What is Retirement?

“Character Revealed” by Patricia Cavanaugh

By June 9, 2010 6 Comments

One of the most important tasks as we age is to begin to shed the mantle of who we thought we were, who we were supposed to be or who others expected us to be. My thinking was stimulated by a recent interview with James Hillman by Salon.com His most recent book “The Force of Character” explores the importance of character as we grow old.

It is clear that our job now, is to yield to who we really are.  And who we are is revealed through a jumble of whims, longings and clear calls to action voiced not by our constructed personality but by our character, the structure from which everything moves. We find ourselves at last, on our good days, sinking back into a natural sense of self and resting there.  We are no longer running away from this place of acceptance of our core identity or resisting it in any way.  We simply rest there. From this position of authentic contact with our essential nature, we now begin to move.  We are not compelled to act by the requirements of the family or the job, we find ourselves instead moving like a bumble bee, as nature at this time of life intends for us, from flower to flower, pollinating with the perspective and wisdom of age and experience.

We push up and out of our old identities and reach toward a new and at the same time re-membered authentic self.  In our 3rd act workshops and coaching, we encourage this pushing up and reaching out movement.  We do it by asking you to reflect deeply about what calls to you and what no longer calls or has relevance or interest.  This is the internal maneuver that helps to identify your essential nature.

It is in the 3rd Act that we pull ourselves up and out of the old habits of “shoulds” and “oughts”. We are also pulled by others, ahead of us in their 3rd Act, into the full flowering of our third growth.  It is a growth that demands a more complex response to reality.  We are asked in this new developmental stage to move slowly and reflect deeply on the true nature or character of our self.

We are asking of ourselves at this time in life to take action from a place of character.  We do this by listening deeply to our inner voice.  Sometimes this voice is very quiet and speaks to us in a whisper.  Sometimes the voice comes in the form a synchronicity or even as a kind of a nudging.  For instance, as I did recently, you may find yourself pulled up the street you are walking on to press your nose to the window of a gym full of interesting athletic equipment. Suddenly you are transported into a desire to feel the kind of natural strength and agility you had as a kid.  Pay attention to these nudges.  This is your authentic self speaking to you. How will you respond?

Our character, Hillman states, is not a compilation of “habits, virtues, vices,” It is a rich, complex and multifaceted self that becomes increasingly tolerant and expansive with an ability to complete the developmental challenge of interceding for the younger generations with wisdom and love and moreover to bless them in their endeavors to grow. When we truly take our place as elders with a force of character, we set a powerful example and allow the natural movement of generational energy to flow to those who follow.  This is our gift.


  • Karen Gleason says:

    Patricia, I have printed out your blog on character because I absolutely love it! Your writing is so profound. A new idea that I embrace from this writing is that power from character that increases as we age is a source of blessing to our children and grandchildren. I love that! Karen

  • susan pierpoint says:

    This is amazing and beautiful. You’ve put into words the very things I’m looking for in this chapter of my life. Susan

  • Beautifully written article that helps me relate to my own experience at age 62. As I learn to accept what is, while simultaneously paying attention to all the synchronisities around me, I am directed to my next steps in a life that expands more and more every day. Life in my 3rd chapter is quite amazing and wonderful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Patricia.

  • Debbie Swinarski says:

    This really resonated with me. My present reality is somewhat challenged and I have been really looking inward for guidance. This really validated what I have been thinking. Thank you!

  • The way to success is by surrender; passivity, not activity.
    Relaxation, not intentness, should be now the rule.
    Give up the feeling of responsibility, let go your hold,
    Resign the care of your destiny to higher powers,
    Be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all…

    Seems like William James would jump in with you and Hillman:
    I’m totally with you in spirit, if not practice!!!

    It is but the giving your private convulsive self a rest,
    And finding that a greater Self is there.
    The results, slow or sudden, or great or small,
    Of the combined optimism and expectancy,
    The regenerative phenomena which ensue on the abandonment of effort,Remain firm facts of Human Nature
    —–William James

  • Patricia Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment and the wonderful William James quote. I believe you are referring to the beginning of my article when I write about “yield to who we really are.” when you speak of surrender. It is the surrender to the authentic Self that brings about the regenerative movement that James is referring to. It is this movement that we seek to foster in our 3rd Act workshops and coaching.

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