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14 Mar, 2009

Adult human development: Just what is normal, anyway?

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coaching Articles|Life Coaching Articles

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A New York Times survey that suggests that over half of Americans will suffer mental illness at some point in their lives.

Coaching places all this into perspective. Humans are not ill or malfunctioning – we are programmed to have rising expectations and to want to grow stronger and more autonomous in achieving those expectations.

For many, having a higher income is seen a principal route in meeting these expectations. While improved incomes are important and significantly contribute to higher life satisfaction, they are only half the story.

In the English-speaking developed world, most of us suffer at some point in our lives from a loss of direction, meaning and intimate personal psychological support. This problem is important, but it is not medical. The mistake is to dismiss the problem precisely because it is not medical. The issue has to be accepted as it is, and with the realisation that without problems there is no growth. The question must change to one that focuses on sorting out the issue in a non-medical way.

Human beings appear to be genetically programmed to need to work through such problems with probably one or two other people as intimate guides – often friends and family, sometimes therapists and other helping professionals, coaches. It’s ‘abnormal’ for people not to feel the need for this kind of support, and seek it out, but just how much support and how frequently is dependent so much on the individual.

Personal growth is often seen as requiring anxiety of some nature to facilitate development – grief, a sense of loss, fear that we won’t make the necessary adaptation or the right choices, response in a renewed intention in changing one’s situation. These are necessary starting points. The help of a ‘guide’ be they friend or coach is one way to reduce this natural human dissonance.

Gail Sheehy, author of New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time (Harper Collins, 1996), a classic essay on adult psychosocial development, comments on the new model of adult humanity. She suggests that we should expect to change and grow throughout our adult life and into our senior decades. Each decade has different challenges, and as we meet these different challenges we have the possibility of growing ever more fluent and skilled in meeting others’ and our own needs for support. From our own experience, we know that professional coaching mastery is probably the most powerful tool of all for winning in this process.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve asked, ‘how come we are so screwed up in our rich societies?’ Coaching, I have found, offers the key to finding a way out of this persisting and fundamentally futile conundrum.

By Grant Ledgerwood

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