Planning for Retirement

Role Models by Patricia Cavanaugh

By November 17, 2009 May 25th, 2023 7 Comments

Embracing the Third Act: Creating Role Models for a New Generation

We all need role models to show us the way.  But do we have role models for this new generation entering into our 3rd Acts”? We are beginning to bring together all the themes and sub plots we want to keep in our lives.  Who will show us the way; who will be a model to guide us in weaving together what we cherish from our first and second acts with how we want to be in our third act? We all have different aspirations for our third act but most of us want to move towards completing our life in an authentic way.

We know people in our lives who have aged well.  But no generation before us has had the longevity boost of thirty years.  We are the first generation to enter this territory.  Perhaps Theodore Roszak is a model.  He continues to write inspiring words.  He has just delivered his newest book “The Making of an Elder Culture”.  It is another provocative, challenging work from the man that help to explain the 60’s generation to their elders in “The Making of a Counter Culture”.  He calls forth the idealism that many of us in the 60’s acted on.

Ted Roszak looks to Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Gray Panthers of Berkeley, who said “old people and women constitute America’s biggest untapped and undervalued human energy source.”  We don’t call ourselves old people now but Maggie was definitely on to something.  She has passed on, but even so, she challenges us to move forward in a new and more inclusive relational way.
For me, I think of Jimmy Carter as a role model.   Here is a man who held the reins of power of the mightiest country in the world and found a way to move beyond even this seductive 2nd act focus on external power and a sense of failure to a place of poetry and peace.  He continues to write and travel the world with a message that emanates not from doing but from a bursting forth of authentic being and a blending of the best of his gifts.

I believe that one of our tasks as the Generatarians (a term I am using to describe one side of the dialectic that Erik Erikson related to us in his stages of life i.e.: generativity vs. stagnation), is to create new role models for the generations to follow.

I think our model must include a conscious embrace of death.  We can demonstrate that the awareness of death can be an aid to clarification of focus and desire.

It should also include an exploration of the nature and value of being and presence; and that this state brings to our movement through life, a sense of grace and gratitude.

Studies are showing us that much of the brain activity that elders have is focused on the right side of the brain.  This is the area of the brain that relates to emotion and relationship.  So our new role model most also include a more right brain perspective.  A perspective where emotional connection with other humans moves to the forefront of our interests.  Leaving subjective “me first” focus in the background.  Quite a switch given that we are also known as the “Me” generation.

Our sense of compassion and collaboration as opposed to individualism and self-interest will be a part of the mix, as well as a reconfiguration of what it means to be truly masculine and feminine as our bodies transform their shape and hormones dip and shift.

As we move forward we will be creating maps for those who follow.  Let us join together as cartographers, mapping as much of the terrain as we can, using the insights of the heart and the wisdom of experience.


  • Ann Marie says:

    Yes-we need role models and we must be role models.
    Thank You Patricia for your wisdom.

    I’d love to see this publised and shared more widely.

  • Ruth says:

    I agree completely Patricia that “old people and women constitute America’s biggest untapped and undervalued human energy source.” Appreciate the work you are doing in inspiring us to explore and tap into it!

  • Judith says:

    Very nice piece that covers a lot of “territory”.

  • Bev Scott says:

    Ann Marie…I like your idea of both looking to role models and being role models. That is one way we can support each other. I find it is so important to be open to alternate ways of being at this stage in life…and looking to others as role models gives me ideas. One of the participants in The 3rd Act workshop has signed up for the Peace Corps and I find myself thinking maybe I would like to do that or offer some other kind of service in another country.

  • Tom Ucko says:

    Hi Patricia
    Lovely article in The 3rd Act newsletter. Speaking of “a conscious embrace of death”…I imagine you’re aware of the Year to Live groups, based on Stephen Levine’s book? In case your not here’s the link.

  • Patricia Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you for your comment and suggestion Tom. I think we can use “the end insight” as a way of helping to discern next steps. It does add a heightened sense of commitment to our 30 year bonus. What legacy do I want to leave..for my family, community and the world? These are questions I ask myself on a regular basis. I didn’t have this kind of awareness in my 2nd Act.

  • Patricia Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you Ruth
    Maggie Kuhn had it right. One of the reasons I love this work is that I feel the well spring of potential in the Genertarian group that is just waiting to be released. I believe we have an an opportunity once again to change the world as we did in the “60’s

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