Each spring I plant three or four tomato plants. I eagerly wait until about early July and then I start picking fresh, ripe fruit. What joy! At the end of the season, I pull up all my old, baron plants and start preparing for another season.
I planted three tomato plants this year. Each plant produced fresh, attractive, and fleshy fruit. When I started harvesting, I noticed that I had several other plants in my garden that were also producing a variety of tomatoes. These ‘volunteer’ plants as some call them came from some of last year’s tomatoes that I hadn’t noticed –these are the ones that had gotten soft, fallen off the plant, and then absorbed into the soil.
The 7th Stage: Stagnation vs. Generativity
My tomato plants had an initial period of reproduction but then regenerated themselves by sharing their essence with the rich soil into which they were planted. As I thought about my plants, I was reminded of a theory I’d studied many years ago—Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development.
Erikson had developed a model that included eight stages of human development across the lifespan. Unlike other models that represented aging as a period of decline, this model represented the later years in life—the 7th and 8th stages—as periods with the potential to make important contributions and to find greater meaning in life.
Just like my tomatoes from last year that helped establish a new generation of plants, Erikson’s 7th stage of development points to a period where humans can either become stagnant (like a withering plant) or we can enter a stage of generativity. During the stage of stagnation vs generativity, Erikson’s model suggested that we develop a desire to leave our mark or make a difference in the world. This is the period in life where we want to create things that will outlast us and benefit others.
Embracing the 7th Stage of Life with Purpose
When I was younger, I was goal-driven. As an older woman, I am now more purpose-driven or driven by the desire to make a difference in the world. For me, understanding my purpose or the ways in which I can make meaningful contributions has also been part of moving into the 7th stage of life.
As a younger woman, I felt like I was always juggling several balls in the air at once. Now I’m at the point where I can see the real me—the essence of my ‘core’ self. Understanding my core helps me recognize my purpose.
I think of my ‘core’ or the essence of who I am as my life experiences, interests, skills, values, attitudes, and beliefs. What I can give back to others is what my life has prepared me to offer. My life’s work has involved writing, speaking, researching, coaching, and teaching. Although people refer to me as ‘retired,’ I am still doing the same work that I’ve always done—just in a different form and for a different reason.
Instead of a regular paycheck, I am generally given the satisfaction of using my life work and skills to do something positive. For example, I write a monthly newsletter as a way to highlight positive aging. I also feature people 50+ who are living their best lives. I enjoy reading about and researching characteristics of positive aging and then sharing what I find with others. Recently, I was asked to direct coaching efforts for an upcoming TEDx event. I’ll also be coaching two or three speakers. I am enjoying my life to the fullest; I believe I have a clear sense of purpose and meaning in my life.
Staying True to Form
I regularly get asked to do a lot of different things—hey, I’m retired and that’s what retired people do, right? But unless the ‘ask’ aligns with my core purpose, I usually have to decline invitations to volunteer or help with this or that.
I anticipate that the future will be full of changes. I will likely be using my life experiences in new and different ways. Nonetheless, the well I will draw from is constant.
Each of us has unique skills, perspectives, and backgrounds. Our 7th stage in life can be rich and full when we are willing to share what we have to offer. How are you finding purpose in your 7th stage of life?