Levinson has published two seminal books on the subject of adult development:

Levinson, D. J. (1978).  The seasonís of a manís life. NY: Knopf 

Levinson, D. J. (1996). Seasons of a womanís life. NY: Knopf


As you can see on page 397, Levinson theorizes that there are STAGES in adult development.  There are major transition periods of approximately five years each when we are creating a life structure, followed by a ten-year period of stability when we try to firm up the life structure begun in the transition period.

========== LEVINSON'S RESEARCH ON MEN (but much of it applies to women also)===================

From 17-22 is the EARLY ADULT TRANSITION: A young man is trying to build the skills which will get him accepted in the adult world. At this point, most young men either go to college or begin their first "real" job, that is, one which is not temporary or a part-time, summer employment. This is a period of exploration, when young men are experimenting with careers, relationships, etc. Many young people experience great stress in this period as they are convinced that they choices they make a this point are going to determine the future course of the rest of their lives. This happens not to be true. In separate studies, both Levinson and Bernice Neugarten (who studied both men and women) found that the choices we tend to live with are made not in our twenties, but in our thirties. This is when people most often find the career (and person) that they stick with for decades.

In early adulthood, we make a lot of choices, about whether to go to college, and, if so, what kind of college and what major. We start on a first career. Often, we meet our spouse, start a family, sometimes even divorce. So, this is the period of life when we our making our first choices - and we have never made them before. Although young adults are in the best health of people of any age group, they tend to experience the most stress. This seems to be because they have no experience with many of the major choices they are making.

Think about anxiety for a moment.

When you are anxious, it is often because you do not know what is going to happen or what you can do about it. I find that I have a lot less anxiety in my life than my daughter, because there are a great many situations in which I have experience and know exactly what to do. For example, she recently had decided to quit her first job. She was very stressed by this, wondering if she should just quit going to work, if she needed to tell them, etc. I told her that all she needed to do was write a letter of resignation and give the two weeks notice that she had agreed to when she took the job. Based on experience, I also told her that almost any reasonable person will understand if you are offered a job with better pay, better hours and other advantages that you would take it. This is just a simple example, but young adults face these situations every day.

When my oldest child was born, I was 24 years old. Sometimes, she would just cry and cry for no reason. I would change her, try to feed her, walk her - and nothing helped. Finally, I called my grandmother, who lived several thousand miles away. She laughed at me and said that sometimes babies just cry for exercise. She also gave me a number of other recommendations (most of which were listed in the table in the web page on infant development when we discussed this). Most important, though, was her calm assurance that, "No baby ever cried itself to death."

My point is (and I do have one) that young adults are constantly faced with situations they have never handled before and which, to them, at least, seem crucially important. For the first time, they have to be a parent, an employee, a husband or wife and GET IT RIGHT. (In middle age, you realize that you don't always get things right, and, if you don't, the world doesn't end, and there may not be any "right" in a lot of cases, anyway.)

====== Very Important Information Follows - PLEASE PAY ATTENTION  ============

MENTORS: The people who help you find your way, and yet another means by which working class kids get working class jobs and the CEO's son ends up working for IBM.


What is a mentor?

A mentor is an older, more experienced person who helps a young adult in the beginning stages of his/her career

(I found this definition on a web site on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about mentoring.)

A1. Mentoring has been defined by the American Management Association as: "A developmental, caring, sharing, and
 helping relationship where one person invests time, know-how, and effort in enhancing another person's growth,
 knowledge, and skills, and responds to critical needs in the life of that person in ways that prepare the individual for
greater productivity or achievement in the future." The classical dictionary definition of mentor is: a trusted guide, a
 provider of wise counsel and advice, a confidant. .... Research indicates that mentoring is one of the crucial and important factors in business success. In essence, what mentoring provides is a safe, protected environment in which one can learn. One benefits from the compressed; mistakes need not be repeated. Valuable lessons, knowledge, attitudes, and recognition of opportunities
are passed on. Engaging in a mentoring relationship is critical to anyone planning on advancing in his or her career. In interviewing
successful professionals who have had mentors, they consistently reported that it was the guidance received from a
 mentor that made the difference in their careers. (click here to go to this web site)

Unfortunately, the people who could most benefit from a mentor often are the least likely to have one. Let's take my daughter as an example again. She is thinking about what she wants to do for a career. During one of her breaks, she flew to San Francisco and visited an aunt who is vice-president of an investment firm. She had the opportunity to go to the Pacific Stock Exchange and get some idea of what it would be like to work there. She has been to her father's laboratory at 3M, and to many universities with me. Her uncle has a very successful law firm, and she has talked to him about being a lawyer. If she decides to go into any one of these fields, she will have many people who will provide her information  on how to dress, act, information you should know about anything from court appearances to grant applications. In contrast, an equally bright young student from the reservation who graduates from college and begins a career is likely to find herself alone. She may have a very loving family, but they are not as likely to be ready to give her advice on whether she should take a summer internship position in a brokerage firm or as a technical writer in a software company. Will she make the right decision? Maybe, maybe not. My daughter may not either, but she will have a lot more help and information when she does make that decision.

I am sometimes asked how you find a mentor, and I am not really sure I have a good answer to that. The best one I can manage is a) get as much education as you can, because frequently people in colleges and universities are interested in mentoring young adults (that is why they are in that field), b) join a professional organization in your field and attend enough meetings to get to know some of the people, and c) ask people at your workplace for advice, particularly those people who you really respect. That is no guarantee that those people will become mentors for you, but it is the best I can do on a Wednesday morning.


BECOMING ONE'S OWN MAN, or BOOM as Levinson called it, occurs in the mid to late thirties. In the earlier periods, the young man is focused on 'being something', whether it be an engineer, a high school teacher or a marine. By the late thirties, he is no longer satisfied with being accepted as another adult member of the adult world, he wants to "be someone", that is, be recognized by members of the society as a competent person in his work, have his accomplishments acknowledged somehow. This is the period when the social clock says that men should have made signficant progress toward their goals. Businessmen should have been promoted to middle management (at least) by now, professors should have tenure, teachers should have moved into school administration, and so on.

The mid-life transition (also known as a mid-life crisis)

So, now we are making the transition from early to middle adulthood. What makes this so important. According to most theorists of adult development, it is the realization of something like:

My life is half over. Is this all there is to it?

If I am going to start over, this is pretty much my last chance to do it.

When we are younger, we always have the sense that there is time. We can go to school later. We can change jobs if we don't like this one. If we don't get to spend as much time with our families as we would like, well, we can always do it some other time when our life is not so hectic. In middle adulthood, we stop and reflect. We realize we don't have infinite time. Often that realization comes about from the death of one of our friends or parents.

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