Worth Quoting: Dr. Nancy Schlossberg

Worth Quoting: Dr. Nancy Schlossberg


[BEEPING] There’s no safe time. There’s no time when
all will be well and everything will be settled,
because just as you think you’re getting it together,
you begin thinking, well, shall I retire or should
I have another baby or should I move
to another city? And you start raising
questions again about who you are,
where you’re going, these kinds of identity
issues that you had when you were an adolescent. [MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this edition
of Worth Quoting, a program sponsored by
Florida Community College at Jacksonville’s Open Campus
and our Women’s Center. Dr. Charles Dassance, provost
of the campus of FCCJ, and I’m privileged to be
the host with this program. We have a very interesting
and informative guest for you today, Dr. Nancy Schlossberg. Dr. Schlossberg is a noted
expert in the United States on the issue of adult
development and adult learning. What she has to
share I think you will find very, very
interesting and informative, and I think very,
very helpful too. Dr. Schlossberg is
currently a professor at the University of Maryland
at College Park, where in addition to her
teaching, she continues to do research and writing in
the field of adult development. She has many, many
books, monographs, and journal articles
to her credit, and has been honored by
such groups as the American Psychological Association and
the American College Personnel Association among many others. As I say, I think you will find
this an interesting program, and we are going to be talking
about adult development. Dr. Schlossberg, very happy
to have you with us today. I guess it’s only the last
25 or 30 years, particularly, that whole area of
adult development has become so popular
in this country– I guess all over the world. What do you attribute that
to and what kinds of things are people saying now
about adult development? Why is it so important to us? Well, first of
all, 25 years ago, you could become an instant
expert on adult development. In my first research study that
I published adult men changing careers, I went to a library,
it took me a half-a-day to find all the references. Well, today, it’s
just overwhelming. The field is just growing
by leaps and bounds. First of all, we’re
living longer. People are living longer,
so the adult years are important to look at. But you ask, what are we
saying about the adult years? And I think it’s interesting–
there’s conflicting evidence about these adult years. You’re an adult, I take
it– is that right? That’s right. OK. You’ve got people on one side
talking about stage theory saying that during
the adult years, people go through stages
just like young people do. Young adult years and then
the middle adult and old age and so forth, and that there
are these passages and stages and steps that you go, and
that you can sort of predict what will happen next. So that’s on one
group of researchers, and they’re very
good researchers. Then there are another group at
the other end of the continuum who say, life is
full of surprises; we don’t know what age we’re
going to marry; divorced; have babies; we cannot predict
the stages that we will go through; and they are
not stage theorists. In fact, they say, if they
were to label themselves, they talk about
variability, but there’s such variability
during the adult years that you can’t classify them on
these sort of steps and stages. So the field is not– there’s no consistency
yet in the field. OK. So on the one hand,
I know many people have read some popular books
like Passages and Seasons of a Man’s Life, which kind
of imply a stage that adults go through. Why do I feel like you’re on the
other side of that continuum? Oh, are you clever. [LAUGHS] Well, I really am. First of all, I’m
a great admirer of Daniel Levinson, who wrote
Seasons of a Man’s Life. I had my students read
Seasons of a Man’s Life. I think he’s a brilliant,
brilliant person. I have disagreed
with him publicly about the stage theory,
about the age grading theory that he attaches things on the
basis of interviews with 40 men, and now– I don’t know how many women, but
he has a new book coming out. That there are too
few people he’s interviewed to be able
to generalize and say, this is what happens
when you’re 30, 40, 50. I am on the other
side, because– and so are people like
Bernice Neugarten. If you have a group, say, of
all 40-year-old men and women, what have you told
me about them? You’ve told me nothing
except they’re 40. But if you say, this one
was dumped by a husband, this one was just promoted,
this one has just been fired, this has happened
to this person– if you start giving me kind
of the context of their lives, the transitions
they’ve gone through, I begin a richer understanding,
because somebody at 40 who’s been dumped is not
the same as somebody who’s just been promoted. In fact, USA Today called
me to interview me once for their magazine,
and they wanted to know that several well-known
women were about to be 60. Jacqueline Onassis,
I forget who else. What did I have to say
about 60-year-old women? I said, nothing. I have nothing to say. I said, if you’re Barbara
