How to Make Sense of Your Life’s Turning Points


I was searching for insights into this 40’s decade that I’ve somehow slipped into…

I wanted to know more about the challenges ahead. Where I should focus my efforts. And why I now have this sudden very clear sense that the clock is ticking and my time is running out.

My search led me to a classic book about the major crisis points we all face in our lives:


I wanted advice for the future. But I didn’t expect it to be just as interesting with regard to my past…

Largely based on longitudinal research studies (studies that follow the same people over a long period of time to chart their individual development) and in depth interviews, Passages brings abstract developmental psychology to life through the stories of real people — some of whom successfully worked through their own life crises, and others who failed at the task or who remained stuck.

The book’s a bit dated, given that attitudes have changed since it was written in the early 70’s. Especially the stuff about the traditional roles of men and women, both in the workplace and at home. But the material in Passages is still widely applicable.

This is very much worth reading if you’re interested in creating the life of your choice, and finding the fullest expressions of your talents and abilities.

Passages gave me new insights into those first timid attempts to come out of my shell in my 20’s. Those early explorations, where we try on different hats, different philosophies and different roles. And it made me realize why the relationships we bring with us into those years so often fall apart as we transition to the next phase.

For me, that 20’s period of exploration culminated in the events I wrote about in Vagabond Dreams. I was 28, and I had discovered a new way of seeing and of moving through the world.

I thought I had life all figured out. But it was really just the beginning of the next phase… And that’s actually what I’m writing about now.

The 30’s is a period when your illusions are shaken. When your focus is locked up in trying to make your mark on this world somehow. When you stop messing around and enter the battle for real. For me, my early 30’s was when I finally got serious about writing. When I admitted I wasn’t any good at anything else. And when I decided I would live by my pen or starve.

I guess you could say it all worked out. But I was too busy to notice how far I had come. And according to Sheehy, that too is a hallmark of the 30’s years.

Passages brought back so many memories of those times, and of the specific struggles tied to each. It also gave me new insights into the crisis years between 38 and 45, when that sense of our own mortality sinks in. Yeah, in my 30’s I knew I didn’t have time to do or see it all. But it’s real now in a way that it never really was before. Passages did a great job of helping to explain why.

The major turning points and crises of my life fit quite accurately into the archetypal pattern Sheehy describes in her work. But of course I never realized there was a pattern at the time.

I guess that’s what drives anyone who chooses to write about their life. The art of memoir is an attempt to dig into these very same processes, passages and crises. To examine our own assumptions and illusions on the harsh bare light of a white page. To figure out why we became the person we are today. And to find the patterns in our lives, and make sense of them in the form of an integrated narrative of our own experience.

This book will interest anyone engaged in this process.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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