In my book Inner Voice: Unlock Your Purpose and Passion, I outline the principles and strategies I developed to help you identify your true life purpose, develop your passion, and create a peaceful, joyful, fulfilling and successful life. One of the more important discoveries I’ve made is that our lives can be divided into four distinct phases. It’s a concept first articulated by Carl Jung (the Swiss psychotherapist and psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology) and later discussed by countless spiritual writers over the years. Jung’s writing explains it using complex sentences with words and phrases like “false presupposition” and “hitherto.” I’m going to do it simply.
The phases are naturally sequential in a way that’s related to our level of maturity and understanding of life in general, once we grow past early childhood and enter our teen years. Although it makes sense that we would move through each phase in order, much like how we progress through grades in school, completing a phase without going back, that’s not how it happens. We move in and out of the phases, and sometimes we are in more than one phase at the same time. When we understand the phases, we can better understand what motivates our actions. And when we understand what motivates our actions, we can make better choices.
The 4 phases of life are:
1. Athlete: This is also known as the vanity phase. It’s when our focus is on ourselves and we are mostly concerned with our physical bodies and how we look. Want proof? Watch teenagers walk by a mirror; they can’t do it without checking their reflection. Sometimes they’re admiring, sometimes they’re critical, but they look at themselves every chance they get. And no matter what happens, their primary concern is how it impacts them. You may know some older people—adults and even senior citizens—who are this way as well. The athlete phase is an immature, self-centered mind-set that some of us never grow beyond.
2. Warrior: As we move into our adult years and assume greater responsibilities, we enter the warrior phase of life. This is the time when we want to conquer the world. We want to win—to be the best and have the best. We act as warriors act, and we do what warriors do. We’re always prepared for battle, even when it doesn’t matter and isn’t necessary.
3. Statesperson: As we gain maturity, we evolve into the statesperson phase. As warriors, we looked out for ourselves. As a statesperson, we shift from “What’s in it for me?” to “How can I make a difference and serve others?” We no longer emphasize money, power, and possessions as we once did. Certainly we accept and enjoy those things, but we know there’s far more to life than that. We learn that giving is the best way to receive and that the time has come for us to take action to leave this world a better place than we found it.
4. Spirit: This is when we come to the ultimate realization that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way around. We understand that we are more than our bodies, more than our possessions, more than our friends and families, more than our worldly achievements. We recognize our truest essence, our highest selves.
Do you recognize yourself in one or more of those descriptions? I do. I moved into the warrior phase when I was a young husband and father at the age of 20. I was determined to get and keep my life on track, to take care of my family, to prove to the world that I was a winner. I stayed in that phase pretty much exclusively for more than three decades; then I was introduced to the statesperson phase. I’d like to say I began growing into it naturally, but the truth is that I was hammered into it by what I call a life crushing. I talk about this in the video below:
A life crushing is what it says: something that crushes us. Someone (a relationship) crushes us, a devastating accident occurs, or we crush ourselves. Life crushings are always personal and relative. They might be the end of a marriage, the death of someone we love, an illness, a serious business or financial blow—the list is endless. It’s important to recognize that what may crush one person is barely a blip on the radar screen to someone else and what may have crushed you years ago won’t bother you at all today. And although it took a life crushing for me to begin evolving into the statesperson phase, the process happens differently for everyone, so don’t think you have to experience something awful to achieve this level of personal growth.
Every day, I feel as if I move more into statesperson, but I haven’t completely shed the warrior. I’m not sure most of us ever completely move beyond the warrior phase. Even when we understand it and are committed to evolving, there will still be emotions and events that will trigger our warrior behavior. And as far as the spirit phase goes, I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to that phase. Those who have reached that level include the likes of Gandhi and Mother Teresa, and I don’t believe they had finished learning how to be better spiritual beings either.
You’ll have to do your own evaluation, but at least at this point, I don’t believe reaching the spirit phase is the purpose for my life. I don’t think the creator meant for this to be the goal for all of us, because we all have different purposes. As in all endeavors, there has to be a chief cook, there has to be someone to clean up after the chief cook, and someone needs to be the server. Just as we can’t all be the chief cook, it’s my experience that we’re not all meant to reach the spirit phase permanently. Even so, I believe we should regularly pause to evaluate which phase we’re in and consider what we need to do to continue our personal and spiritual development, even as we move back and forth among the phases.