If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.
– Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher
The world wants to put us in boxes by life stages. Marketers, social policy wonks, demographers, politicians. We get categorized, labeled and put on the shelf. We become a bland avatar and a statistic. While you and I may have things in common, we are each unique in a very special way.
Life stages have been invented and reinvented for centuries. Aristotle had thoughts on this as did Shakespeare. As demographics and economies shift and life expectancy increases, so too do the definitions of the phases of our lives. Marketing and social policy also have a lot to do with this.
Consider the Baby Boomers (another life stage category) with our health and longevity, and how this has made an impact on society. (Yes, I’m a boomer.) We continue to influence social policies, the medical and pharmaceutical world and even the beauty industry. Our buying power speaks loudly.
Or, take the category of middle age. Now, if I am “middle aged”, then I guess I’m living to at least 120. Not sure that’s in the cards, or if I want to!
However, if I really need to be categorized, I’d prefer to put myself in the Third Age which encompasses midlife and beyond.
Oh, what a juicy and spacious place this is!
What is the Third Age?
In his book, A Fresh Map of Life – The Emergence of the Third Age, a British historian, Peter Laslett, posited that life is comprised of four ages. (Another opinion, yes, I know.) These ages don’t correspond to our chronological age, but rather to our roles in life. In our first age, he says, we are dependent. We are still immature; we may be students. The second age is the time for independence, maturity, working, career building and children rearing. The third age is an era for personal achievement and fulfillment after retirement, and the fourth age is a final dependence, infirmity and death.
Laslett suggests that the Third Age can be the culmination of our life. While he also says that typically it is the time after retirement (and before the Fourth Age), I think it starts sooner than that. Or, perhaps, that it should start sooner. Or, really, that we should consider the journey leading up to retirement as part of the Third Age. At a minimum, there is overlap.
The Harvard University Press, in their description of his book, says something similar to what I’m thinking: The prospect of spending long years in reasonable health and scarcely impaired activity, far beyond the convenient landmark of retirement, has already become the norm—without anybody really noticing it, let alone appreciating the implications. In this highly original and perhaps controversial book, Peter Laslett urges us to plan ahead for personal enrichment—before retirement and before the children leave home—before we reach the Third Age.
That Third Age can span decades
It becomes a time of great possibility. It becomes our Creativity Age. We have the opportunity to reawaken. We can begin to focus more of our time on those areas that are personally important and meaningful, those things that feed our hearts instead of just our mouths. (Can you articulate what that is for you?) We can start a second career or become an entrepreneur. We can take all of our life experiences, our self-knowledge, all that has become most meaningful, and turn these decades into a time to blossom in new and deeper ways.
At a certain point in my life, I intuitively moved into preparing for my Third Age. I realized that I had expended a lot of energy adapting to a corporate life. It became necessary for me to unravel that thinking, to detox from that mindset and learn to open myself up to those things that would feed me on a soul level. I began to declare and explore how I wanted my life to look. (I will retire at 55 and do something with writing, I said out loud, without any idea of what that would look like.) What began instinctively (or maybe out of desperation) became a journey of awareness, curiosity, trusting, and discovery. It’s also been a time of trial and error, with each round strengthening skills and self-awareness and bringing me closer to who I am at my deepest level. Chipping away the old, revealing the new. It continues and, I hope, will continue for many more years.
I would never have gotten this far, however, if I had not begun the journey, if I hadn’t heeded the quiet voice inside me. That inner wisdom suggested that there might be a way to live differently, appreciate life in new ways. Without this I might have missed out on the feeling of joy I now experience each day. I would have been staring at walls instead of seeing possibilities.
My Third Age is evolving in new and exciting ways. What would it make feel the same for you?
Some people need a nudge, some a guide. Some just need a witness. What do you need as you navigate your Third Age?