In this book I tell stories--research stories, teaching tales, stories of ordinary and great people--to lead the reader along the path to generativity. I offer what I hope is practical wisdom: what can you expect if you embark on a generative episode? What are the pitfalls? The dangers? The joys? The blessings? There are eight phases to consider, eight steps on the way.
"What turns the chaos of life into the order of a life story? Make It Count takes up that question--and answers it."
--Jack Miles, MacArthur Fellow and Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
"Filled with beautiful examples from literature and real life, Make It Count is one of those rare books that really counts, a generative and compassionate book that will enrich your life."
-- Dan McAdams, Northwestern University
"This book came at a propitious time for me, a time of significant questioning and change. Make It Count will inspire, energize, and guide anyone who wants to live a 'generative' life."
-- David Hartman, Television Host
Part I: A Word And A Way
1. The Idea Whose Time Has Come
2. What Is Generativity?
Part II: Steps On The Way
3. Talking to Your Past
4. Stopping the Damage
5. Finding a Voice of Your Own
6. Blending Your Voice and Creating
7. Selecting and Letting Go
8. Responding to Outcome
Part III: Reflections
9. Never Too Soon, Never Too Late
10. The Corruption of Generativity
11. Of Skin and Spirit
12. The Gift
From Chapter 1
The Idea Whose Time Has Come
There is a word that puts a finger on a dilemma that individuals and society at large increasingly experience in their lives. A woman, 35, spoke of her life as a business consultant, in particular about sitting in a motel at the end of a grueling day and asking herself why her clients were paying $275 an hour for her services--and why she was prostituting herself to provide them. She had been thinking about all the bits and pieces of her life--about the pet she had just lost, about the children she never had, about her husband telling her to quit, about the one time in a previous job when she actually saw her efforts make a difference in people's lives. But now . . . what was the lasting value in all this? Did it matter to anyone? Who cared? She didn't use the word, but there was a void in her "generativity."
A man of 64 told me of a similar unhappiness that had afflicted him some ten years before. He hadn't heard of the word "generativity" either. He had worked as a journalist in his young adult years but then took a job with a public utility company at the age of 43 because he wanted more security for his family. He began writing and editing for their news and information service, developing stories about ordinary workers who sometimes took heroic risks, or about small, out-of-the way communities his company served. He loved being a kind of Charles Kuralt "on the road." But then in his mid-fifties he realized how unhappy he was becoming. The company had shifted emphasis, wanting hard facts now, not soft "people" stories. He found himself working on briefing books that didn't reflect him. "Anybody could do what I was doing." In a cost-cutting move, the company offered early retirement. He didn't accept it the first time around, nor the second, but he did the third. He parted from the company at age 59, and the separation had a lot to do with his "generativity."
You can tell that generativity--this feeling of mattering, of creating lasting value, of passing your very self on to others--was at the heart of these dilemmas because of what followed. Within a year the business consultant had quit her job, adopted two puppies, sought medical help to become pregnant, and begun to put together plans for her own consulting firm. "I wanted to create something that would have a life and an identity outside of me," she said--something authentic. Upon his retirement, the former journalist answered an ad for child care help. He became a substitute grandfather for two young boys, then for a 10-year-old with severe cerebral palsy, then an 11-year-old who was the son of a Lesbian couple. Ever the writer, he took notes on his workdays to give to the parents of the children and then got the idea of collecting them into a book, a kind of daily log of fatherly fun and wisdom. He self-published the book and followed it with a book of letters to his own adult sons. This writing was worlds apart from what he had ended up doing for the utility company. It was warm, emotional, and full of people. "Boys, I wish you could have seen me when I ran like a gust of wind, and I wish all sons could see their dads when they could steal a base, catch a long pass, or win a race."
The word "generativity" has been in existence for half a century now, coined in 1950 by the eminent psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson. But the world was not ready to hear it back then, though it eagerly embraced other concepts of Professor Erikson, most notably that of the identity crisis. Erikson defined generativity as "the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation," but the idea is both deeper and richer than that. It revolves around the fact that we are reproductive beings who wish to be fertile, who have been told in sacred scriptures and urged by our very genes to multiply and fill the earth. But as humans we do that in more than a physical sense. We do it with our craft and our care, with our hands and our genius. We do it as parents, teachers, shepherds, guardians, and guides; as artists and scientists and enactors of ritual; as responsible citizens and movers in our businesses and communities. We do it when we bear fruit, sow seeds, create legacies, leave the world a little better off for our presence in it.