The Four Stages of Life


Life is a continuous progress. We all grow, develop and mature. As we continue to move on in life, we move from one stage in life to the next one. For some, this transition feels like a natural process, while others find themselves stuck in certain stages for decades. Some might even skip entire stages completely, without learning the important lessons of a given stage. What’s true for all of us is that there are a number of distinct stages of life we go through once the time is ready. These stages are experienced by all humans throughout the course of their life. By closely analyzing human life, one can identify the pattern behind these different phases of life. This knowledge about the characteristics of life’s phases can help you to shift gears when it comes to your own growth and your pursuit of success. The following will present you an analysis of the human life cycle. It will show you where people typically get stuck and what you can do to break free from such a situation.

Since ancient times, mankind has philosophized about life. The endeavor to categorize life has led to the development of many different concepts about the cycle of life. Ancient Indian texts, for instance, discuss four age-based life stages (student, householder, retired and renunciation). In ancient Greece, philosophers and lawgivers such as Solon mapped the life cycle into ten seven-year lasting periods. The following is an attempt to condense the wisdom of several different perspectives on the stages of life into one universal life cycle.

The Four Stages of Life in the Human Life Cycle

Developing an understanding of the different stages of life can help to better explain human life and the challenges it presents. It is important to understand that each of the stages presented in the following can act as a trap that prevents a person’s development. For this reason, a grown-up person can mentally still be trapped in the first stage of life. The same holds true for every other stage, except the last one.

Table of contents – The four stages of life

Stage I: Play, Imitation and Education
Birth – Infancy – Childhood – Adolescence

Stage II: Self-Discovery, Enterprise & Adventurousness
Adolescence – Early Adulthood – Adulthood

Stage III: Dedication, Contemplation & Benevolence
Adulthood – Midlife – Mature Adulthood

Stage IV: Retirement, Wisdom & Renunciation
Late Adulthood – Death

Let’s have a look at the four different stages of life.

Stage I: Play, Imitation, and Education
Birth – Infancy – Childhood – Adolescence

Summary of Stage One

The first stage in life focuses on the education of the individual. It is during this phase in the stages of life that we built the fundament for the lifetime ahead. We can get stuck in this stage when we are not able to let go of the need for approval from others.

Stage One in detail

The human life cycle begins at conception. It sets in motion the evolutionary process that forms a body out of a single cell. The first stage of our life is predominantly characterized by the dependency upon others for survival. It is during the beginning of this phase that we basically just eat, sleep and breathe. Our mind is at peace while the brain develops. We pick up essential sensory abilities and motor skills.

Four stages of life

The four different stages of life resembled by stones.

The journey continues as a toddler. During this stage, the child learns many important skills, such as walking and talking, but also socializing. At the end of this stage of playfulness, the child develops a sense of an inner subjective self. It learns to differentiate between its inner life and the outer world. The stage of playfulness is followed by early adolescence. It’s a critical turning point in the individual’s life. Puberty starts to kick in and with it come drastic hormonal changes. As a result of this, the body begins to change and starts to approach manhood. It’s a time that is ruled by strong emotions and the increased willingness to take risks. The process of liberation from one’s parents is initiated. The adolescent will grow more independently with each year. This growing independence helps to initiate the process of separation from one’s parents.

What really happens

Stage One of the stages of life is all about learning. We observe other people’s behavior and imitate their actions. This helps us to pick up important abilities and skills. By mimicking others, we gradually develop social and similar skills and learn to fit in with society. Rules, thinking patterns and norms are imposed upon us and we are taught to behave, act, and often think in socially acceptable manners.

The basic objective of all of this is to help us become self-regulated adults. Once we have grown up, we are expected to act in an autonomous manner. For this reason, we are encouraged to begin meeting decisions of our own. Still, our focus lies on the outside world. We are still dependent upon others for guidance and seek for their approval. Out of all the stages of life, this one helps us to lie the proper foundation.

Why do people struggle in this stage?

