Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Stages of Career Development

Based on adult development theory, Weiler and Schoonover have identified six stages of adult career development from late teens through postretirement. It is common to experience difficult periods of transition as we pass from one stage to the next, and people vary widely in their progression through the stages.  

In some of the stages, stress and turmoil is normal. Experts advise that experiencing this pain is essential for continued growth and satisfaction. Refusing to acknowledge or experience anxieties and questions is a sure way to get stuck and disgruntled.

Autonomy and Tentative Choices

Approximately age 18-26

This stage focuses on developing personal autonomy and separating from the family of origin. It is a time of:

  • Defining oneself as an individual
  • Establishing an initial life structure
  • Trying out new relationships
  • Establishing independent living arrangements and finances
  • Making tentative commitments with a sense of lots of time to change

Young Adult Transition

Approximately age 27-31

The major focus in this stage is re-thinking provisional decisions and making more permanent choices. For many, this is a stage of significant turmoil. It is common to question earlier choices and fear that time is running out.

There are many questions:  Who am I becoming?  Do I really want to make this location, career path, or relationship permanent?  Are my decisions becoming permanent before I want them to? 

Making Commitments

Age 32-40

This stage is commonly a time of relative order and stability. People begin to implement and live the choices made in the young adult transition.

It is a time of settling down into deeper commitments involving work, family, and community ties, along with a growing mastery of our professions. Often in this stage, people have a dream of what they want to accomplish in life and they put a significant amount of energy into achieving the dream.

Mid-Life Transition

Age 41-48

In this stage, which is often characterized as "mid-life crisis," it is common to question everything again. If we haven't achieved our dreams, we wonder if they were the right dreams. If we have achieved our dreams, we begin to look at our values and wonder what we have neglected in the pursuit.

It is often a time of disillusionment. People struggle with a desire to make the best of what time remains, to deal with the realization that they may have engaged in destructive behaviors, and to look for balance between aggressive career focus and nurturing relationships.

Leaving a Legacy

Age 49-65

The stage following mid-life transition may be one of the most productive of all life stages. For many, it is the peak of their mature abilities and a time to make maximum contributions.

There is less need to be driven, ego-centered, and compelled to compete with and impress others. It is time to focus on what matters, mentor younger people, and leave some personal legacy that has meaning and contributes to the greater good.

Spiritual Denouement

Approximately age 66 and beyond

This stage is often described as the time to tie up loose ends and complete the design of what we want to become. Depending on how realistically, humbly and effectively we have worked through issues faced in earlier stages, it may be a time of hope or a time of cynicism.

A major challenge is coming to grips with the ultimate limitations of life, ourselves and mortality. It is a time of giving back - passing on our wisdom.

More about discovering your calling

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