Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Congruous Autonomy: The "Pull" of Personal Commitment to Extraordinary Involvement in a Pursuit

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Congruous Autonomy: The "Pull" of Personal Commitment to Extraordinary Involvement in a Pursuit

Article excerpt


Self-efficacy and perseverance of mid- to late-life adults committed to extraordinary involvement in challenging new pursuits was the subject of dissertation research conducted as a constructivist grounded theory. Eight participants over age 50 were purposefully selected for homogenous criteria. Findings disconfirmed perseverance as a contributor to commitment. The study advances a theoretical position of congruous autonomy as an enduring, self-efficacious belief in personal capability and compelling rightness and identity, inspiring commitment to extraordinary involvement in a pursuit (rich in lifetime patterns and trends), despite sacrifice and risk, to develop one's highest potential.


No American woman has ever completed a solo sail around the globe in the open ocean and south of the five great capes. I feel bold, ambitious, and anxious, all at the same time, for saying I want to be the first....To be out where there are no guarantees - that's part of the attraction. It's not going to be easy. But that's the whole point ("Karen," dissertation study participant).

"Karen," a strong, quiet 56-year-old woman, described her feelings just before embarking on a two-year voyage which distinguished her as the first American woman to circumnavigate the globe solo via all five major capes in the Southern Ocean. After age 50, Karen left a lucrative career to learn to sail on open water. Though many tried to dissuade her, Karen demonstrated the attribute I term congruous autonomy. Her autonomy, the hallmark of a self-directed learner (Cranton, 1996), in a pursuit congruous with her nature forged steadfast commitment. How does congruous autonomy occur? Is it simply self-efficacy, or is it more?

Many adults over age 50 lack the resilient self-efficacy beliefs and strategies to persevere with new challenging life pursuits of far less magnitude than sailing around the world. High self-efficacy, a resilient belief in one's capabilities, is unusual at any age (Bandura, 1997). Many people perceive that as age increases, ability decreases. Robert, a 68-year-old inventor, suggests that most older people hold the perception that, "When I get to such and such an age, then I can't do this any more." For an older population, tending to center on reappraisals and misappraisals of their capabilities (Bandura, 1986), the common perception that, as we age our capabilities decline, may be an additional obstacle to sustaining high self-efficacy beliefs (Stevens-Long & Commons, 1992). In order to address that problem, I conducted a grounded theory dissertation study of high self-efficacy and perseverance in adults committed to new challenging life pursuits after age 50 (Scott, 2002). The excerpts in this article are quoted from the study's participants.

As adult educators, this dismal perception of aging might cause us to consider whether lifelong learning is truly available. In the U.S. increasing numbers of people are retiring. Life expectancy is lengthening. More people are retaining good health into late life. Demographic estimates forecast one in four Americans will be 65 years old or older in the year 2030. Will age-related beliefs block or boost our opportunities to explore our potentials in late life?

Some adults over age 50, such as the participants of this study, sail around the world, become mystery writers, jazz composers, and scholars with a resilient sense of personal self-efficacy that allows them to survive life's impediments and optimistically continue their ventures. What beliefs and strategies might they employ? Bandura (1997) suggests that the scope of inquiry must be broadened to provide a deeper, richer understanding of how an older population maintains a sense of personal agency in pursuing challenges and exercises in ways that give meaning and purpose to their lives.

The dual purpose of this qualitative study was first, to understand the lived experiences of highly self-efficacious adults persevering in new challenging life pursuits; and second, to discover the central theory for the processes, beliefs, and strategies of high self-efficacy and perseverance in self-selected pursuits at a time when their cohorts are viewing their age as an obstacle to capabilities. …

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