The greatest danger we encounter during this stage is that we are not able to let go of the need for external validation. We might get trapped by adults that do not approve of us becoming independent and autonomous. Society has come up with many different forms of punishment that can prevent us from developing such true autonomy.

Some people never manage to outreach this stage. In their mind, they are still adolescents that imitate adults. They try to fit in and do everything they can in order to please others. The dependency upon other people’s approval prohibits the individual’s growth and development.

Instead of learning to think independently, we place other people’s opinion upon our own. The expectations of others place a great burden upon our shoulders, but we feel obliged to fulfill them. The capability of independent thinking has not yet reached a state in which we are courageous enough to embark on our own journey. Once we have the courage to place our personal values above the expectations of others and start acting for ourselves, the next stage is entered.

Stage II: Self-Discovery, Enterprise & Adventurousness
Adolescence – Early Adulthood – Adulthood

Summary of Stage Two

The child has grown into an adult who now has to apply the skills learned throughout the initial stage of life. Out of all the stages of life, this one focuses the most upon exploration, endeavor, and self-discovery.

Stage Two in detail

The education of the adolescent continues. It is now a more focused approach to acquiring knowledge in various different disciplines. The end of adolescence marks the beginning of adulthood. It is the longest phase in the human life cycle. The bodily transformation reaches its completion. The young adult has reached a point of great independence. It is a time during which the young individual explores life and goes out to leave their mark on the world. The education has completed and the focus lies now on acquiring a good job.

What really happens

During Stage One, we’ve learned to act by ourselves, if necessary against the expectations of others. This new-won independence leads us on the great journey of initiating self-discovery. While the first stage primarily focused on integrating us into society, the second stage is all about teaching us to be truly individual.

We start increasing our independence by meeting decisions of our own, but we also have to accept the responsibility that comes with it. It is a time during which we go out to explore the world. We challenge ourselves and seek to gain our own understanding about life. Most importantly, we finally have the courage to discover who we really are. We want to learn what separates us from others. This curiosity helps us to develop an understanding of our individuality and uniqueness.

The desire to explore life increases our willingness to take risks. We start to experiment with new and exciting possibilities. Naturally, the attempt to integrate these elements in life can be quite erroneous. We make mistakes, learn from them and continue with something else.

At best, we completely break free from the dependency upon other people’s approval. Instead of searching for external validation, we have learned to approve of ourselves. It marks the liberation from childhood in the stages of life.

Why do people get stuck in this stage?

There are various reasons why we can get stuck in this stage of life. One major reason lies in the fact that this phase in the stages of life can be extremely pleasurable and exciting. For this reason, some people simply do not wish to ever leave this stage. Instead of allowing their development to unfold, they prefer to continue life on this level. And let’s face it, Stage Two comes with many adventures and exciting explorations of life. Continuously following where your independence leads you can be exciting for a certain period of time. But at one point, we all have to learn that these youthful endeavors will have to end eventually.

Still, some people refuse to accept the end of the second stage. Their exploration of life continues, often times without a true purpose. Instead of making new discoveries, these people simply experience new things without gaining any new and significant insights about life. Without noticing it, these people are running in a circle.

The underlying reason for this is that some of us do not accept their limitations. However, one crucial lesson of the second stage is to show us that we are limited. We quickly—and sometimes painfully—have to discover everything that we are not good at. We discover our weaknesses and are confronted with our failures. But in terms of our personal growth, it isn’t such a bad thing to be confronted with these things.

These experiences make us realize that time is precious and should be spent accordingly. We begin to understand that not every activity should be pursued, just because we can pursue it. We start to realize that many of the activities we’ve enjoyed for so long do no longer provide us any significant returns. Slowly but surely, we are taught to use our independence in a responsive manner.

The second stage is accomplished once we realize that we have to be selective about what we do.