Bush and you’re 60 and you’re married
to a president, and you have a hairdresser
who’ll come to the house and you’ve got all these
services, that’s different than if you’re 60 and you’ve
just been dumped by a husband and you’re a single
parent, you’ve been abused, and you have no money. So telling me about 60
doesn’t tell me anything. That makes a great
deal of sense. It’s a very individualistic
kind of approach as to how we face these
things that happened to us throughout our lives. It seems a lot of people
grew up with the notion– I think obviously a false
one when they were very small that when you got to adulthood,
everything kind of smoothed out, it was only adolescence
that were the ups and downs. Right. We sure know that’s not true. And we do. There’s no safe time, there’s
no time when all will be well and everything will be settled,
because just as you think you’re getting it together,
you begin thinking, well, should I retire or should
I have another baby or should I move
to another city, and you start raising
questions again about who you are,
where you’re going, these kinds of identity
issues that you had when you were an adolescent. It never stops, unfortunately. I guess that’s the good news
and bad news potentially. I know in some of
your writing, you refer to these things
that occur in our lives as transitions,
periods of transition. But could you talk a
little bit about what you mean by transitions, and
are there different kinds? Well, the way I
define a transition is that it is an event. Well, that’s like a job change,
retirement, any kind of change. A transition is an
event or non-event– that is, not having a promotion,
not publishing a book, not having the baby
that you wanted. So a transition is an
event or a non-event that alters your life. It really changes your life. So you can have 10 people
around the same transition, it will look like they’re
having the same transition. They’ve all just moved
to Jacksonville, Florida. But is that the same transition? Absolutely not. Of course, some people,
they’re moving home to an area which is home where
they have friends and families. Other people are moving
to a strange area. Some people are moving because
the person’s initiated it. Somebody else, the partner or
spouse, maybe is the follower. So the apparently
same transition– moving to Jacksonville–
is very, very different, and you have to look
at everybody who’s moving to Jacksonville
and say, let’s look at how this move, which is an event,
has altered your roles, your relationships,
your routines, and the way you see yourself. I want to come back,
because I hope we have time in the program to talk about– you call them non-events? Right. That fascinates
me, but I’m going to stay with the
transition kind of right here right now for
a second, I guess. So we have these very, very
different kinds of things that– or maybe the same
thing happening to people, but obviously we react
very differently, it sounds almost– it’s
almost kind of overwhelming. How do you cope
with those things? Well, what I tried
to do in my work is to look and develop a
system for understanding any transition in your life. It doesn’t take the
misery out of change, but it takes some
of the mystery out. So how can you get
a handle on change? Because all of us are
going through lots of different changes. And we don’t react the
same way to every change, and maybe we reacted well
to a move 10 years ago and now we’re
really falling apart at the prospect of
a move, or maybe we didn’t do well 10 years ago
but the prospect of a new move is very exciting. So what makes the difference,
how can we get a handle on it, and how can we understand it? That’s what my work
has been about. And I don’t know how
detailed you want me to get. Well, I think it
might help our viewers if they had some sense that
there is a program that might be helpful. Maybe could you talk
about that a second? If I’m facing a major transition
in my life or any transition, how do I think about it? Well, you read my book. Well, that’s a good
idea, and we’ve got to put that
on and show people that your most
recent book, which I have read, as a
matter of fact, it is a very, very good one. And we’ll talk maybe
a bit about that toward the end of
the program too in case people would like
to go out and buy that. I’ll just say the name
of it because some people might think about it. Because the name I think
signifies some of what we’re talking about. It’s Overwhelmed– Coping
with Life’s Ups and Downs. In other words, you can be
overwhelmed even with an up. You get promoted and
it can be overwhelming. You get fired, it
can be overwhelming. So Overwhelmed–
Coping with Life’s Ups and Downs, and the
nice thing about the book, it’s in hardback,
Lexington Press, but it’s also been
bought by Dell and it’s a small paperback. And that you can get
in any bookstore. But at any rate, the
point of writing the book was to help people look
at changing their lives and get a handle on it. So the first thing
you do, the book is divided into
three parts, really– approaching change, taking stock
of your resources for coping, and then taking charge. Approaching change is to
