Jumping the S-Curve of Life


The S-curve framework is used in various disciplines to represent the beginning, rapid growth, and maturity of something via an S-shaped curve.

I recently attended a Rotman Speaker series on disruption by Whitney Johnson. Whitney is an ex-Wall St. disruptor who has taken the theory of disruptive innovation and applied it to the personal level. In her book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney applies the S-curve model developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, which explains how products spread through culture and how disruptive innovations take hold, to show us why in our professional lives we journey from excited and stimulating growth to loss of interest, boredom and, if we’re not careful, professional decline.

As I sat listening, I found myself transfixed on the S-curve model and it struck me that this model also applies to what I’m seeing among my girlfriends who are moving through their mid-life. It was an epiphany of sorts! Their low grade itch for change, a sense of discontent with the same old course of life, and then an awakening of spirit as they talk to friends about their passions that have been hibernating for years, making plans for a new journey in life. This is the personal disruption S-curve in action, playing out amongst women who are moving through their mid-life and are now raising their heads, looking down the road of life and feeling the plateau of mastery at the top of the S-curve of life.

Here’s how I see the S-curve applying to our journey through adult life:

Stage 1: Learning To Be An Adult

In our 20s we’re learning how to be an independent adult, taking on responsibilities of day-to-day life, paying bills, grinding our way through the beginnings of our “career”.

Stage 2: Confident Establishment

In our 30s and early 40s we’re developing competency in life, our professional life is gaining momentum and we are energized as we build a life that is buzzing with new and evolving experiences.

Stage 3: Expert Boredom

As we reach our mid to late 40s we’ve become expert at running our personal and professional lives. Our learning curve slows dramatically and we settle into a comfortable existence—with our partner, our place at work, our role in the family. We have reached Mastery of Life! Our excitement and love for life seems to have dulled. We start to search for meaning—for something that will bring back that feeling of fulfillment, energy and passion we once had.

For the women who are passing through mid-life today, experiencing a deepening sense of inertia, we are seeing the potential for a wave of change to occur, as women jump from one S-curve to the start of a new S-curve of life. Whether it’s leaving an established marriage or creating brand new careers, many are awakening long sleeping passions and discovering that from the heart of a challenge, a new zest for life is born.

You can get a copy of Whitney Johnson’s book, Disrupt Yourself, on Amazon.

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