Human experience can be compared to an engine that drives much of development after birth. Therefore, the lack of crucial experiences during critical periods of life could be detrimental to the healthy and multi-component development of an individual, affecting its multiple domains. In the process of growing up, children will frequently encounter a broad range of life experiences or events that can lead to changes in their lives and require different coping and adaptation mechanisms (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020). For instance, one can often experience the birth of siblings or move from one school to another. In a mobile society, the move between schools is also often associated with the change in residence, which is further linked to many other changes requiring additional coping efforts. Such experiences as parental separation or divorce, serious injury or death of a family member, and illness are inevitable parts of life that affect children. While each individual varies in the ways they experience significant changes in life, including early and later life experiences, such events should be seen as essential sources of stress to which all are exposed to a greater and lesser degree. This paper aims to explore the impact of experiences on development, drawing from the personal events that occurred in personal life.
Event I: First Move
Moving is an experience through which almost every person had gone in their lives, and it is primarily associated with the need to adjust to a new environment with its peculiar characteristics. My family moved to another town when I was seven years old, when I had already developed friendships with other kids as well as became well adapted to my setting. The experience was non-normative because it was unexpected and not planned – my father was relocated to another office on his job, and our family decided that it would be best to move together. While I did not initially understand what the move would mean for me, after finding myself in an unknown house and an unfamiliar neighborhood, I was in a slight shock. While the parenting and family dynamics did not change for me, the housing, neighborhood, peer influence, and school development factors all transformed. I did not have any friends with whom I could go out and play on weekends, nor did I have familiar faces in the classroom on whom I could rely. The process of adjusting to a new setting took me around six months despite the attempts of my parents to familiarize me with the neighborhood, the town, and new members. I missed my old school, our old house, and the street where we used to live. Reflecting on the experience, I now realize that moving at seven years old was much easier than moving later in life when the relationships and the attachments are stronger and more meaningful.
In many ways, the move was a process that required grieving the past and the acceptance of the new, which developed the essential qualities of strength and adaptiveness, which are essential for fitting in new settings (Morris et al., 2017). Therefore, despite of the initially stressful reaction to moving as a seven-year-old, the experience as a whole resulted in some positive changes. For example, I managed to develop good relationships with my peers at school, as well as some kids in the neighborhood. Adjusting to a new environment made me braver in my attempts to socialize – I was not shy to come to a group of children and ask if I could play with them. I showed generosity by sharing toys and snacks with them and soon was met with the same treatment on their end. Developmentally, it made sense that the move would have both positive and negative effects on a child. While the period of adjusting took some time and there were significant levels of stress, enduring the experience at a relatively early age made me more flexible to unexpected environmental changes.
Event II: Becoming a High School Freshman
Becoming a high school freshman is an experience that is considered detrimental to my development as an individual, especially in terms of my social identity. The experience is categorized as a normative age-graded influence that affects an individual at a certain point in his or her life. A freshman year at college is a big transition associated with not only increased expectations associated with academic accomplishments but also meeting new people and navigating relationships with them (Puri, Kour, & Sood, 2017). At this stage, I had to learn how to become independent and responsible, which meant that I had to work more to earn good grades because teachers at high school were not as generous with the grades that they had been giving to students. I used to stay late at night to prepare projects or complete long essays, with the research process becoming more severe and extensive than previously. It is true that high school is intended to prepare students for their college experience, and the increased workload was evidence of that. The high school experience also taught me about the importance of failure and the positive takeaways that it could bring to teenagers and young adults who did not encounter it previously. Failing a test or failing a relationship with a friend is a part of the college experience that helped me understand that nothing in life goes smoothly and according to plan. By encountering failure in my high school years, I became stronger and more agile, which made the expectations about my future studies more realistic.
Going to high school was about much more than learning and getting good grades. In the social realm, it meant taking up leadership roles and building meaningful connections with peers who have been going through the same thing as me. Leading others can be scary, especially when there is a lack of agreement and understanding between individuals as to their goals. However, high school life showed me that everyone is scared of taking on responsibilities, but it is an important skill that could become essential later in life. From the developmental perspective, becoming a freshman in college signified a new stage in development that would help form one’s individuality, life attitudes, interpersonal communication skills, and more. Therefore, even though one’s DNA has an important impact on the formation of a person and his or her tendencies (Szyf, 2017), the experiences that are associated with close interactions with other people shape the outlook on life as well as the way in which one views themselves in the social context.
