The Connecting Life’s Stages Series Stage 1: The Explorer Stage (Age 6 – 22)

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 20, Issue No. 21b
February 15, 2023

By Dan Coughlin


Boy and a girl

Every adult stage from 22 – 100 years old has a beginning, and that beginning happens in The Explorer Stage, which are approximately 6 – 22 years old. During these 16 years we see things and learn things and try things. We find out what we are good at and what we like doing. Just as importantly, we find out what we are not good at and what we don’t like doing.

Reflecting on this stage in your life allows you to uncover things about yourself today that can help you determine what steps to take in your current stage of life and in future stages.

I suggest you break this stage into three approximate phases:

  • Age 6 – 11
  • Age 12 – 17
  • Age 18 – 22

And then more than anything else I encourage you to go back in your mind to each of those phases in your life and really invest some time and effort in exploring what happened in each of them. Please don’t rush through this. Give yourself time to remember people and places and activities and hobbies and interests that you had.

If it helps, take out a sheet of paper and as memories come to you, please start to write them down. Allow these times in your life to come back to you. You don’t have to solve any problems or connect any dots. Just dig into your mind and recall what were the different relationships and experiences and topics that you were exploring in each phase.

Examples from My Life

 If it helps to get your wheels turning, here are examples from life.

From 6 – 11 years old, there were six kids in my house, plus my parents. We spent a lot of time together as an entire family. I am the fourth child. All of us would watch tv together several times a week. I walked up to my local school, which was six blocks away, every school day. I was very into reading biographies, mysteries, and the Chip Hilton series about a high school and college athlete. I would go into the Bookmobile, which was a service provided by our local library, every two weeks and check out 8 books, which was the maximum. I would read all 8, bring them back two weeks later, and then check out 8 more. We played soccer and street hockey on the parking lot by the church almost every day after school. Every night I would do some homework before reading my books. I played organized soccer, basketball, and baseball. Each sport had 8 games a year. And we practiced once or twice a week. I was Catholic growing up, and I was an altar boy at church when I turned about 10.

From 12 – 17 years old, I essentially built on those interests. In 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, my oldest brother, Kevin, guided me to read adult literature: The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, The Lord of the Rings, A Separate Peace, The Red Badge of Courage, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, and The Old Man and the Sea. I chose to focus on soccer and steadily became a little more serious with my school teams and my club teams each year. I found my strengths were more in math and science than in writing and the arts. And I had a variety of teachers and coaches who greatly impacted my life: Mr. Nolan, Miss Layton, Sr. Nancy, Mr. Becvar, Mr. Dunn, Mrs. McConaghy, and Mr. Azzarra.

From 18 – 22, I majored first in architecture until I found out I had no ability in drawing whatsoever, and then in mechanical engineering, where I found out I have no passion whatsoever for engineering work. I continued on with soccer where I was the third-string goalie in soccer all four years in college. I learned that I loved working with young people in coaching them in soccer, and I enjoyed volunteering in swimming with adults who had mental disabilities. I also enjoyed working for a local entrepreneur, Ted Drewes, who owned and operated two very, very successful frozen custard stands in St. Louis.

Connect the Dots to Your Current Stage

Now I encourage you to see if you can connect the dots from your memories in The Explorer Stage to whatever Life Stage you are in right now. Also, see if you can uncover a passion or interest or strength from The Explorer Stage that you could insert into your current stage. It may very well help you to become even more effective at this point in your life.

Connect the Dots to Your Future Stages

Finally, I encourage you to take what you’ve uncovered in The Explorer Stage of your life, and ask yourself how you can apply those earliest passions and strengths to a future stage in your life. Really visualize how something from ages 6 – 22 can be applied in any future stage in your life.


We never lose the impact of our childhood, but we sometimes ignore it because we get too busy or we forget how important it is to who we are today. I encourage you not to let that happen. Slow down. Invest real time in remembering your youth. Extract out your passions, talents, interests, areas of joy, and hobbies. And then really see how they are being applied today and how they can be applied today and in the future.

I just watched the film, The Fabelmans, for a second time. The whole film is about The Explorer Stage for Steven Spielberg. It was the trigger that got me thinking about how my youth continues to reverberate in my life today at 60. I still read, I still coach, I still love being a teacher, and I love spending time with my family. And now and in the future I see myself creating ways to help people on a volunteer basis by serving as a guide, facilitator, teacher, and coach on a variety of topics.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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