Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Seasons of Life

This time we take a quick skim over Psychologist Daniel Levinson's "Seasons of Life" theory (1978). Similar to Super, Levinson took an age-stage view of career, and was of the opinion that each life stage was different; but neither superior nor inferior to any other.

Levinson's theory is based on research obtained by interviewing 40 American men, from four different occupations, and aged between 35 and 45 (1978; Inkson et al., 2015). As Levinson evaluated his interview data, he found that his participants lives seemed to fall naturally into four stages: those of pre-adulthood; early adulthood; middle adulthood; and late adulthood (1978). These phases are also known as the "novice", the "settling down" phase; the "mid-life" and the last phase which is unnamed and unexplored (his book does not explore this 'retirement' phase, which I consider a very interesting omission). 

Further, he found that each of the four stages occur in sequence, with each being linked by a transition: the early adult transition; the age 30 transition; and the mid-life transition (Levinson, 1978). Again, there is no transition to the final, unnamed phase of life. 

While these prescribed phases may have been relatively true in 1978, they are tenuous in 2021. Today we live longer, less confined lives. We rarely work for one employer for our entire career, being more likely to retrain in other areas of interest. Today, our relative affluence, time, and freedom to transition into a new career should we choose to do so, even if we are at 'do not speak its name' phase, has changed our options. 

Levinson's theory also seems to ignore family. We must remember that his theory is based on the life experience of 40 US men, sourced from only four occupations (1978). This is a narrow dataset to base an entire theory on, even for the time. We need to use Levinson's Seasons of Life theory as a rough generalisation, rather than a concrete and certain measure. 

However, Levinson's idea of the "Dream" which defines our ideal future (1978) is an interesting aspect of this theory. He proposes that our early adulthood dream forms our motivation for all of our career-based actions, saying:

"In early adulthood a man has to form a Dream, create an initial structure in which the Dream can be lived out, and attain goals through which it is in some measure fulfilled. In middle adulthood his task is to modify or give up the Dream. He may recognize that he will not be able even partially to fulfill it. He then has to free himself from its excessive hold and to determine which other aspects of the self he will try to live out. If he has attained the Dream sufficiently, and finds it worthwhile (even though it does not provide the magical qualities he had hoped for), he may continue in the general direction it prescribes. But he is now less tyrannized by ambition, more concerned with the intrinsic value of his efforts, and more able to enjoy diverse aspects of living. The Dream may die stillborn or may flourish for many years" (1978, pp. 331).

Gender-confinement aside, for most of us, adulthood is a fairly stable stage where we work to create our 'Dream' life. If we are achieving our Dream, our transitions tend to be shorter and we have fewer need to question ourselves. We may spend less time reviewing and reflecting on our life. We may make fewer changes. We have lived our Dream. If we have not, we rebuild or adjust it to fit our reality (Inkson et al., 2015).

Live the Dream if you can. Adjust if not.



  • Inkson, K., Dries, N., & Arnold, J. (2015). Understanding Careers (2nd ed.). Sage Publications Ltd
  • Levinson, D. J. with Darrow, C., Klein, E., Levinson, M. & McKee, B. (1978). The Seasons of a Mans Life. Knopf.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thanks for your feedback. The elves will post it shortly.