Stage III: Dedication, Contemplation & Benevolence
Adulthood – Midlife – Mature Adulthood

Stage Three is initiated when the responsibilities of the individual start to increase. What was once an independent being will find itself confronted with many different challenges, among them, coping and financial pressures. The individual might want to find a home and partner. Slowly but surely, the time to settle down starts to approach. Wishes of independence, exploration, and freedom are now replaced by the wish to start a family. It marks a stage during which we pick up a great number of responsibilities, not only for ourselves but also for others.

The third stage plays a significant role in an adult’s life. It is during this time when we initiate the life cycle once again, by having children of our own. The focus now lies on the growth of one’s career and development of the young family.

A major turning point during Stage Three has arrived once the children begin to leave the nest. Until this point, the individual has followed the destined path scripted by society. The individual was born, grew up, was educated, found a job, settled down and started a family. But now, for the very first time, the individual is confronted with a new situation. The obligations and responsibilities placed by society upon them start to decrease. The individual has entered the stage of midlife. In many cases, this phase resembles the opportunity to take a break from one’s worldly affairs. Perhaps for the very first time, the individual starts to ponder about the true meaning of their life.

It’s a stage of deep contemplation. Every individual reacts differently during this stage. While some develop a profound understanding of human life, others will find themselves in a midlife crisis. In the best case scenario, a stronger and wiser individual will emerge out of this stage. The end of this contemplative stage marks the beginning of a phase that is especially characterized by wisdom and benevolence.

What really happens

Stage Two made us explore the world and confronted us with our limitations and fears. At the beginning of Stage Three, we have ripened and are calmer. The third stage can be categorized as the process of decluttering one’s life. We have a much clearer understanding of the things that are truly important to us. We’ve also gained many insights about our limited abilities in certain areas. Based upon this knowledge we start making some significant changes in life.

During the third stage, a great shift in focus takes place. We place our concentration upon that which is important to us while allowing the rest to leave our life. Our patience with time-wasting activities and energy-draining friends decreases drastically. It’s a stage where many of these mindless hobbies and shady friends leave, never to be seen again.

Instead of having countless time-wasting activities on our mind, we nurture the hobbies and relationships that are really important to us. The pursuit of your dreams has become more important to you than anything else. This stage of life is centered around the creation of your legacy. You will strive to make the most of your life by living up to your full potential. All of this is fueled by the desire to leave your mark on the world.

By decluttering your life you will also make room for previously unconsidered matters. One might wonder about the purpose of life, dive into philosophy or (re-)discover religion.

Why do people get stuck in this stage?

Stage Three comes to its natural conclusion once your vision is realized. People feel old, worn out and come to the realization that they’ve accomplished everything they could accomplish in their life.

For some, however, the ambition to accomplish ever more never comes to an end. People are so used to constantly strive for more that they have great trouble with the outlook of retirement. And once that day comes, the insatiable hunger for accomplishments and power begins to haunt them. As a result, these individuals stay active as long as their bodies permit. They miss out on another important stage in life.

Stage IV: Retirement, Wisdom & Renunciation
Late Adulthood – Death

During mature adulthood, the individual reaches the stage of wisdom and benevolence. The children have left the house and the work life of the individual reaches its completion. After retirement, many make important contributions for society. Their wisdom and foresight contribute to the advancement of society. In many cases, the elderly take up a new role of volunteers and mentors who guide the younger generations. They represent a source of wisdom the following generations can tap into if they are wise enough to do so.

The last stage of a human’s life begins once it’s time to depart. While this is a painful experience for the relatives of the deceased one, it also serves as a reminder for the younger generations. It reminds them to make the most out of the moment and to be grateful for their lives.

What really happens

The last stage in a human’s life is well deserved. People worked hard all their life long, accomplished great things and ensured the continuance of their family and mankind. Stage Four marks the time when people actively seek to give younger generations helpful advice to take along. It’s the stage during which preparations are set in place so that the following generation continues the legacy.

From a psychological perspective, the last stage helps us to accept the fact of our own mortality. In fact, it offers us the chance to make sure something of us continues to live on in this world, even when we are long dead.

I hope you enjoyed this article on the four stages of life. Feel free to share in what stage are currently living in and the potential challenges you’re confronted with, in the comment section below.

