The Predictable Crises of Adulthood

By Gail Sheehy


“We are not unlike a particularly hardy crustacean.  The lobster grows by developing and shedding a series of hard, protective shells.  Each time it expands from within, the confining shell must be sloughed off.  It is left exposed and vulnerable until, in time, a new covering grows to replace the old… when… the current life structure has served its purpose, we are ready to move on to the next period…”


Pulling Up Roots: Before 18 (“The tasks of this passage are to locate ourselves in a peer group role, a sex role, an anticipated occupation, an ideology or world view.  As a result, we gather the impetus to leave home physically and the identity to begin leaving home emotionally.”)


  • “I have to get away from my parents.”
  •  “I know exactly what I want.”


The Trying Twenties (“Buoyed by powerful illusions and belief in the power of the will, we commonly insist in our twenties that what we have chosen to do (the ‘should do’) is the one true course in life.  Our backs go up at the merest hint that we are like our parents, that two decades of parental training might be reflected in our current actions and attitudes.”)


  • “Not me… I’m different.”


Catch-30 (“Men and women alike speak of feeling too narrow and restricted…but what the restrictions boil down to are the outgrowth of career and personal choices of the twenties…Some inner aspect that was left out is striving to be taken into account…involves… a simultaneous feeling of rock bottom and the urge to bust out…)


  • “What am I doing here?”
  • “There’s something more.”


Rooting and Extending (“We begin to settle down in the full sense… begin putting down roots and sending out new shoots…”)


  • I gotta “make it.”


The Deadline Decade: Between 35 and 45 (“…we come upon a crossroads…reached the halfway mark.  Yet even as we are reaching our prime, we begin to see there is a place where it finishes.  Time starts to squeeze… will have a full-out authenticity crisis… a dark passage at the beginning…she usually enjoys an exhilaration of release.  Assertiveness begins rising.  There are so many firsts ahead…he discovers that he has been too anxious to please and too vulnerable to criticism.  He wants to put together his own ship… A more tender, feeling side comes into play.  They become more interested in developing an ethical self.”)


  • “Why am I doing all this?  What do I really believe in?”
  • “Is this all there is?”
  • This is “my last chance.”


Renewal or Resignation: 50 onwards (“… If one has refused to budge through the midlife transition, the sense of staleness will calcify into resignation… events will be felt as an abandonment…crisis will probably emerge again… the jolt may be just what is needed to prod the resigned middle-ager toward seeking revitalization.  On the other hand…if we have confronted ourselves in the middle passage and found a renewal of purpose… these may well be the best years…there is a new warmth and mellowing…”)


  • “No more bullshit.”


P.S. A great read not only for the girls, that’s for sure!

September 21, 2017
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