I hate to abandon Roger Federer after so long, but since he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, I will have to examine Erikson’s Stage 8 with Djokovic in mind. He is the one who actually made it to Stage 8. In the integration I have been pursuing—the seven rounds of the U. S. Open tournament against the eight stages of Erik Erikson’s developmental ladder—if you get to the finals, you are facing the challenges Erikson described as the eighth and final stage.
Here’s what that looks like.
Before I go into this for the last time, however, I want to remember how we started. I began by saying that there is a physical tournament and a spiritual tournament. We lose the physical tournament. We are, briefly, “mortal.” You can dodge car accidents and strokes and cancer and crazed former spouses but eventually, something does the job. I’m fine with that. I have no idea what it would be like not to see myself at some point on a trajectory headed toward death.
We’ve been following the “inner” or “spiritual” tournament. You can win that one. That means that in Stage 6, you overcome isolation and achieve an intimacy marked by the struggle. In Stage 7, you overcome stagnation and achieve a generativity marked by the struggle. In this stage, you overcome despair and achieve an integrity—a sense of wholeness, of rightness—marked by the struggle. The syntonic value does not careen, unmodified, into the excesses of presumption. The dystonic value does not plummet into the malignant excesses of disdain.
At this end of the analysis, the weaknesses of the tournament metaphor are clear. Professional tennis players—professional anything players—deal with the recently completed tournament by learning what they can and moving on. It stretches the metaphor to imagine the winner of the final game struggling to push despair away and in the process, opening himself to WISDOM. Maybe if it were the last match of his career. Or maybe these questions come up as you end your career in tennis and look back at how you have spent your life since you were 14 years old. Now you are old, in tennis terms, in your early 30s and you might wonder if your “career” in tennis actually meant anything to anyone—or even whether it meant anything to you. You hear about athletes who are more or less whole persons so long as their pro careers sustain them and go onto the street, sometimes pausing at a series of failed business attempts, on the way to the gutter. We can see, in those cases, that integrity has lost out to despair.
The final entanglement in thinking about Stage 8 is that as part of the process of asking whether your life meant anything, you must ask whether “life” can “mean” anything. Considered at any level below cocktail party chatter, that one rocks you back on your heels. You really do have to decide what it would mean to “mean something.” And then you would have to establish “a life” as a unit that could be assessed in that way. And then you would have to measure your own life according to whatever metric you decided had merit.
I like all those questions and I’d like to spend some time with each of them, but this brief post-tournament reflection is not the right time. Let me just use the last few paragraphs to point in a somewhat different direction than Erikson does. I think I would put TRUST in the final place, where Erikson puts WISDOM. There is no reason to think that the two are opposed in any fundamental way, but trust is fundamentally personal. It isn’t just a metaphor drawn from interpersonal relationships; it is personal. We trust “persons.” We don’t trust “fate” or “destiny” or “the cycle of life.”
At this very last question, I bump up against the limits of my self-imposed decision to operate at a secular level. I do think you can successfully deal with questions like “industry”—that’s like “industriousness,” remember—and identity and intimacy and even generativity, in a secular way. When you come to asking “did my life mean anything,” even I, with my secular intentions, run out of the available scaffolding.
So thank you Erik and Joan Erikson. Thank you Helen Kivnick. Thank you Novak Djokovic. It was a superb tournament and I will do my best, as a Roger Federer fan, to assert the integrity of the tournament and to fend off my own despair.
 I don’t like either of those terms, but they are good enough for now. I’ll be working a good deal more with Stage 8, since that’s where I am headed (as are you) and I’ll poke around more with them then. Presumption, for instance, is not “too much integrity.” Maybe “entitlement” is more what he is looking for there. And I am not at all sure that disdain is worse than despair—I’m not sure it is not simply a form of despair.