Personal Growth in Adults' Stories of Life Transitions


  • Jack J. Bauer, Northern Arizona University, and Dan P. McAdams, The Foley Center for the Study of Lives, Northwestern University.

  • The authors would like to thank the Foley Family Foundation for its major support of this research, the Positive Psychology Summer Training Institute for its support, and April Sakaeda for her insights and work on this project.

concerning this article should be sent to Jack Bauer, Department of Psychology, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011. Email:


Abstract This study identified four themes of personal growth (integrative, intrinsic, agentic, and communal) in adults' stories of life transitions in careers and religions. Specific themes were expected to relate differentially to two forms of personality development (social-cognitive maturity and social-emotional well-being) and to transition satisfaction. Integrative themes correlated primarily with social-cognitive maturity (ego development; Loevinger, 1976), whereas intrinsic themes correlated primarily with social-emotional well-being. Agentic-growth themes correlated primarily with transition satisfaction, whereas communal-growth themes correlated primarily with global well-being. Themes of agentic and communal growth also differentiated the two types of transitions studied—changes in careers and changes in religions—in ways that both supported and contradicted traditional notions of those transitions. We discuss these findings in terms of narrative meaning making, the mature and happy person, and intentional self-development via life transitions.