This article reviews the design and findings of an autoethnographic study on identity development over time. The researcher wanted to know how an adult can make meaning from and develop through experiences of mental illness, spiritual awareness, and death. The purpose of this autoethnographic bildungsroman was to explore how a male in the general population describes how life events have influenced his identity development over a period of 23 years, spanning three decades. The author, as the researcher-participant, asked two primary questions: (a) How does the individual describe his adult development in terms of life events or “individual and cultural episodes” (Smith & Taylor, 2010, p. 52) related to mental illness, spiritual awareness, and death over time? and (b) How does the individual describe his possible selves in constructing a new sense of identity? The author explored the spaces between academic analysis and his personal narrative experiences by alternating between third and first-person perspectives. Addressing the research questions in this manner contributed to the literature of adult and continuing education by providing a glimpse into stories of lived experiences over time in the light of adult development. Synopsizing these findings makes them more accessible to general readers interested in adult development over a life span, to those challenged by mental illness, and to spiritual pilgrims.


Autoethnography, Personal Narratives, Qualitative Inquiry, Adult Education, Adult Development, Life Events, Reflections

Author Bio(s)

David Culkin is an associate professor at the Army University in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. His research interests include narrative learning, identity development, and contemplative inquiry.

This text represents the author’s research and does not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army or Army University. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: culkster06@hotmail.com.


This article is a synopsis of the author’s dissertation and defense presentation (Culkin, 2016). Many thanks to family members who previewed the material for release.

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