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The New Definition of Success Is Your Commitment to the Well-Being of Future Generations



Adults can be generative in many different ways — as parents, teachers, mentors, leaders, friends, neighbors, volunteers, and citizens.

This article appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Spirituality & Health. What do these three people have in common? The other mothers at Shirley’s PTA meetings had no idea that she worked as a madam, was deeply involved in drugs and organized crime, and would eventually do time in a federal penitentiary. Today, Shirley is an ordained church minister for an inner-city congregation. As part of her ministry, she organizes a local food pantry to feed poor families and the homeless. Despite racial prejudice at school and work, Tony doggedly pursued his artistic dream and eventually developed a unique musical style that blends African and European traditions. Today he worries about race relations and the very survival of the human species, but he is optimistic: “I see so much beauty, so much creativity, so much productivity. I can’t help but be hopeful for the future.” Raised in a very religious household, Christine was taught that she should find her “life calling” in service to others. But after three frustrating years as a social worker, Christine went back to school for an M.B.A. Today, she a …

Dan P. McAdams is a professor of psychology and human development at Northwestern University and the director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives. His books include Intimacy: The Need to Be Close (Doubleday) and The Stories We Live By (Guilford Press), which has been hailed as one of the most important conceptual contributions to personality theory in 50 years. His ongoing study of generativity has been funded by a major grant from the Spencer Foundation. (2001)

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