Generativity At Midlife

Generativity is a concept that is often associated with the psychoanalyst and writer Erik Erikson.  You may vaguely remember his work about Identity and his essay on the 8 Stages of Man (meaning ego development) from school. Erikson talked about life as a series of stages.  Each stage has a specific task associated with it and we must accomplish the task of each stage in order to move on to the next in a healthy way.

The task associated with midlife is “generativity”.  Erikson believed that generativity, or guiding the next generation, was the healthy work of the middle years. I think that Erikson was primarily thinking about men when he hypothisized his stages. He wrote about the desire to be needed.  Most women, by the time they have reached their middle years, have been needed, have mentored and guided and cared for others for a considerable period of time, and may feel quite finished with his notion of generativity.

However, if we think about the concept more broadly (and in later interviews, Erikson did agree) – that generativity includes creativity – the idea makes more sense.  I prefer to think about generativity as encompassing all of our creative efforts, not just being a parent, teacher, boss, or a good friend.  Therefore, I urge you to think about the generative aspects of midlife as caring for ourselves as well as caring for others, guiding creative endeavors, and helping to prepare the world that we want to see in the future.

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