Erik Erikson was a 20th century developmental psychologist who took Freud’s theories and modified them into a eight-stage theory of development. His work influenced a lot of psychologists and educators and was considered to be essential for teachers and leaders in the later half of the century. When I first read Erikson’s stages, they just made sense to me and I considered them to be a model for thinking about life and development. At the time I first read Erikson, I was not yet a father and had quite limited real world experience, but his theories seemed to explain a lot of what I observed in others and gave a framework for my thinking. I still refer to Erikson’s ideas.

As I have grown and experienced more, I have come to understand that what Erikson presented is just a rough framework and that his sense that the developmental tasks are sequential is not quite accurate. Human beings are complex characters and the definition of successful development and what it means to be well-adjusted can vary widely by culture and by individual. We aren’t all the same. We don’t all develop in the same patterns.

Nonetheless, his framework still colors my thinking.

Recently, I have been thinking about Erikson in part because I believe that I have reached the last of his eight stages. I guess I’ve done pretty well at the other seven. At least I have endured enough to have moved to a new area of focus. Erikson’s last stage of development is called “Integrity vs. Despair.” In his book, Erikson identifies late adulthood as beginning in the mid sixties, which is the age where I now am. He wrote that people in late adulthood reflect on their lives and either feel a sense of satisfaction or a sense of failure. If you have the sense of satisfaction, you have a sense of integrity and can look back without regrets. However, those who do not succeed in this stage of development end up feeling as if their life has been wasted. Bitterness, depression and despair can follow.

Of course, Erikson presents extremes to illustrate his stages of development. Few, if any, have absolutely no regrets. And few, if any, are overwhelmed by a sense of total failure. Most of us find ourselves somewhere in between. We’ve done some things right and we’ve made some mistakes.

What I find about this stage of life is that is requires a great deal of sorting and sifting. At times, I feel like I have so many memories and not all of them have the same value. I remember my father with great joy and those memories are ones that I want to treasure and keep for all of my life. There are some trivial details about my elementary education, including some of my classmates, that I don’t remember. I have other memories that seem to me to be unimportant.

It is similar to the possessions that clutter my life. I have a sense that this phase of my life is a time of sorting. I’ve collected and kept things throughout my life and now is the time to shed some possessions and to distribute some of the things that I’ve gathered.

Yesterday I spent some time sorting things in the garage. I’ve been trying to give a few hours each week to that task since we returned from our simmer trip. My goal is to get the garage emptied so that it can be used as a place to stage other items as we sort through the rest of the house in preparation for a move sometime next summer. The time has come for us to downsize and that means that we won’t be moving all of our possessions.

For the most part, sorting is a good exercise. there are a lot of things that I don’t mind putting into the Rummage Sale or Restore boxes. I’m a bit less free with the items that make it into the garbage can. I can think of uses of many items that I’ll probably never use. I’ve kept things that have potential uses, but for which I have no need. Scraps of wood might be used later. Pieces of wire could be employed in a repair.

There are other items of which I’ve simply collected too many for any one household. I think I have enough duct tape to last the rest of my life. Somehow, I collected new colors and obtained new rolls before I finished the old ones. Fasteners such as screws and bolts are easy to over accumulate. I know I have a particular screw or bolt in my garage, but it is too hard to find, so I go to the hardware store and buy a new package. The package has more than I need so more extras accumulate. Now that I’m sorting and consolidating, I discover that I have huge inventories of some items - far more than I will eve need. More goodies for Restore, I guess. I love Habitat for Humanity, so it is easy to support the Restore.

The accumulation of junk in my garage, however, doesn’t seem like a very good measure of the meaning of my life. Sure I’ve acquired more than I needed. Sure I have kept things that I should not have. But those remnants in my garage remind me of the projects I’ve accomplished. I built two canoes, three kayaks and a rowboat in that garage. I restored two additional canoes that might have been headed for the dump, but now are beautiful and useful boats. I built and repaired quite a bit of furniture in that garage. I’ve repaired broken toys and broken cars and scores of other broken items. My collection of tools and spare parts have proved useful in many ways.

So the next few months will be my time of working on my own development. Despair doesn’t seem to be threatening, but Integrity is an elusive goal.

When I get around to sorting my books, I’ll probably keep my copy of Erikson’s “Childhood and Society.” You never know when I’ll need to check up on his descriptions of developmental stages and see how I’m doing. On the other hand, I’m pretty close to the end of the book. he doesn’t have a stage after the one I’m working on.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!