Self-Authored Mind: Making Sense of a Messy Reality

adult development

In our journey through the stages of adult development, we've explored the Impulsive Mind, the Self-Sovereign Mind, and the Socialized Mind. Each stage has been a stepping stonean important building block that lays the foundation for the next.

From the vantage point of Socialized Mind, we can understand many things about the world and our place in it; yet, the moment we begin to feel like things make sense, we begin to feel torn by conflicting inputs:

  • Experts disagree. There is no strong scientific consensus.
  • I love my family, and I know what they think I should do, but it just isn't what I want.
  • My boss, my peers, and my direct reports all see this situation differently. Every option has significant downsides. Company policy is not clear. How will I decide?
  • I am a lifelong Democrat / Republican / Independent / Libertarian, but I'm not sure I agree with my party's position on this issue. 

Dilemmas like these are the reality of our complex world, and they cannot be resolved from Socialized Mind. We begin to notice that the internal board of directors we relied on are often in dissent. Yet, as challenging as these issues are, complex problems are a call for growth. They are a call to make a significant leap in our developmental journey: the Self-Authored Mind. Will you answer the call?

The Self-Authored Mind

Robert Kegan's fourth stage, the Self-Authored Mind, is where we begin to take control of our own narrative. We begin to objectively examine societal norms and external expectations where we previously saw through them. Individuals at this stage have developed a personal ideology. They have become the authors of their own lives, not merely characters in stories written by others.

Why It Matters

As we take up the roles of the middle third of life--parent, manager, trusted friend, business leader, citizen--making the shift to Self-Authored Mind is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Personal Agency: This stage marks the point where you gain the ability to question, evaluate, and even change the societal norms and expectations you have thus far internalized.
  2. Complex Decision-Making: The Self-Authored Mind is capable of handling multiple perspectives, making it invaluable in today's complex world. Most of our truly important problems cannot be solved from Socialized Mind. This is why lifelong growth in an imperative.
  3. Leadership: Those who have achieved this stage are often more effective leaders, capable of making decisions that align with their own well-considered values, while also honoring the values and needs of others (even if they cannot always fulfill them).

The Shift to Self-Authorship

Remember our previous discussions on subject-object shifts? The leap to the Self-Authored Mind involves one of the most profound expansions. Where previously you saw through the lenses of societal norms, group roles, and external expectations, you begin to be able to examine those lenses as objects that you can reflect upon, question, and even change.

Messy Decisions at Work

Consider a hypothetical manager, Dylan, whose company is going through some financial difficulty. He must decide how much, and how openly, to share the details with his reports. Doing so has many pros and cons. People might panic and leave. They might misinterpret the data. They might get discouraged and less productive, making things even worse. But they already know something is going on, and not being open could lead to mistrust and destructive rumors.

Dylan's Socialized Mind peers might look to company policy, best practices written by others, their bosses, each other, or even their direct reports for guidance, where they will find little agreement or clarity. Dylan will probably do those things too, but ultimately he will consult his own value system. He weighs the pros and cons, considers the impact on all stakeholders, and makes a decision that he can stand behind—even if it's unpopular.

That internal board of directors is still present, but Dylan has promoted himself to Chairman.

The Challenges

The path into and through Self-Authored Mind is not without its challenges:

  1. Cognitive Dissonance: The transition can be uncomfortable (and again, occurs over years), as it often involves questioning deeply-held beliefs, and recognizing beliefs you were not even aware you had.
  2. Social Pushback: Society, and even close relationships, may resist your newfound independence. A key contradiction that Socialized Mind cannot easily resolve is the balance between prioritizing individualism vs. our role in the collective.
  3. The Risk of Isolation: There is a fine line between becoming the author of your own story and becoming isolated from the collective narrative. Self-Authored Mind ultimately finds ways to do both, but this transformation usually involves some internal struggle.

The Rewards

Despite the challenges, the rewards are immense. This new and more complete way of making sense of the world brings a sense of personal agency, the ability to navigate complex situations, and the tools to be an effective leader. You become, the author of your own life story.

Picking Up the Pen

The Self-Authored Mind is a stage of immense growth and personal empowerment. It transcends the limitations of Socialized Mind, but still includes all its achievements that are so crucial to making society work. Self-Authored Mind is where you take the pen into your own hand and begin to write your own story, guided by a value system that you've carefully considered and chosen for yourself.

As always, the journey of development is ongoing. Our next stop? The Self-Transforming Mind, a stage that brings even greater complexity and richness to our lives.

Until next time,

Greg and Martha


These ideas build on several earlier articles. Find them here.

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