Review of the best adult development books and articles

good reads

This Good Reads section highlights authors who can enhance our understanding of key adult development issues. In particular, this section highlights books and articles published by experts who are investigating adult development issues through a "meaning-making" lens. In this context, this section highlights authors who analyze and explain the ways adults both grasp and transform their lived experiences. Additionally  we highlight books and articles that expand our understanding of the "developmental arcs"  and the "evolutionary truces" that characterize the various stages and phases of adult development. Finally, this section spotlights books and articles that examine the ideas of practitioners writing about the ways we can support individual human beings either strengthen their habitual modes of thinking and habits of mind or transform them.


Sheelagh O'Donovan-Polten

The Scales of Success: Constructions of Life-Career Success of Eminent Men and Women Lawyers

What constitutes a successful life? How do middle-aged men and women who are at the pinnacle of their profession conceptualize success? Do such men and women differ markedly in their beliefs, both implicit and explicit, about what for them constitute success? In her book, The Scales of Success: Construtions of Life-Career Success of Eminent Men and Women Lawyers, Sheelagh O'Donovan-Polten makes exemplary use of Robert Kegans theories of adult development to explicate her answers to these questions.

Using Kegan's Orders of Consciousness model as her foundation, O'Donovan-Polten adds insights from other adult and career development theorists to highlight the ways in which eight successful lawyers went about making meaning out of the professional and personal experiences they had on their way to life and career success. The most  intriguing aspect of Sheelagh's book are the ways in which she integrates three adult development dynamics:

  • The "evolutionary truces helix" that Kegan used in The Evolving Self, the one that demonstrates how people's Orders of Consciousness alternate as they evolve between their "differentiated truces"  and their "integrated truces."
  • The eight attitudinal and behavioral characteristics that, through her case studies, Sheelagh discovered were characteristic of the meaning-making processes that all her lawyers used to create their successful lives.
  • The six attitudinal and behavioral characteristics she isolated are specifically gender-linked.

Sheelagh's model highlights how the evolution of her male and female lawyer's Orders of Consciousness are both the same and different as they make meaning on their way toward successful careers and lives.  Ms. O'Donovan-Polten's model is a truly sophisticated framework to use to explore the relationship between Orders of Consciousness, meaning-making processes, gendered attitudes, and  behavioral characteristics that lawyers use while they're in the middle of their journeys toward success. Sheelagh manages to effectively illustrate the proposition that the complexities of gender identity are a key part of every meaning-making processes, and as well an important part of catalyzing evolutionary shifts in men's and women's Orders of Consciousness. Sheelagh shows us that success in work and life is a multifaceted, paradoxical challenge that's simultaneously dependent on increasingly sophisticate modes of thinking, and on the context in which this thinking and meaning-making is being done.