The 4 Stages of Life and How to Hack Them

What would you think if I told you that there are four key stages to life? And that understanding and moving through these stages is one of the secrets to a happy and successful life. These four stages represent four periods of growth and require a transition from one to another. However, it’s the inability to progress through these stages where problems arise.

Life-ruts, mid-life crises, existential doubts or just being in a real funk, I’m sure you know them well. These often occur when we are stuck in one stage, unable to progress to the next.

Understanding them, realising why we get stuck in certain ones, and having tips to get out is key to ensure we are able to continue to evolve and grow in our lives.

It can be very difficult to move through the stages because of the pressures that come with life transitions. Our communities, culture, friends and family unknowingly promote various stages as being more important than others. This can greatly influence which stage we’re at and how, or if, we transition to the next.

Many years ago cultures supported the progression of men through these stages. There were rites of passage through the transition periods and these cultures would provide mentors to support men on their journey through them.

Without a pre-defined process to support the transition, we have little support to notice the signs and must often progress through the stages alone.

The Call to Adventure

Joseph Campbell referred to one such sign in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, that he called the call to adventure.

The call to adventure is a moment in life where we receive an invitation to wake up from our malaise. It demonstrates that there might be something more out there beyond our immediate life. It requires courageous action to progress through a period of transition and to the next stage.

Failure to act upon these wake-up calls means we get stuck in a particular stage in our life. Thus we are unable to transition, potentially for the rest of our lives. If we do progress through the stages we might skip one or stay on the next one forever. It’s not a simple linear progression and shouldn’t be read as such.

There are many different approaches to understand the stages of life. I have taken some of these and created my own interpretation to help you to understand your own progression through life, and why you might be struggling at certain stages.

There is no reference to age as these stages can happen at any time, or not at all.  What this provides is a framework with which to see your progress through life and to help you get unstuck at difficult times.

Stage 1 – Imitation

This is the stage of learning and education. We’re testing our boundaries and figuring out our limits of what we can and cannot do. We imitate our parents, our friends, and anyone that helps us to learn and develop.

After a while, we start to notice ourselves and how we move from thinking we are the world to instead being a part of it. We copy others and easily take on their ideas and beliefs as if our own. We learn to integrate into society and fit into whatever pre-designed mould has been modelled for us, unaware any alternative exists.

In this stage we are constantly affirmed for what we are doing and who we are being. That affirmation stops being about us but instead about how our actions make others feel. The more you act and think like me, the more I affirm you for it.

We fit into those around us and create an identity based on the external world we are now a part of.

What Are The Blocks?

The reason we get stuck at this stage is we have learnt to value social acceptance above all else. We desire to please others more than ourselves because this is where our sense of self-worth comes from.

We all receive the call to adventure to step out of the stage and to something new. Rejecting the call is one thing but many ignore it, sometimes failing to realise it even existed.

This is because the call takes us out of our comfort zone. The call rarely shouts to us, instead it whispers quietly in our ears. So we need to ensure we’re listening carefully for it.

When we have no awareness of there being any alternative, we become stuck. Even if we are aware of the need to progress our lives, the social pressure and expectation to remain is unlike any other time. As a result, we remain where we are, feeling like it’s the only option.

Way forward – The Life Hacks

When we realise that we don’t need or want the acceptance of others then we are ready to leave the first stage. We begin to listen more carefully to the voice that exists within us. The wise voice that guides us at key times in our life.

Without this then we rely upon the critical mass of frustration. This is where a point is reached where the momentum and weight of our desire to move beyond society’s expectations, is greater than the desire to remain where we are.

When we start to listen to our inner wisdom instead of the voice of society, things start to change.

We start to develop personal values and independent thought. We start to realise there is a whole bigger world out there than we thought because the one we live in doesn’t fulfil us. It’s at this point that we are ready for the second stage.

Stage 2 – Adventure

We start to explore the world around us beyond our immediate life and want to understand what makes us different. Just like Trueman in the Trueman Show, it’s time to step outside of our old world and realise there is so much more out there.

This is the stage of adventure as we seek independence from our old selves. We develop the courage to move beyond the expectations of others and start to explore the wider limits of who we are.

In stage 1 we defined ourselves relative to others. In stage 2 we are asking who we really are and what makes us different. We now seek to define who we are relative to ourselves.

