For those of us interested in adult development, too often we tend to focus on stages. In particular, we zoom in on those higher, more complex and seductive forms of maturity that presumably are waiting for us to discover their beauty, added power and desired relief. They reside “up there” in the heights of our preferred hierarchies.
Once we begin to understand development, it is easy to idealize its higher reaches. These idealizations piggyback on long histories and torrid love affairs with our deep-seated assumptions.
Our unexamined assumptions can lead us to believe that less developed equals less capable. Being less developed means we are more challenged by life’s demands; more developed must be ‘better’.
While many of us shy away from value judgements on personal worth, our developmental assumptions—grounded in science or otherwise—find their way back into our everyday decisions. These assumptions and judgements thrive in the decisions we make about who we love, who we hire or work with, and who we surround ourselves with socially.
Implicit inside these assumptions about development is that we can be located at a specific stage of development. Thinking this way can fix us into less flexible versions of ourselves. Our ideas of who we are and where we are going can quickly lose dynamism as we idealize our gifts and focus on who we should become.
From there, an obsession with “being better” can easily consume our attention and energy. Some of us focus on deficiencies instead of strengths and talents, further fixating our self-concepts as being inadequate.
These narrow perspectives on ourselves (and each other) create an unfortunate consequence of understanding adult development. Valorizing the stages “above” where we pin ourselves and others can produce a tendency to declare ourselves to be more developed than we actually are. . We quietly ignore an inadequacy beneath the facades of confidence, instead structuring our narratives around our brightness, intelligence and assumed complexity.
On the flip side, we may be overly harsh with ourselves. No matter where we are and what we are able to accomplish, we are never good enough. We ‘need’ more development. Regardless of the emotional tone and focus of our narratives, the source of both types of distortion is our assumptions, which narrow what we are willing to experience.
The antidote to this ‘vertical pursu-itis’ is to look instead at what we call developmental range. This is different from our “center of gravity”, an abstracted normative range in which you (or others) tend to show up developmentally, but which moves us away from the specificity of our aliveness in any given moment.
Developmental range instead steers us towards specific contexts, particular behaviors and distinct skills. Instead of generalized abstractions, developmental range focuses on the immediacy of our developmental complexity in response to environmental and contextual surrounds from moment to moment. The concept of developmental range focuses us on the dynamic, relational quality of our skills and behaviors.
For those of us seeking to support more advanced competencies within ourselves, our clients, or others that have developmental nuance and rigor, I advocate for the intimate study of reality as it is discovered in the here and now. As Freud proposed, let us abandon the fantasies of who we are for ever more intimate confrontations with reality.
If you are thinking of yourself, your clients, partner, colleagues, or family as individuals who abide in a particular stage of development, I encourage you to instead consider the realities illuminating diverse developmental ranges. Developmental complexities—and the rest of the gestalt of our identities—are always being formed and co-constructed with the dynamism of our surroundings. Once we stop enacting a dimension of ourselves, this complexity dissolves in service of enacting what is now present and center in ever-changing experiences.
This view into our micro-developmental processes invites us into more attuned understandings of how to work developmentally with ourselves as well as our clients, teams, organizations and others. While developmental range can help us hug the more intimate contours of our moment-to- moment experiences, it also helps us include the more conceptual developmental insights, which of course also hold their own partial truths.
Amidst our explorations into developmental diversity in action as immediacy, we may find a freedom from the developmental aspiration to grow up. Then we can participate with the full range of development that is available to us in any given moment. In this way, we may become more elegant in growing “down” into refining our developmental foundations as well as “up” into our higher possibilities.
Former Harvard University Teaching Fellow
Leadership Coach & Author of The Elegant Self
Faculty & Coach, Integral Facilitator Certificate Program