Event III: Grandmother’s Passing
The passing of a loved one is one of the most traumatic experiences that a person can experience. It is a non-normative event that is unpredictable and is not connected to a certain developmental time in the life of a person or historical period (Broderick & Blewitt, 2020). It is a unique event that can have a detrimental impact on the developmental process. When I was a sophomore in college, my grandmother passed away, which was one of the hardest things that I had to endure in my life up to this point. The death came as a shock to me because my grandmother always was a lively and energetic individual, with a multitude of interests and hobbies, as if she was ten years younger than she really was. The shock that I felt initially caused tremendous stress. I could not sleep through the night, I lost my appetite, and had a severe breakout on my skin, which my physician later confirmed to be stress-related. According to Liu, Forbat, and Anderson (2019), the death of a loved one leads to adverse physical and psychological well-being, poor mental health and social functioning, which can potentially occur up to four years after death.
Considering such findings, the physical aspect of the personal experience was nothing compared to the emotional. The shock and disbelief that occurred initially were followed by extreme sadness, despair, and grief. The experience made me think about my own mortality as well as the mortality of my family and friends, and I reconsidered many other experiences and interactions that I used to have. The passing of my grandmother made me consider the fact that any interaction with a person could be the last one, which is why it is important to treat others with respect and care. While my final interaction with my grandmother was very positive and amicable, I would be even more devastated and sad if we had a disagreement. With support and patience from my family members and friends, I gradually recovered from the loss, the emotional pain lessened and I learned to cherish the memories I had with my grandmother. For me, her passing was a tragic but defining moment that made me think about the relationships I was building as well as the overall attitude toward my life. Today, at 30 years old, I remember the experience as something that defined my college years as I began to be more attentive to others while also engaging in self-development and self-discovery.
Event IV: Getting the First ‘Adult’ Job
Getting my first ‘serious’ job after college was an experience that shaped the way in which I now approach my life, both personal and professional. As an age-graded influence, getting a job is an experience shared by the majority of the population, and the adjustments through which I had to go had a significant impact on me as an individual. While I was glad to get the job that I wanted, I felt anxious and worried that I would fail. During my first days at the office and the onboarding process, I was nervous to ask any questions and address my colleagues, which made me lose sight of why I was at the office in the first place. While I was successful in completing the assignments I was given, there was a sense of worry and the fear of the unknown that made me nervous. However, I soon realized that the workplace was very welcoming and that I would get along with my co-workers.
The first-job experience provided me with much more than a broader CV that I could use to apply for future positions. It quickly showed me what it means to live an adult life ad the majority of people live it. Throughout my work, I learned to develop meaningful professional relationships that enable me to rely on other people and for them to rely on me. Support in the workplace is different from the support that I have encountered with friends or family members because it is often goal-oriented. Through communicating with other workers, I learned the importance of workplace morale, engagement, and collaboration, with the connections giving the basis for further professional development. From that point on, my life as an adult began, with the experience of working at my first serious job shaping my identity as an individual with career dreams and aspirations.
Every person has different mechanisms of dealing with life events and experiences, the events described in this assessment have all been detrimental in shaping personal identity and the attitude toward the general environment. While the DNA is already pre-determined for a person, the experiences that he or she has throughout life are connected to age-graded, history-graded, or non-normative influences that have a multi-dimensional impact on an individual. The lifespan perspective applied in this assessment allowed me to approach the concept of development as a lifelong, contextual, and multi-dimensional process. Every experience described includes the components of emotional, physical, and social changes that shaped the unique characteristics of a personal that apply to them and their unique circumstances.
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Morris, T., Manley, D., Northstone, K., & Sabel, C. (2017). How do moving and other major life events impact mental health? A longitudinal analysis of UK children. Health & Place, 46, 257-266.
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