The Spiritual Tasks of Adolescence and Young Adulthood

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”—Mark Twain (source unknown)

photo credit: Sebastian Furtado
photo credit: Sebastian Furtado

If the spiritual task of adolescence (12-18) is to discover what’s special about you (to find yourself), the spiritual task of young adulthood (18-25) is to find others—viz., to discover what’s ordinary about you, what you have in common with others. Those who fail to complete the spiritual task of adolescence “lead lives of quiet desperation” (to borrow Thoreau’s phrase): they’re actors playing parts they did not choose, reading from scripts they did not write. These are the people who hit a massive mid-life crisis at some point and, like Tony Hoagland’s father, “hail disaster like a cab.”

Those who fail to complete the spiritual task of young adulthood are, in my experience, even worse off: they go through life like moody teenagers: perpetually pissed off and petulant. Though they’re usually too smart to admit it, people of this stamp secretly suspect that their suffering is much greater than that experienced by the rest of us. And they hate it—really hate it—that no one ever seems to understand them—really understand them! Alas, if they could only get over themselves for a moment or two, they’d realize the extent to which we’re all, as Tony Hoagland puts it, “walking through the sunshine, singing in chains.”

There are of course other (equally important) spiritual tasks associated with later stages of the life course (at least three more big ones, I suspect). But I’ve only just recently turned 41, and, as a consequence, I’m really not sure what they are, or what they’ll entail. Truth be told, I’ve always been—spiritually speaking—a bit of a late bloomer, which is really just a nice way of saying that it took me far too long to complete the spiritual tasks of adolescence and young adulthood.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

2 thoughts on “The Spiritual Tasks of Adolescence and Young Adulthood

  1. At 40, I had a similar crisis. I looked back at the first 40 years of my life and realized I hadn’t accomplished much. I always thought I could make a difference in the world when I was young, but I have spent most of my life just surviving — a far cry from actually making a difference. But truth be told, I think that spending years struggling and surviving is the ripening process for the third spiritual task…


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