Lifetasks/Tasks of Life
Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
Using the image of a teacher who sets assignments (G., Aufgabe) for students, Adler observed that, by virtue of being born, each human is confronted by three unavoidable tasks. These are (a) the social task of living as one amongst others: “We have always to reckon with others” (p. 132), since we were born into a world of others, who are affected by our entering it and by everything we choose or refuse to do in it, and on whose good will and comradeship we depend for our very existence; (b) the work task: Our continuing to live “on this poor earth crust” (p. 155), made possible by the work of others, demands that we offer something in exchange; (c) the love task: Since each human being lives as a “member of one of the two sexes and not of the other” (p. 132), he or she must meet the challenge of sexual cooperation, on which depends the future of humanity1. [See Love/Couples/Marriage; Horizontal vs. Vertical Planes of Movement.]
Three problems are irrevocably set before each individual. These are: the attitude towards one’s fellow man, occupation, and love. All three are linked with one another by the first. They are not accidental, but inescapable problems (p. 297).
All the questions of life can be subordinated to the three major problems — the problems of communal life, of work, and of love (p. 131).
See Ferguson, E. D. (2007) for a discussion of Adlerian concepts applied to the workplace.
1In two loosely written sketches, apparently meant to be taken as preliminary, H. H. Mosak with R. Dreikurs (1973) proposed two further life tasks, namely: a fourth, "to get along with oneself” or "coping with oneself”; and a fifth, alluded to as a task that "may go under several names — the spiritual, the existential, the search for meaning, the metaphysical, the metapsychological, and the ontological." These proposals appear to rest on grave misunderstandings of Adler’s Individual Psychology. A self "getting along with" or "coping with" another self predicates a dualism and intrapsychic conflict that is incongruent with the unity and indivisibility of Adler’s construct of the unique style of living. As for claiming to identify a task that "may go under several names," none of which is defined, and each of which may carry implications foreign to any or all of the others, we can only observe that the incoherence of such a statement rules out any serious discussion of it. Finally, Adler's image of the three life tasks, and its analogy to life as a schoolteacher handing out assignments, includes his idea that each of the three problems confronting every human being is dependent upon cooperation for its solution. Neither of the tasks proposed by Mosak with Dreikurs can be seen in this way; instead, each is a private, internal matter, and therefore either task may serve as a personal preoccupation and exemption from correction by the common sense. [See Powers & Griffith, 1996.]
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 64).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Ferguson, E. D. (2007). Work relations and work effectiveness: Goal identification and social interest can be learned. Journal of Individual Psychology, 63(1), 110-117.
Artwork by Cara Fisher Wellvang