Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken” tells the story of two roads in the woods and his making a choice to travel down one and not the other. Our lives have been a series of paths with splits allowing us to choose one road or another. According to Erik Erikson, a famous Harvard psychologist, there are eight different stages in our lives in which we are faced with two different paths. These paths determine our psychological and emotional well-being.
The eight stages are usually by age (though in some cases the ages are fluid). Below, I have explained the different stages and the ways that parents and family can help steer you toward the right “path.”
#1: Hope. From the time we are born until around age two, we are dealing the concept of trust vs. mistrust. Even as newborns, we subconsciously ask ourselves, “Can I trust the world?” If parents (or caregivers) consistently feed children, keep them warm, and are affectionate, they learn that the world is a dependable and reliable place. If, on the other hand, caregivers are neglectful or abusive, babies learn that the world is an unpredictable scary place.
#2: Will. Between the ages of two and four, children explore, “Is it okay to be me?” This question centers on the concepts of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. Children learn to use the toilet, dress themselves, and gain their first interests. If they are given the right amount of responsibility and praise for their actions, rather than shamed when they do things poorly, they will be able to handle their own problems. If, on the other hand, they are given too many responsibilities or mocked when they make attempts, they will doubt themselves and their self-sufficiency.
#3: Purpose. From the age of four to five, children move from simply performing a task to working on the quality and planning of the task. They ask themselves, “Is it okay for me to do, move, and act?” and learn how to deal with the issue of initiative vs. guilt. If their growing independence is supported, they learn to take the initiative. If their independence is stifled or forced, they feel guilty about their needs and desires.
#4: Competence. The elementary school years (ages five through twelve) are characterized by children asking, “Can I make it in the world of people and things?” These school years are essential for the development of self-confidence and center on industry vs. inferiority. Children who have many opportunities to develop and showcase their skills through art, sports, and academics will feel positively about themselves and develop a sense of industry. Children who are ridiculed or punished for their efforts will develop a sense of inferiority.
#5: Fidelity. Adolescents, ages thirteen through nineteen, struggle with, “Who am I and what can I be?” This transition between childhood and adulthood deals with identity vs. role confusion. This fifth stage of Erikson’s psychosocial stages is the crossroads, one in which children develop a strong sense of self or are stuck in an identity crisis.
#6: Love. Depending on your community and individual path, this stage can happen anytime between ages twenty and thirty-nine and is usually capped off in marriage. The essential question is, “Can I love?” Once people establish their identity (in stage five), they are able to make lasting commitments to others.
#7: Care. In middle adulthood (anywhere from ages twenty-five to sixty-five), people struggle with the question, “Can I make my life count?” They deal with conflict of generativity vs. stagnation. If, during this period, a person makes positive contributions to society, family, and self, he or she will develop a sense of generativity or productivity. If not, he or she will feel stuck and dissatisfied.
#8: Wisdom. As people become aware of their mortality, they ask themselves, “Is it okay to have been me?” The central conflict here is integrity vs. despair. When they look back at their lives, if they feel they were productive and loved, they will develop feelings of contentment. The opposite is true if looking back makes him or her feel that little has been accomplished. This stage can occur out of order if someone feels that he or she is near the end of his or her life.
Which path should you take when two roads diverge in the woods? The answer, though not easy, is relatively simple. Whichever stage you are in, you are working towards a goal of self-fulfillment, productivity, and love. The stages simply build on one another to get you there. As a parent, child, brother, sister or friend you can help those around you live life to the fullest and happiest. The added bonus? Helping others take their own positive paths will eventually lead you down yours as well!
Register now for a workshop on anxiety by Dr. Paul Foxman on November 17, 2015. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.