Stay victorious!


About Author

Steve is the founder of Planet of Success, the #1 choice when it comes to motivation, self-growth and empowerment. This world does not need followers. What it needs is people who stand in their own sovereignty. Join us in the quest to live life to the fullest!


  1. Profound article! We inherently know this but to read it in black and white virtual print really makes one think about their journey, life’s journey.

  2. As another reader suggested, this is deeply profound wisdom. Thank you very much for elaborating on the various stages of life.

  3. This is brilliant, because I think when one knows about the different stages of life, it all makes a lot more sense. I have never really reflected about the subject but this gives me great room to ponder about what you said.

  4. For the third stage , what if you feel like you’ve tried to complete all your minds dreams however they don’t pan out , and because of all that trying you feel drained…what I mean is what if at age 40 your life is not how you desired , however you’ve reached the stage of being drained , do you give up and wait for the retirement stage to kick in?

    • That’s a really difficult question. But I think it’s never too late to analyze why all the dreams did not come to fruition. Why is it that you haven’t accomplished your dreams? Were you living with your head in the sky? Did you pursue too much? Did you expect much from life? Were your expectations too high?

      Sometimes, it’s not about focusing on everything you haven’t accomplished. Instead, it’s about being able to develop gratefulness for what you have accomplished. Doing so may help you realize the true value of your life. Similarly, it may help you in realizing that there might be many others who would give everything they could just to be in your position.

      Think about those who died a long time before they were 40 years of age. Etc. etc.

      Similarly, just because you haven’t accomplished some of your dreams in the past doesn’t mean that you can’t have and pursue any dreams in the future. But this time, pursue your dreams as committed and dedicated as possible and with everything you can. Take the experiences you’ve gained over 40 years of living life and use it to to your advantage.

      • That was a truly enlightening and encouraging response from truly is never too late to seek fulfillment in your life for you first! I hope that your journey involves spiritual enlightenment as of luck-you got this!

  5. This is indeed helpful I read some stuff like this in developmental psychology but this is more details and summarise. Keep it up Sir.

  6. I learned about these stages in nursing school. I was 19, now 38. I have 5 daughters. 3 are stepdaughters, and are teenagers. So I googled the stages of life to help my 19 year old daughter find herself. She lost her full scholarship to college secondary to a mental illness that reared its ugly head at 18 and during her first sesy r away from home. There was also the stage 1-2 mentality of not understanding cause and effect, repercussions of ones actions, and how one can self destruct without meaning to. Having read it to help her, I inadvertently helped myself. At the end of the article I told myself “oh, that’s good, I am actually doing ok.” It made me take a step back from the trenches. Thabk you for writing this article. I would suggest to others, let your stage 2 kids read this. We all know they’re still “black and white” thinkers, and this organized it for my child and allowed her to develop more abstract concepts and that there is a grey area in life. Thank you!

  7. Steve – I enjoyed your article. I appreciate your insights in life and the progression of it. I have a quick question. Assuming a life span of 75, what you think the age range of each of the four phases?

  8. its good to know . thanks very much i think now that Im not settled with any woman i am still in stages two with a lot of wisdom. im on the right track and soon i will leave my mark

  9. What a great article, hmm I’m 53 but feel I’m stuck in the 2nd stage so this has really helped me to do something about it and move forward. I believe we have more lives to live and learn through but I’m hoping this is my last one lol.

  10. Thank you for the article. I’m in my late 50’s and felt myself shift in my early 50’s. I lost interest in accomplishing things and found interest in gleaning the wisdom of others. This explains the transition I have been experiencing for a while. Where can I read more about this four stages of life? Where did you learn this? Thanks!

  11. Jeffrey Obaitan on

    You mentioned instances of people getting stuck in different stages. I am curious about people that outgrow a stage before the right time. What are the possible drawbacks especially for stage II?

  12. What a great article, but some pple lack motivation to get out of their current phase of life. So how can we navigate that?

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