Reaching for your potential through type development
I first learned about Jung’s theory of midlife and some of its implications at the type conference I attended in 1985. Expanding and deepening that information about type development has served me well in my personal and work lives, and has equipped me to understand myself and to share that knowledge with clients. Now, in what Jung called “the second half of life”, I want to share some of the approaches that have been helpful to me and to the people I work with in organisational development and coaching sessions.
We know that Jung’s theory is a rich storehouse of ideas, many of them quite complex, and that Myers’ gift was to make type theory more usable through developing the type indicator. Myers’ work has led to multiple organisational applications to improve communication, decision-making, leadership, and so on. Due to time and financial constraints, most type practitioners’ use of psychological type has stayed at that very valuable, but limited, level of use.
But Jung’s theory of personality has more to offer – to us and to our clients! In particular, Jung’s picture of life-long development, with the applications and explanations provided by Briggs and Myers, is a rich lode for applying type to support our own and our clients’ developmental perspectives and work.
Jung’s model of lifelong development
Jung identified three stages in an individual’s developmental journey: the first half of life, midlife, and the second half of life. Each stage has particular type-related tasks, which allow us to apply MBTI basics to the stages.
First half of life
The first half of life is about developing the innate predispositions identified by type, whilst adapting to the external world – wherever we find ourselves, whatever the rules, behaviours, and norms that allow people to live together. As the main task in the first half of life is to accommodate the external world, Jung said, we have to grow where we are planted. So we need to ask ourselves and our clients: who or what gave me support in developing my type? What forces may have discouraged or suppressed that development? Where am I in my type development now?
When we work with clients in the first half of life – people who are typically striving to get ahead and establish a successful career and personal life – we need to focus on how their type can help them be more effective in this. Myers provided a usable model for type development in the first half of life, a model of effective, adult functioning: we need to develop a Perceiving process (S or N) to comfortably take in and use information, along with a Judging process (T or F) that allows us to organise and structure that information to make decisions. Working with clients in this stage of life, we can explore with them how they take in information and make decisions. Do they use both preferences? How do others experience those? Have they learned to control and direct those parts?
For example, my iNtuition preference was discouraged by a number of family and personal factors, as well as by the very structured primary school I attended. In my 30s, when I learnt about type and my preferences, I could see that I had not developed the full confidence in my Intuitive insights that would make me most effective. A colleague who prefers Thinking judgment recognised in her 30s that the gender expectations in her family and culture had discouraged her expression of Thinking, which led to her using that function in an abrupt and harsh way, rather than having developed a more comfortable, mature use of Thinking.
There are many ways that people define this period in our lives. This is NOT about crisis, the dreaded ‘midlife crisis’! It is about transitioning from the first half to the second half of our life. There are many tasks to accomplish during this time period. A letting go, a sense of yearning to move towards something new, or a reluctance to leave the known behind.
There are questions that arise: What am I missing? Where do I go from here? What is the meaning of my life? There may be feelings of confusion, questions with no answers, regrets, and a need to move to something different.
When we coach a person who is in the midlife transition, we can help them by getting them to understand the process of transition – name and define it for them, reassure them that it is a normal stage of life to question, to re-examine. People at this stage often need more support and ways of coping than they needed before. It may be that what they need at this stage is not to learn new things but to begin a process of examining where they have been before they make plans to move forward. It tends to be an introspective time, even for Extraverts!
Second half of life
I can say, unequivocally, that there are great payoffs in being in the second half of life, both as a coach and as myself. There are certainly physical challenges that may not have been there before, but the ‘coming home to myself’ is a good trade-off.
When you coach a person who is in the second half of life, discuss changing priorities, and how these are different from earlier focus. Have them take a look at the preferences NOT in their type and talk about finding ways to begin to use them more consciously; find out what some new life goals might be and how they can pursue those.
And of course, think of yourself – where in the lifelong development process are you and how might that impact your coaching? We may, as coaches, emphasise a development piece that is important to us and not always to our clients. That goes for type too; before we coach anyone, we need to be aware of how our own type comes into our coaching process. But that is another article!
A real appreciation of type development over the lifespan provides much additional illumination into what Jung called completeness – and we may call wisdom.