Developing Essential Life Skills

Life skills are adaptive abilities to deal effectively with challenges and changing demands. They include decision-making, creative and critical thinking, stress management, interpersonal communication, and problem solving skills.

Examples of practical life skills are: communicating with co-workers, financial management, self-care, maintaining health and wellness, employability, home maintenance, and managing family responsibilities.

As young students, we begin a life skills-based education in the foundational skills: reading, writing, telling time, math, creative thinking, and interacting with others effectively. However, we continue to learn and develop throughout our lives.

As we become young men and women, experience and educational training help to teach the skills necessary to live a fulfilling and competent life. These skills will be necessary in all primary life areas (e.g., career, family, health and vitality, recreation, significant relationships, finance, spirituality, education, physical environment).

Many of the skills mentioned above will be essential throughout our lives. Some will be particularly important during various stages of life. Erik Erikson and Daniel Levinson identified a series of predictable life stages extending from our late teens to after retirement.1

These stages do not occur in a completely linear fashion. We cycle through portions of each stage throughout life; however, specific skills are dominant in each stage. The dominant skills will differ somewhat for each individual. Here are some common examples:

Stage 1. Autonomy and Tentative Choices (Approximately 18-26)

Essential skills: goal setting, career planning, financial planning, establishing a home, developing self-reliance, transitioning to new peer groups, cooperation and teamwork, advanced learning skills.

Stage 2. Young Adult Transition (Approximately 27-31)

Essential skills: making family decisions, evaluating career choices and commitments, empathy toward others, adjusting to significant changes.

Stage 3. Making Commitments (Approximately 32-42)

Essential skills: choosing a life direction, making permanent commitments, negotiation and conflict management, developing intuition/understanding of human nature.

Stage 4. Mid-Life Transition (Approximately 42-48)

Essential skills: Personal and professional reassessment, re-examining self-image, redefining values, re-balancing focus on key life areas, adjusting to significant changes.

Stage 5. Leaving a Legacy (Approximately 49-65)

Essential skills: contributing to society, self-acceptance, managing priorities, forgiveness of emotional debts, nurturing rewarding relationships, advocacy, making new commitments, keen intuition, acceptance and sharing of wisdom from life experience.

Stage 6. Spiritual Denouement (Approximately 66 and Beyond)

Essential skills: Accepting self as dependent on a wisdom greater than one’s own, recognizing and respecting humankind’s diversity, completing personal development, adapting to life as part of a larger, more enduring spiritual community.

Key questions: Which life skills are the most essential for you now? In which major life areas could you benefit from additional skill development? Which skills do you need to refine and sharpen in order to live the most fulfilling life possible?

When we regularly track our skill development and re-balance our focus on important life areas, we can continue to progress and enjoy our greatest passions in each stage of life.

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