Courage to Grow and Leave a Legacy
Discovering 7 Stages of Developing Personal Happiness
This is Lesson #3 in the Courage to Change Series. These lessons invite you to explore when and where it’s time for growth in your life and give you the courage to take action! The series will offer lessons on the most common topics people ask me about in my work as a coach and provide insight and actions to implement with each lesson.
The story of the 4-minute mile always amazes me. If you’re not familiar with it, the story goes like this: Since 1886 runners had been desperately trying to run a 4-minute race. They hired special coaches, strategized, and tried again and again. Then along came Roger Banister. He was criticized for being a “lone wolf” and doing things his own way. Yet on May 6, 1954, he broke that impossible barrier and completed a mile race in under 4 minutes. It took 78 years of intense focus for it to be done — and only 46 days for the new record to be broken again by John Landy.
The reason I begin this lesson with this particular story is to draw your attention to perspective. Your perspective. You may be accepting something less than what’s possible for you — just because of the mindset and environment that you exist in. Bannister most likely would have never broken the record if he wasn’t surrounded by people who believed it could be done.
It’s easy to believe we are not impacted by mindset and environment until we look a bit deeper. Here are a few observations from my own life:
- I delayed ending an unhealthy relationship because the religious culture I was raised in disapproved of divorce.
- I tolerated being paid less in the workplace because I was a female.
- I encouraged my kids to follow the same higher education path that I did because it’s what I was familiar with.
It’s human nature to act within the comforts of our environment and what’s familiar. Yet, often we are “comfortably uncomfortable” in that environment. We don’t like it but don’t really know how to create change.
Here is a simple truth. If we don’t have a map for what’s possible then we don’t have any measuring stick to know how it’s going or even where we can go. What’s possible for you is unique and can only be determined by you. In the end, it’s up to you to go out and discover and create that! This lesson, though, is intended to give you some inspiration. It will help you gauge where you are now and inspire you to the possibilities ahead.
The map that I’m providing here reflects stages of growth that individuals, families, communities, and organizations go through. These seven stages are referred to by some as the levels of personal consciousness and by others stages of mastery. The foundation of the differing models is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Continual refinement and updating of Maslow’s model led Richard Barrett to create his own version.
Refer to the Image to see how Richard Barrett of the Barrett Academy for the Advancement of Human Values defines the 7 Levels.
The 7 Stages of Development
The 7 Stages of mastering life can be divided into three different phases: Healing, Strategy, and Life Mastery. The Healing stages focus on resolving and healing the past so we no longer act from past trauma, unresolved issues, and fear. The Strategy stages are all about living authentically and aligning life with your gifts, talents, and life purpose. Lastly, the Life Mastery stages are about total life mastery. Influencing and using your gifts to serve the good of those you travel with.
Let’s take a look at each phase!
The Healing Phase: 1, 2 and 3
First, let’s look at each of the levels in the healing phase. It is important to note that we typically move through the stages consecutively but not necessarily linearly. Meaning that there is no definitive “line” that identifies where one stage stops and the next one starts. In reality, the growth from stage to stage is like the blending of colors in a transition. It is also possible to temporarily shift back to a lower stage when faced with an unexpected event, a new set of circumstances, or dealing with healing a new level of a past trauma.
For example, an individual who was at stage four/transformation when Covid 19 arrived on the world stage in 2020 now lost her job. This may temporarily bounce her back to stage 1, 2, or 3 while she regroups and finds a new path forward. The good news is the more time one spends in a higher stage the less likely it is to bounce back to an earlier stage for long and even less likely to get stuck in that earlier stage. I had a wise old woman at an Al-anon meeting tell me years ago, “Once you wake up you never go back to sleep.” You can’t unsee something you have seen.
Stage 1 — Survival/Restoration
Barrett calls this the survival stage. This makes complete sense from a physical perspective. Until we have the basic needs of life met it’s difficult to focus on other areas of growth. Another model by CoachInc. calls this the Restoration level. It’s the first level of the healing stages. A person at this stage is actively working to resolve past trauma, leave behind addictions, compulsions, and attachments, and finish all unfinished business. Think of this as the baby steps of waking up to a greater life.