understand the kind of change you’re having. Is it an event,
is it a non-event? Is it something you want? Is it something you don’t want? Is it something you
initiated or happened to you? It’s quite different
to change jobs, because the handwriting
is on the wall and you better get out– then changing jobs because
you want a new experience. So you approach change, you
look at the type of change. You then look at how it
changes your life, which we’ve talked about before. You look at where you are. Is this something
you’re thinking about? Has it just happened? Is it happening– did it
happen in two years ago? Your reactions to
the change will vary. So sometimes when you’re in
the midst of a new experience, you’re overwhelmed,
but just keep in mind that today is not forever. That in fact your
reactions will change. So this first part
of the book is to get you in touch
with change and how– it isn’t the label “retirement”
or “career change” or “having a baby,” it’s how much
it changes your life and where you are
in the process. Is that part of what you mean
by taking the mystery out of the process? To look at the change and the
different types of change, and whether they happen
to you or your partner or to your children
or to your parents, and then ripple onto you. The second part of the
book is, OK, all right, I’m having this change, so what? I understand all that, now what? Well, each one of us has
potential resources for coping with change, and I
call them the four S’s. So that you can look
at this change– that’s say a job change– and you can look at your
resources for coping. Your first S to look
at is your situation. Is this a change
you control or is it something that happened to you? Is this at a good time in
your life or in a bad time? Are there lots of other
stressors going on in your life? You’ve just been divorced,
you have a sick child– what else is going
on in your life? So you can look
at your situation. Is that a plus or minus
as you face this change? You can then look at
your support system– at home, at the office,
in the community. Do you have more support
or more sabotage? Do you have more
help or less help? So is that a strength for you? Your S is yourself. Are you an optimist
or a pessimist? Can you deal with
ambiguity or do you have to have everything
in neat packages? And your forth is, do you use
a lot of strategies flexibly? Now, that’s very simply
the four S’s, so that you can look at this change– let’s take a job change. There was the story of the woman
who said, I can make a change, I want to leave my job. I’m an optimist, I’ve
got terrific support, my situation is great,
I’ve educated my children, I can take a risk. Somebody else
cannot take a risk. Kids in college, they have
a very unsupportive family situation, they
don’t have benefits, they have to be careful– I mean, you look at these
situations, self-supports, and you begin to assess where my
strengths are as I transition, and where my deficits are. And then the third part
is you take your deficits and say, gee, what’s week
for me is my support system. Or what’s weak for me is
my situation or myself, and then you can look
at the strategies you have at your disposal
and say, well, let’s see. Let me back up and say
that coping strategies come in four types. There are the
strategies that we use to change a situation, like
assertiveness, legal action, negotiation. There are another
set of strategies where we try to change the
meaning of the situation, a third where we
jog and meditate and manage our
reactions to stress, and the fourth is do nothing. So let’s say you want to
make a change in your job, you want to move to
another city and you have a wife and some children. Now, the job offer is terrific. You’re ready, your situation
is a good time in your life. Let’s say your wife is
finishing her degree and it would be a terrible time. And let us say your
daughter is going into senior year in high school. So your situation
isn’t so clear, is it? It’s very ambiguous
about whether that’s a plus or a minus. Now let’s look at the
supports and realize that in this old job that
you’re thinking of leaving, you have a fantastic
support system. Your family is here. You move to the new place,
you don’t know anybody and you don’t know what
the supports will be. But we come to you,
yourself, and you’re able to deal with ambiguity,
you are an optimist, and so then you
begin to look at this and to say, well, should
I make the move or not? You have people saying to
me, should I move to Florida? I’m retiring. How do I know? Look at your four S’s. But then the last part of the
model is what to do about it. So we’ve got these
four strategies, and let’s suppose everything
is in order but your support system. So you can say, oh,
will I change my support and get more supports? Maybe I’ll go to a
therapist, maybe I’ll make some other
friends, maybe I’ll start going to that new city
and join a church or a community group and start
building my supports. So you can say yeah. Or do you want to change
the meaning of supports and say, all right, I
won’t have a great support system in the new situation,
but I know that’s temporary and I’m going to
relax about it and not give myself a hard time on it. This is what happens to