We make a lot of mistakes as we live on the edge and confront our limitations and fears. Then we start to develop courage as we liberate ourselves from our childlike ways and begin the journey into manhood.

Life Hacks

What Are The Blocks?

There is a lot of navel gazing in the second stage as it’s centred around understanding ourselves. We can become selfish as we internalise everything and make it mean something about ourselves.

With adventure comes pleasure. It’s a hedonistic stage and as a result many can remain there, unable to transition beyond the ego’s desire for more.

People who get stuck in this stage are always dreaming. They still go on about doing that thing they’ve been talking about for years. Nothing ever happens because they lack the necessary commitment to see it through. They are unable to accept this and fail to create space for the dreams that can be realised.

We think we have time to do everything so fill our time becoming busy, busy, busy. We get stuck because we believe that doing and not being is the answer to everything.

Way forward – The Life Hacks

When we are ready to commit to something greater than ourselves then we’re ready to leave the second stage. We feel unfulfilled living for ourselves and are ready to dedicate our lives to something bigger.

We realise our own limitations and it is the feeling of being part of something bigger that makes us feel whole. Human connection is what we desire.

Progression into the third stage can often come in response to life changing events, such as an illness or the death of someone close to you. Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) is the positive benefit from a traumatic event and can trigger life changing moments in our lives.

Experiences like this help us to realise we don’t have the time we thought we did. They help us to re-evaluate what is important after which nothing will be the same again.

Stage 3 – Meaning

Now we have moved beyond our own gratification and want to make a difference. We realise that true happiness resides in community and helping others. We stop looking inwards and start looking outwards to who we can serve with our lives.

Stage 3 is about the search for a deeper sense of meaning in life.  We are asking, what is my purpose, what is my mission, who am I here to serve?

We realise it’s time to stand by something we believe in. A sense of commitment to something more important than ourselves. That might be a family, a relationship, a project. These existed in other stages too but what they mean to us has changed. There’s a deeper commitment and meaning to them now.

We start to seek greater fulfilment in life and may explore religion, philosophies, meditation or anything to which we attach a sense of meaning.

Life becomes more simple as we declutter and clear space in our lives, removing things that don’t serve us. We find internal validation through our values as opposed to the external world around us.

What Are The Blocks?

The desire to complete your mission becomes all consuming. You believe that what you have achieved is never enough and there is a constant thirst for more. This might be a business, a project or the happiness of your family. We get stuck when we can’t see beyond it as we define ourselves as being our mission as opposed to the one guiding it.

Death looms large and progressing beyond this stage requires us to acknowledge this fact which becomes too much to handle.

As a result, we busy ourselves, unable to accept the ultimate fate that beholds us. Never satisfied with what we have, we have reached a period of spiritual materialism. We continue to grasp for material gain in the name of spiritual development unable to embrace the inevitable.

The constant search for meaning can result in heartache as we don’t find the answers we were looking for. So we continue to search until we find better answers that please us. Because without this what we have is never enough. Not enough difference, not enough connection, not enough impact.

Life hacks

Way forward – The Life Hacks

We start to realise that creating our mission is not as important as sharing it. Our desire to share wisdom and knowledge is now the focus of our life.

We realise that death follows life and once we embrace this fact we can let go of the fear and move to the final stage.

Stage 4 – Wisdom

We’ve realised our vision and accomplished what we wanted to create in life. Now is the time to share and give back to those around us. We spent a life creating and building our future, so this is the stage when we enjoy the fruits of our labour.

We are grateful for everything we have and share this with those in our lives. There is a deep wisdom within us and this is the greatest gift we can share with others. We are no longer seeking anything.

By sharing with others we are able to ensure our legacy will continue beyond us.


The movement between these stages is the key to our development. It’s the source of our happiness as we fulfil our potential. Navigating these stages, however, can be difficult especially when done alone. 

Don’t be afraid to reach out for that support should you need it. After all it’s a journey we are all on and it might be the wisest thing you ever do.


I hope this post was helpful. Do you agree with the 4 stages? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it. For regular content like this just click subscribe below.

To your success



About the Author

Writer and coach, Mike writes about the struggles and triumphs of how to be a modern man. He writes to support these men, and the women that love them. Click here to learn more.

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Anonymous - September 6, 2017 Reply

Awesome, this is what I was looking for

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