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University of Wyoming

Gail Sheehy



Gail Sheehy's established predictable crisis of adult life. She firmly outlines the continued growing up of men and women from 18-50 and beyond. There are predictable crisis at each step. The steps of development is the same for both sexes but the developmental rhythms are not.

Assumptions about learning:

Sheehy details how understanding of the developmental rhythms can assist each individual (male or female) in stretching to full potential instead of blaming oneself or partner. Eighteen (18) to fifty (50) and beyond id believed by Sheehy to be the center of life, the unfolding of opportunity and capacity. " Use it or lose it" is true in this areas of learning ability. The more the brain is worked, the more it will continue to work for us. Accuracy improve over the years-up to fifty and beyond. Adult learning does not slack off in a generalized way; it is in the ability to absorb unfamiliar or inapplicable material that a loss is noticed later in life.

Brief History(Context)

Graduate of University of Vermont, Sheehly received a fellowship to study under, Margaret Mead, her mentor, at Columbia University in 1970. Recipient of many award and honors, Sheehly is the four-time winner of the New Your Newswomen's Club Front Page Award for distinguished journalism.

Sheehly is the author of eleven (11) books some of which are a novel, Lovesounds; Panthermania, a study of the class between middle class and radical Blacks in New Haven; Passages, which established that adult like proceeds by developmental stages; Hustling, a psychological and journalistic study of prostitution; Spirit of Survival, an account of a survivor of the Cambodian genocide who became Sheehly's adoptive daughter; Character: America's Search for Leadership; and The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev. The Silent Passage: Menopause, Sheehly demystifies the psychological and medical issues surrounding this traditionally female taboo subject. Her latest best-selling book is Understanding Men's Passages, a candid, concise account (self-discovery guide) of men's lives (and the women in their lives) are really like in today's society, with all the doubts, passions and hunger for renewal as men confront the major issue of each passage.

Sheehy is also a political journalist and contributing editor to Vanity Fair. The mother of two daughters, is presently dividing her time between New York City and California where her husband, editor Clay Felker, teaches journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

Major Proponents/Critics:

Passages, categorized and provided limited expectations for the individual (18-50). No more critical passages beyond certain points and stages of development. However, newer books (Pathfinders and New Passages, et al) have addressed issues of concerns.

Major Tenets:

Sheehy displays a road map (patterns) of adult life which shows the inevitable personality and sexual changes we go through in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond.

The TRYING 20s- the safety of home left behind, we begin trying on life's uniforms and possible partners in search of the perfect fir.

The CATCH (Turbulent) 30s- illusion shaken, it is time to make, break, or deepen life commitments.

The FORLORN (Flourishing) 40s- dangerous years when the dreams of youth demand reassessment, men and women switch characteristics, sexual panic is common, but the greatest opportunity for self-discovery awaits.

The REFRESHED (Resigned) (fearless) 50s- best of life for those who let go old roles and find a renewal of purpose.

The INFLUENTIAL 60s- redirection of energy, learn how to love and play again, regenerate the brain (growing the brain).

Role of Learner:

Embracing a positive step- both men and women can find the most satisfying stages to be the later one. Older is better. Creating new dreams to open new paths. Positive outlook on life goes beyond happiness to a sense of well being. Find new beginnings or comebacks. Taking new risks.

Role of Teacher:

Understanding the "passages" that each individual (male or female) will encounter during life. Providing support for each individual to "feel the sandals of new life on their feet as they climb toward the next level in the spiral up the mountain".


Sheehy, Gail (1998). Understanding Men's Passages: discovering the new map of men's lives. New York: Random House.

Sheehy, Gail (1974). Passages: a predictable crisis of adult life. New York: Bantam Books.

Sheehy, Gail (Speaker). (1995). New Passages: mapping your life across time. (Cassette Recording NO. ISBN 0-679-44325-8. New York: Random House.

"I tramp a perpetual journey... My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road. Nor I , nor any one else can travel that road for you, You must travel it for yourself. It is not far, it is within reach, Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know, Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land."

-- WALT WHITMAN, Song of Myself


- Jorge Luis Borges


Predictable Crisis of Adult Life

By Gail Sheehy

Part One- Mysteries of the life cycle "To be confronted for the first time with the arithmetic of life was quite simply, terrifying." p. 4 "...Continuing and predictable changes..." p. 11 "Times of crisis, or disruption or constructive change, are not only predictable but desirable. They mean growth." p. 21

Part Two- Pulling up roots "...gaining our authenticity..." p. 34 "We generally begin by defining what we don't want to do." p. 63

Part Three- The Trying Twenties "Trying to stabilize- that is what the twenties are all about." p. 90

Part Four- Passage to Thirties "What do I want out of this life, now that I'm doing what I ought to do? A restless vitality wells up as we approach thirty. Almost everyone wants to make some alteration." p. 138 "...putting down roots and sending out new shoots..." p. 148

Part Five- But I'm Unique "Divorced men remarry sooner then divorced women do." p. 198

Part Six- Deadline Decade "The most important words in mid-life are - Let Go." p. 251 "...the change of perspective generally begins earlier in women, while men show a rise in frequency of depression at about age forty." p. 273 "Roughly at 45, a man will generally 50 there is a mellowing and a new warmth." p. 293

Part Seven- Renewal