Authoring Your Life: Developing an Internal Voice to Navigate Life’s Challenges (review)
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Authoring Your Life: Developing an Internal Voice to Navigate Life’s Challenges. Marcia B. Baxter Magolda. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2009, 377 pages, $29. 95 (hardcover)

For over 20 years, Marcia B. Baxter Magolda has been engaged in the study of adult development, focusing first on gender differences in the cognitive development of college students and later on the development of self-authorship in adulthood. Her longitudinal study consists of annual interviews with 35 participants beginning when they were first-year college students at Miami University and continuing until the age of 40. Baxter Magolda has documented the lives of these men and women in numerous books and journal articles (see Baxter Magolda, 1992, 2001, and Baxter Magolda & King, 2008, for book-length treatments of this study).

Authoring Your Life is the latest iteration of Baxter Magolda’s work on self-authorship. Geared for a popular rather than an academic audience, this book is designed to assist young adults in moving from dependence on external authorities to taking charge of their own life decisions. Secondly, the book serves as a guide to significant others in the lives of young adults who wish to help these individuals more effectively address the challenges that life brings.

Written directly to the intended audience, the introductory chapter provides an overview of Baxter Magolda’s theory of self-authorship as well as a rationale for the importance of developing an internal voice. Using the analogy of a roadmap, Baxter Magolda includes a table summarizing the phases and elements involved in the development of self-authorship, from reliance on external formulas to the crossroads (listening to the internal voice and cultivating the internal voice) and then on to self-authorship (trusting the internal voice, building an internal foundation, and securing internal commitments). For visual learners, Baxter Magolda provides an illustration of the self-authorship journey, which presents a person on a bicycle following a path through trees representing various steps in the model [End Page 248] to an ocean identified as self-transformation. A tandem bicycle with two riders appears on the map to represent a learning partnership, the term Baxter Magolda uses to describe individuals who provide “good company for the journey” (p. 11).

Extensively relying on quotes from participant interviews and using visual maps similar to the one presented in the introduction, the first part of the book introduces readers to the types of challenges individuals face during their young adult years and how self-authorship and learning partnerships enable individuals to address these life events. Chapter 1 focuses on challenges experienced as people establish themselves as adults, including career development, building and maintaining relationships, and ongoing questions about life direction. Baxter Magolda suggests that the key factor underlying all of these challenges is the need to establish one’s internal voice in light of the “the invisible force of external influence” (p. 21) from parents, teachers, friends, and societal expectations. Chapters 2 through 7 are each devoted to an extensive story of one of Baxter Magolda’s participants. In each chapter, Baxter Magolda reviews the participant’s journey to self-authorship, using the participant’s own words to illustrate the person’s developmental path.

The focus of the second half of Baxter Magolda’s book shifts to how readers can build self-authorship and assist others who are engaged in the process. In chapter 8, Baxter Magolda provides a list of experiences that prompted the development of self-authorship: (a) dissonance leading to reevaluation of one’s circumstances, (b) reflection on the causes of the discomfort one experiences, and (c) possessing internal or external support to reevaluate one’s situation. These challenges and supports are illustrated with examples from the life stories of Baxter Magolda’s participants. Chapter 9 is written for individuals who wish to help others handle life’s challenges more effectively. Baxter Magolda suggests three supports and three challenges to assist individuals in developing self-authorship and uses her participants’ experiences with learning partnerships to illustrate these points. She ends the chapter by providing specific advice for life partners, parents, peers, employers, educators, and professional partners. Acknowledging the homogeneity of her participants’ backgrounds, in chapter 10...