Personal growth is sometimes compared to peeling the layers of an onion. This would be the first layers of that onion! It’s a stage where these issues may be recognized and begin to be addressed proactively:
- toxic relationships
- generational issues
- trauma — childhood/adult or both
- addictions (substance, food, money, people, ?)
This stage can feel overwhelming when one begins to clearly see the reasons for personal suffering. It’s also a stage of great hope for those who have been running circles on life’s chaotic hamster wheel! Age has nothing to do with awareness. One could recognize this stage in their 20’s or in their 60’s! It may be tempting to bemoan how much life slipped by or say things like “I should have recognized it sooner.”
Yet, the greatest grace we can give ourselves is to realize this. We each do the best we can with the information we have at any given moment. When we know better, we do better.
Resolving the issues that are recognized in Stage 1 leads to practical life application in Stage 2.
2. Stability and Relationships
The growing awareness and changing choices that result from stage 1 bring stability to life in stage 2. This is the second of the healing stages and a skill-developing stage. It’s also where active work happens to solve conflicts in relationships, stabilize financial situations, and release what doesn’t work. It’s about letting go of people and situations that don’t work anymore, and welcoming new friendships and situations that show up. It is characterized by learning new skills such as:
- Clearing recognizing your internal critic
- Shifting from a negative lens to a positive one
- Defining stronger personal standards
- Learning to Take care of self before others
- Establishing Boundaries
- Growing Communication skills
This stage comes with great enthusiasm! There is usually a sense of hope and relief that emerges. What seemed unchangeable is now changeable. This is a powerful time when we realize that we have the oars to paddle our own kayak!
Stage 2 sets the foundations for deeper understanding and connection that emerges in stage 3.
3. Self-Esteem, Connection, Emotional Maturity
Stage 3 is an exciting space. It’s the phase where we begin to make decisions and live life more from our own internal desires and less from the hopes, rules, and guidelines that others have placed on us. In stage 2 we realize that we have the kayak paddle and we begin to learn how to use it. In stage 3 we learn how to steer with it. We begin paddling in a determined direction instead of letting the river bounce us around.
It’s all about taking responsibility. It’s also about recognizing that the distorted negative perception we have of ourselves is not real. (Watch for the lesson on Cognitive Distortions for deeper learning on how perceptions become distorted!) This realization leads to a new healthier belief in one’s own abilities and embracing new possibilities. It’s a time of reframing and letting go of old limiting beliefs and inviting in new.
It’s a time to leave behind arrogance, statues, power, glamor, and rigidity and instead embrace pride in who you are, develop self-reliance, and self-discipline. These new beliefs are the foundation for new choices and new actions in life!
There is a sense of being connected to something greater than yourself that grows stronger each day.
For me, this stage was characterized by realizing that my own happiness was worth prioritizing. I was worth making choices in my own best interest and I no longer needed to sacrifice my own desires and needs for others. I remember the day I was sitting in the back of a large meeting room listening to a speaker give a talk on heart health. I was only faintly listening when her words cut through my mental fog like a knife.
“You are worth the life you have yet to live.”
So let me pass those words on to you today. If you are reading this and struggling with direction and clarity in your life take these words from me. YOU are with the LIFE you have yet to LIVE. Your dreams, desires, hopes, and opinions are important and worth prioritizing. What would change in your life if you began to make decisions with your own happiness as your number one priority?
By the way… in case your internal critic is squawking about how selfish this is — I’m here to remind you that you can’t give to others what you don’t already possess. Do you want those around you to live a joyful, happy fulfilled life? You give them the permission and map to do that by first doing it yourself.
The Healing Stages lead to a full-scale life transformation in stage 4!
Finding Life Strategy — Stages 4 & 5
The earlier stages are characterized by healing, overcoming negativity, and limiting beliefs. Stages 4 and 5 shift into self-discovery and life strategy. It’s where one gets to take a look at life and own the direction for the future. What’s working? What’s not? This phase is about learning who you are, loving who you are, and discovering what makes you unique. Life areas that get a major upgrade in these stages are self-trust, values, alignment, and purpose.
