Part II: How can we experience fulfillment in the third age?
I believe that our biggest challenge in the third age is to tap our creative potential and set a new direction – to change course. After more than 50 years of living, we have built up a reservoir of experience, knowledge, insight, and skills that form the basis for creativity and wisdom. I discovered from the people I’ve interviewed over time, that they have been experiencing the R words by applying what I call the six paradoxical principles of second growth. The first principle is mindful reflection and risk taking. All of these people have been asking probing questions about themselves, where they want to go next in their lives, and what really matters. But after turning within, they take risks of doing something different to realize a dream. The second principle is realistic optimism. These two principles are applied to four areas in our lives: a third age identity, meaningful work and play, expanding freedom and intimate relationships, and greater caring – for others, for self, for community, and for the future. We tap our creativity to experience fulfillment by applying these principles to shape our own distinctive life design after 50. That is, we nurture our growth with third age life planning.
Third age life planning is particularly important for people thinking about what retirement might mean to them personally. Like many Baby Boomers, all of the people in our study have rejected the conventional model of retirement, which has meant not working. With a 30-year life bonus, conventional retirement is inappropriate. In my last book, written with Dr. Fay Bower, we developed practical applications to help third age nurses redesign their lives and their work to build new career strategies.
A major focus of third age life planning is on developing a new personal identity for the third age. Instead of relying upon roles and external achievements, people in our study have been asking: who do I want to become next? As a surgeon expressed it: I have been trying to be the best doctor I can be. I still want that – but now I’m asking: how can I become a whole person? This task also calls for redefining success. As a woman lawyer put it: I’m on a quest – how can I make a contribution? What legacy can I leave? Many have seen their new identities focusing on a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. As a former business leader put it: I now see that my purpose is to develop my potential, to become the person I can be, and to share. People like these individuals have been developing a fuller, richer sense of self than they had in their second age, and by doing so have been experiencing a greater sense of fulfillment than they had previously known.
The third principle, building a new sense of identity, is primarily about becoming. But it also involves doing. Contrary to the conventional view of retirement, these people have been redesigning their work to fit a growing sense of self. They may have left jobs, but they are still committed to productive, meaningful endeavors. We call these third age careers, which are quite differently shaped from careers in our second age. Whether it’s radically different from our second age career or a redesign of the work we have been doing for years, most Baby Boomers will choose to keep growing by working in new ways. As Marc Friedman has suggested, Boomers will redefine retirement by finding work that matters. The people in my last two books have often redefined retirement as a graduation, which means a commencement to something new and different – and that includes new ways to work.
We found the term life portfolio to be a graphic way to describe the process we have seen in these creative people. As artists build a portfolio by including a variety of their art forms and styles, people engaged in third age life planning have integrated their values, interests, commitments, and activities into their personal lives. We have called this a third age life portfolio. The major components include their redefined work and play, passions and new adventures, personal relationships, new interests and activities, civic engagement, and personal development, including learning, health care, and spirituality.
Most studies of positive aging have been focusing on the last decades of life. My research, however, has focused on the third quarter in the life course, the third age. Those of us engaged in third age life planning have been discovering substantially different options opening up after 50. Because third age planning calls for a new set of life skills, most of us need some help from trained personal coaches. If we learn take charge of the direction of our lives in the third age, we shall sustain second growth and experience fulfillment, and lay a solid foundation for unprecedented positive aging in the fourth age.
Fay Bower and William Sadler. WHY RETIRE? CAREER STRATEGIES FOR THIRD
AGE NURSES. (Indianapolis: Sigma Theta Tau International, 2009)
Gene Cohen. THE MATURE MIND. (New York: Basic Books, 2005)
Marc Freedman. ENCORE: FINDING WORK THAT MATTERS IN THE SECOND HALF OF LIFE. (New York: Public Affairs, 2007)
William A. Sadler. THE THIRD AGE: SIX PRINCIPLES OF GROWTH AND RENEWAL AFTER 40. (Cambridge: Perseus Books, 2000)
William A. Sadler and James H. Krefft. CHANGING COURSE: NAVIGATING LIFE AFTER 50. (Centennial, CO: The Center for Third Age Leadership Press, 2008.)
The Center for Third Age Leadership www.thethirdagecenter.com