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My Possible Selves & Their Awakeners

Recently I read about a book called “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,” by Kate Bolick.

It is probably worth mentioning that, as of today, I have not actually read the book yet. I’m not sure if I will or not.

But the article, written by Time’s Elliot Holt, certainly gave me plenty to ponder.

In the article, Holt references a 1986 study cited in the book. The study looked at how our own imagined future – our “possible selves” – influences our present identity.

Study results indicated that, in particular, women tend to become “very focused on their possible selves.”

Bolick calls the mentors who have the power to jolt us out of such unproductive ruminations “awakeners.”

Personally, I have had several such awakeners in my life – mentors who have challenged me to challenge my own ideas of what I want, who I am, what feels wrong or right, what my life “should” or “shouldn’t” look like, and so forth.

Not all of these mentors have been women, although my longtime personal mentor, Lynn, is certainly one of them.

Over the last decade, and the last few years in particular, my entire sense of my possible self has undergone a makeover.

My attitudes and beliefs about spirituality, sex, romance, career, connection, friendship, marriage, and death (just to name a few) have been radically revised.

To be honest, before reading Holt’s article in Time, I would have readily attributed this to my ongoing progression through Erikson’s 8 Psychosocial Stages.

I really love Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages.

When I first learned about the Stages several years ago, I was upset – or more accurately, one of my possible selves was upset – that I appeared to be a late Stages bloomer.

In my mid 3o’s at the time, I felt stalled out right at the beginning – still stuck somewhere within Stages 1 and 2.

But here, Erikson served as a powerful awakener for me. By reading through his 8 Stages and learning about the important markers that signify “graduation” from each stage, I was able to seek out conditions and situations conducive to my own, albeit delayed, but eventually successful graduation.

Today, at age 44, I would say I’m right where Erikson says I should be, smack dab in the middle of Stage 7…..but not precisely in the way Erikson describes.

For example, I don’t have kids – or not human kids anyway (my 14-year old parrot, Pearl, and my baby tortoise, Malti, are both sources of tremendous “parenting” fulfillment and pride).

While I am settled – after a sort – into a long-term relationship, we don’t live together, and whether we ever will or not remains unknown.

At the moment, that doesn’t bother me….although the whole situation clearly bothers certain more traditional friends and relatives who openly struggle to grasp why they shouldn’t keep trying to fix me up with someone who could offer me a relationship with “more potential.”

What they don’t see is that this relationship is an immensely powerful awakener in my life, and as such offers near-limitless potential of exactly the kind I crave most.

And when it comes to career…..well, I’ve been involved in an ever-evolving career transition for the last decade, and just when I think it is finally becoming “established” (Erikson’s word, not mine), it shifts yet again.

I find this exciting, if not particularly beneficial for financial stability. Yet the trade-off here is that my career serves as an ongoing radical awakener, showing me my potential, my terror, my dreams, and my choices – often all in one day, and then again in the next.

Finally, at a time when many human beings in my age bracket are really digging in and plugging in to their local communities, I seem doggedly determined to explore the depth and breadth of the human capacity for solitude – while living in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world.

Bolick’s book references a famous 1892 speech by women’s suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton called “The Solitude of Self.” She said:

There is a solitude which each and everyone of us has always carried with him, more inaccessible than the ice cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self.”

I am SO intrigued and eager to experience this “solitude of self” within the context of my ever-unfolding, awakening big city life.

Perhaps this eagerness is an early emissary sent from my future self to my present self, courtesy of Erikson’s Stage 8.

In Stage 8, which begins around age 65, we confront our “possible selves” head on from a present-day perspective. Finally, we have caught up with ourselves as we walk into the final decades of our time here on Earth.

We are challenged to review our life to date and decide how we feel about it all. A successful transition through Stage 8, Erikson writes,

…will lead to the virtue of wisdom. Wisdom enables a person to look back on their life with a sense of closure and completeness, and also accept death without fear.

Those of you who may have read my prior posts about my daily preparations to live, and to die, will understand why I am so avid to make “solitude of self” a daily experience starting from this very present moment.

Solitude of self just may turn out to be the most powerful awakener of all….providing the kind of awakening that can help me make a successful transition from this life to the next.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have “possible selves” that continue to run the show in your life, driving you and pushing you towards a vision of Future You that you created some time in your own past? Are these possible selves still accurate? Do you still want to travel in their direction? Who have your own “awakeners” been to date? What have they taught you about how well you really know yourself, your goals, and your dreams in life?

Woman drawing herself image available from Shutterstock

My Possible Selves & Their Awakeners

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). My Possible Selves & Their Awakeners. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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