Let’s take a look at the strategy stages in a little more depth.
4. Transformation and attractive self-assurance
This stage is where the beautiful butterfly breaks out of the cocoon and begins to flap her wings! She looks in the mirror … sees herself for who she truly is and then has the confidence and poise to go be HER in the world.
There is nothing more attractive in this world than showing up as Who. You. Are. With this newfound confidence, events in life that used to feel difficult, complicated, and “bumpy” take on new meaning and a new sense of ease and synchronicity. It’s the phase where we come out of hiding. We Become Unsilenced. This journey of authenticity is what inspired my podcast: Becoming Unsilenced and Awakening to Who you Really Are.
At this stage, we drop the fear of showing up in the world and fear of what others think. Discovering and living out our own purpose and passion takes center stage. It’s a beautiful thing. Gifts, abilities, and talents that remain unexpressed because of fear are a great loss to the world.
So this phase can be explored by questions like — where is my outer world still out of harmony with my inner world? For me, things that shifted in this phase were: my job! It’s when I pursued additional training as a coach and shifted my work towards solely supporting others in discovering and uncovering their own transformation.
It’s also when I up-leveled the relationships and community I surrounded myself with. It was time for me to let go of connections that didn’t respect or appreciate my voice. I created my own new zone of community that was committed to inspiring each other forward.
It can feel like a lot of “work” to get to this phase! Because of this “work,” we discover here that there is a different way to do life instead of hustle, grind, and run 24/7. This phase is about discovering a beautiful new balance of being vs just doing. It’s about your soul being in harmony with itself.
It’s time to exit stage four when you have harmony, authenticity, and alignment in all your “worlds.” When your financial, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual inner/outer worlds are in sync — it’s time to invite in stage 5 or Life Strategy: unlimited growth and expansion.
5: Internal Cohesion and Unlimited Expansion
Stage 4 is the tipping point. The first three stages are characterized by healing and overcoming negative thoughts, understanding emotion, and releasing limiting beliefs. In stage four we leave behind fear as a primary motivator and instead begin to live driven by love, compassion, and possibility.
When life is balanced and aligned then we invite significant growth and expansion.
We all know that person who is extremely gifted in a few areas but just can’t seem to get it together in one or two other aspects of life. A person’s personal development will only be as strong as the weakest area holding them back. With attention and commitment to growing all areas of life, we reach internal cohesion. It’s a place where what we create is driven by our purpose and passion instead of fear and worry. It is characterized by exploration, curiosity, and discovery.
Judgments about self and others have no place here. Instead, we are able to embrace the joyful side of life with humor, passion, and radical authenticity. It’s not that things never go “wrong” but they are now seen more as detours in the right direction. Curious events that lead to unexpected people, places, and results.
This stage is characterized by a deepening trust in one’s intuition, decision-making ability, and acceptance of a deeper more beautiful rhythm and flow of life. It’s a stage where we leave behind the unhelpful punishing analysis and accept that the right people, answers, and opportunities will appear exactly when they are needed.
We Relax. We Trust Life. We Enjoy.
From this beautiful solid place of harmony, we move to stage 6: Making a Difference.
Life Mastery — Stages 6 & 7
As we enter stage 6 we shift into the mastering life phase. It’s a beautiful rewarding phase where we get to enjoy the fruit of all the healing and discovery. It’s characterized by a deep sense of inner peace, fulfillment, and freedom. Fear, suffering, and failure no longer take up any mental space in your head. It’s about being completely confident in your life direction and completely flexible about how the direction unfolds!
6: Fulfillment and Making a Difference
For me, Stage 6 has been characterized by learning the meaning of being and embracing a more spiral way of showing up in the world. Learning to be completely present with me, and what’s unfolding around me. It’s been about dancing WITH the rhythm of life and embracing both the masculine way of doing and the feminine traits of being.