some people who maybe make a change, a job change or
change partners or whatever, and then have a sense of being
sort of depressed and down and can’t understand why
it was a good change. They wanted to make it and yet
they don’t feel good about it. Because whenever everything
has changed– your roles, relationships,
routines, assumptions– it is very stressful. And it’s very difficult, and
especially when it’s a change you wanted. You’re going to
make this job change and you don’t feel great,
you’re a little depressed, but why wouldn’t be depressed
a little bit if you’ve left a terrific support system,
if you’ve disrupted your family life. Let’s suppose the scenario
I suggested is really true and you moved ahead anyway. And the family is
moved, and even though it’s a terrific new job
and you’re ahead of the world or whatever you want to be out
of, the family is in crisis. Or let’s suppose you move
and it takes a while, you don’t have that network
yet, the new network, and it takes a while
to build those bridges. But if you have assessed
all those things and make a conscious
decision that we’ll do this, that’s the part, again,
of taking the mystery out so you know what’s
going to happen, and it may still feel
miserable for the time, but you know what’s
happening and it’s going to perhaps get better when
the support system is strong again or whatever– Right. I think so. There is a computer-based
program, by the way. The American College
Testing Service has a series of
computer-based guidance programs called Discover. And they have a Discover–
it’s career planning. They have a Discover for high
school, for college students, for adults, and now a new
one for pre-retirement. Well, I’m in the one for adults. They have a module
called Weathering Change, and it’s based on
a transition model and it really is cute, because– I can say it’s cute, I
didn’t do what they did. [LAUGHS] It’s got a thermometer. So you type in your
transition and then you take your temperature and you
go through the four S’s. And if the situation isn’t good,
then your temperature goes up. If your supports are good,
the temperature’s normal. And you get a reading
on each and then– Just a graphic way
to look at this. Yeah. And then you get an
overall temperature, but you can begin
to say, well, I’ve got to bring my
temperature down here, and I’ve got to do
something about this, and you graphically see
that you can weather change by assessing what goes into
making your potential resources for coping. Let me say this about
it, it’s very rational. So somebody who is much
more intuitive and mystical might say, well, how
would this apply to me? You know, actually, as
I was writing the book, I’m thinking, when I read
this book, what would I be– What question have I asked? What do I feel about this book? And then I wrote in
the book at some point that it’s like dancing. Dancing is fun. I think it’s fun. But you can’t really
dance and improvise until you know the basic
steps, and what this book does is try to give the basic
steps, and of course, you’re going to improvise. And it gives us structure. It gives a way of
looking at change. And there are two basic things. This happened to me,
how can I weather it? Or should I make the change? Should I move to Florida? Should I move wherever I move? Should I change
jobs or partners? And it gives you a
way to look at it, to assess it, see where you are. That would seem to be very
helpful to all of us who are facing transitions. Some people, I suspect, who I’ve
talked to– and I expect you have too– even have trouble
maybe even knowing how to go about getting help with– so suppose they’re
stuck on a transition, what are the kind of
things they might do to– where are places they might
go to look for some help? Well, one of the reasons
I wrote the book, which is a popular book as
opposed to a professional book, a textbook– and I’ve written
textbooks about transitions– is that in my work of
training counselors, I realized that so many
people in need of help don’t want to go to a therapist
or counselor or don’t go. And that all through
life, we’re going to face a lot of transitions
and need some help. So the self-help book is
not meant to be instead of counseling or therapy. It can be in addition
to it, or instead for those people
who don’t want to go to another person for help. And so what I try to do is
say, OK, for some people, reading and using a
self-help book is the answer. But for others, obviously
going to a community college– every community
college– well, you know this better than I. Is
this true what I’m going to say, that every community college
has a counseling center? Yeah. That’s probably
a true statement. And deal with lots
and lots of people who are making transitions. Lots of people come
to community colleges when they’re in a
transition point. Right. Even people who are not enrolled
in the community college, is that not also correct? That these career centers
and counseling centers do help people in the community? That’s right. It seems to me that
the community college is a very easy place to go to. There are lots of
groups being run, individual therapy, individual
