drooling children. Whatever it is, Stage Three is when you get it done.
Stage Three ends when a combination of two things happen: 1) you feel as though there’s not much else you are able to accomplish, and 2) you get old and tired and find that you would rather sip martinis and do crossword puzzles all day.
In “normal” individuals, Stage Three generally lasts from around 30-ish-years-old until one reaches retirement age. Stage Three is about leaving the world a little bit different than the way you found it.
Stage 4 – Legacy
People arrive into Stage Four having spent more than half their life investing themselves in what they believed was meaningful and important. They did great things, worked hard, earned everything they have, maybe started a family or a charity or a political or cultural revolution or two, and now they’re done. They’ve reached the age where their energy and circumstances no longer allow them to pursue their purpose any further.
The goal of Stage Four then becomes not to create a legacy as much as simply making sure that legacy lasts beyond one’s death.
This could be something as simple as supporting and advising their (now grown) children and living vicariously through them. It could mean passing on their projects and work to a protégé or apprentice. It could also mean becoming more active to maintain their values in a society that they no longer recognise.
Stage Four is important psychologically because it makes the ever-growing reality of one’s own mortality more bearable. As humans, we have a deep need to feel as though our lives mean something. This meaning we constantly search for is literally our only psychological defence against the incomprehensibility of this life and the inevitability of our own death. To lose that meaning, or to watch it slip away, or to slowly feel as though the world has left you behind, is to stare oblivion in the face and let it consume you willingly.
Developing through each subsequent stage of life grants us greater control over our happiness and well-being.
At each subsequent stage, happiness becomes based more on internal, controllable values and less on the externalities of the ever-changing outside world.
Later stages don’t replace previous stages. They transcend them. Stage 3 people still care about testing their limits. They just care more about the commitments they’ve made.
The truth is that transitions between the life stages are usually triggered by trauma or an extreme negative event in one’s life. A near-death experience. A divorce. A failed friendship or the death of a loved one.
Trauma causes us to step back and re-evaluate our deepest motivations and decisions. It allows us to reflect on whether our strategies to pursue happiness are actually working well or not. Covid 19 has been one of those triggers for many to look at their life and question ‘ What am I doing’?
Hope you enjoyed this long read and as always hope you and yours are safe. Please share with us your thoughts in the comments section.