Some other common characteristics of this stage are increased empathy, living fully from inner guidance, mentoring others, and time and money freedom. It’s a phase where your presence can say more than your words! Listening to the heart of others is more important than demanding your voice and opinions be heard. Yet the very act of listening deeply leads to a greater opportunity to share your wisdom at the right moment when it will be heard.
Decisions are made because they align with your higher authentic purpose. They are not driven by the balance of a bank account or dissenting opinion of a friend.
Others make seek you out or be attracted to you for the wisdom they sense you can share with them.
It’s’ not about being a public figure or a well-known author. For one person fulfillment may be found in the nourishing relationships that are developed with grandchildren. For another, it may mean teaching their wisdom through more formal mentoring and teaching. Yet’ another may choose to live his fulfillment by walking the beach every morning assisting the sea creatures that are stranded.
The simple genuine authentic desire to serve others to your greatest potential seeds the way to the final stage of Life Mastery — Stage 7: Contribution and Service.
7: Contribution and Service
Not every human being experiences all 7 stages. It may take several lifetimes of growth for a spirit to move through these stages of evolution and development. It’s an extremely rewarding place to arrive when one gets there. It’s about leaving a legacy and impact for the generations to come.
One of my favorite sayings I’ve developed over the years of working with people is this: Hurt people hurt people. Healing people heal people. Now, I’m going to add to that to say fulfilled people are the transitional characters that reshape future generations.
Dr. Carlfred Brokerick, Ph.D. coined the term Transitional Character with this definition: “A person, who in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. Who somehow finds a way to metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold. Their contribution to humanity is to filter the destructiveness out of their own lineage so that the generations downstream will have a supportive foundation upon which to build productive lives.”
My Dad fulfilled his role as a transitional character for our family. He made the quiet choice every day not to repeat the cycles of abuse and toxicity that he experienced as a child. No doubt it’s why I’m able to be here today writing and sharing this lesson for you.
Then there are the other, more public figures and authors that have influenced me with their great legacies: Wayne Dyer, Michael Singer, Oprah, Mother Teresa. Each of us has our own list of recognized and not-so-recognized people who have made a unique impact on us.
Living a life of legacy and contributions is a great privilege. Some cultures survive off the traditions of the elders and masters being passed down as a right of passage. Other cultures have lost some of the respect and appreciation for those who have spent a lifetime gathering wisdom.
Most importantly — what do you choose? A desire to live at stage 7 comes not from a desire to be famous and recognized, but from a spirit of desiring to support all humanity to discover their greatest potential.
Let’s Wrap it up!
So there you have it — a map of the three phases and seven stages of life that are possible for you. Did you recognize yourself in some of the phases yet not others? No doubt you have an inner sense of knowing which stage you are in right now. This can act as a GPS for you. Discover where you are at now and set your growth GPS to a new stage.
✏️ Journal Activity: Spend some time journaling about how these stages relate to your own life. Explore questions like — where am I now? What would need to be resolved to move to the next stage? What would my life be like at each stage? What would no longer need your attention? What could you give your attention to that you can’t now?
In the lessons ahead, I’ll be guiding you on topics and skills that you can have the Courage to Change that will move you from one stage to the next. Growth is all about discovery and enjoying the journey. Although we have identified a “GPS” point or general direction to head, the goal is not the arrival at that point. It’s about the spirals of learning, enjoyment, and growth you go through on the way to that point.
The destination is always shifting — when you get to stage 5 your perspective, vision, and destination will look different than they did from the perspective of 3 or 4. That’s okay and to be embraced and expected. It’s also why I don’t want you to get attached to “arriving” at a particular stage but just being present with the stage where you are at now holding the intention to grow to your greatest potential.
So, I invite you to continue on this journey with me. It takes courage to grow. Not everyone chooses it. I won’t promise that the path is easy or pain-free. However, leaving behind the weight of the past invites ever-increasing joy, satisfaction, and happiness.
In the next lesson, we will look deeper into the 5F’s of Emotional Trauma Responses: Freeze, Fight, Flight, Faint, and Fawn. I’ll see you there!