counseling, referral possibilities. But still, for those people
who aren’t willing to do that, here’s a book that might also
encourage you to later do it. But I would think, when you
say, how do you get help with transitions, that I
think there are lots of books out there– lots of books
other than my book that are very helpful I think to people. Well, then your particular
book may help someone know that they do in
fact need some other kind of– some additional
kind of help. Yeah. Maybe I’ve sorted all
this out and now I know, I really need to spend some
time with the counselor to figure out what’s going
on with me in this case. And the other thing–
let’s suppose that you’re vulnerable as a self. In my chapter on self, I
have references to books that deal with optimism. So that might give somebody an
idea, well maybe I should go get that book. Or are there books
on various topics that I referenced in
my work on transitions that other people have written? I would say a lot more on the
transition process, not so much on the variables that help
you cope, but on the process. And I try to reference those
books so that people can go. A lot of people with
jobs loss, there are books when
smart people fail, there are all kinds
of other books. Well, I don’t feel that my book
is the answer to everything, just three-quarters of it. Just the most of them. But seriously, I want to
help people get other books, go to people, go to movies– there are lots of
ways to get help. That’s fascinating. Yeah. I guess really, we’re talking
about change in a way. You’ve talked about
change kind of indirectly, but essentially,
change is something that we’re all going
through all the time. Right. What do you see when
you talk to people? When you talk with people,
do different people react to change? Well, I had a woman
who called me recently. Well, two women, actually. One was a professor. Now, a lot of your
viewers aren’t going to be academics,
necessarily, but these are just two
people who happen to call. Well, three– a secretary,
a professor, and a dean. These are just in
the last few weeks. One was a professor who’s in her
60s, who said she read my book and wanted to talk to me. Now I did not do
private clinical work, but I will see people for one
interview and then refer them. And she came in because what she
was dealing with was that she couldn’t– it started out that
she didn’t have time to open her mail, she did not have
time to clean her apartment, and she was just overwhelmed. She has two ill parents. She is responsible for them. In addition, there
is a lot of trouble with her adult siblings. So she’s getting a lot of
flack from her siblings. She has a lot of
pressure at work. The pressures were
just overwhelming her. What could she do? I said, well, you came to see
me because I wrote the book, let’s sit down and
write your four S’s. What’s your situation,
what’s your self-supports? And what we found that what was
really giving her the trouble was that her best friend
who had deserted her was tired of all
the broken dates. And so what we had to do is help
her reframe and realize that right now, her situation
is very overwhelming, she doesn’t know how
long it will last, but that she can get some
support from her professional group– she goes to a
professional meeting once a month– and just to realize she can’t
make a new best friend right now, and to sort of hold off. So we went through
the process with her. A dean whose college
has just been eliminated called me, what does she
do with retrenchment? A secretary whose job
has just been over. So people call all
the time for help and I try to help them
look at their change and their resources
for coping with it and figure out what they can do
to take charge of their lives. It’s comforting I
think for most people to realize that we’re all going
through change all the time, and sometimes, we get so
wrapped up in our own change that we feel that we’re
alone, and we don’t really have any resources and don’t
know how to deal with them. So your book sounds like
a very good approach to– I hope so. I hope it will help some people. It seems to. I want to give away what
I know in psychology, and that’s really the goal. If there’s something
that I know, that we know in this field,
let’s give it away to people. Let’s not keep it such a secret. Just tell us once more,
the name of the book and where people can get it. Overwhelmed– Coping with
Life’s Ups and Downs. The hardback, $16.95 or seven– I forget what it is now– Lexington Books, that can
be ordered by bookstores. The paperback, $3.95 by Dell,
is probably in most bookstores, and if not, they can
get it right away. This has been very,
very interesting, and I appreciate you
spending time with us. I wish we had more
time, because I know people would like to
hear more about how they can deal with their transitions. You’ve been watching this
edition of Worth Quoting. We’ve been talking with
Dr. Nancy Schlossberg, who has shared some very
interesting information with us on dealing with the transitions
that we face in life. Thank you very much
for being with us. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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