One day you think: Oh, here is the rest of my life. It’s finally arrived.
The map of how you got here may be in front of you, but what to do now? No map for that.
Still we do figure it out.
Not all of us do it well. At least, not every time.
I solved life after college graduation rather fine. But post-divorce invoked a shaky time that curled my toes and wreaked havoc on providing for my daughter in a fitting way. (My mom sent money.)
What followed was a long stretch of eight years as a single working mother who layered up a strong sense of self and confidence. I carried that forward.
The first year of my second marriage created an interesting juxtaposition. How much could (or would) I compromise but still be in charge of me and my life?
My eleven-year-old daughter and I decorated her bedroom with Marimekko sheets and matching wallpaper. But I kept a suitcase with a stash of cash for a quick get-away for us inside my new closet.
Symbolic of questioning marriage survival, yes, but also a sign of my wobbly sureness. ‘Could I somehow have misjudged this man who seemed so solid in promise-keeping and honesty?’ I hadn’t.
But it was an uncertain year.
A pre-planned midlife crisis resulted in professional choices to season my skills and buoy my finances to a higher level than I dreamed possible. But when the economy stumbled, so did I.
Time to reinvent? Oh please. I ran away.
Sailing away for six months was a grand and valuable adventure. I only came back because I ran out of money. And because my husband hadn’t signed up for a marriage where he pinpointed his wife’s whereabouts by latitude and longitude.
In my late fifties, I wandered too long in and out of ideas that hovered over the transition into a third life.
No one should have to do that.
The conclusion was that I care deeply that I do a good job in all endeavors – especially this one of living the last third of life. I made a map.
Slipping into new shoes, I feel steady and rock-solid on this path.
Just like other times.
I may not have known that the spots of figuring out what’s-next-for-my-life would be so prevalent, but I know it now.
Your story has different twists and turns.
And as much as each of us tries to swerve and miss the place of no map, we still end up here.
Over and over again.
Try Harder This Time.
Life isn’t meaningful just because you’ve moved through transitions a zillion times.
If you spend your twenties, thirties, forties and fifties wrangling yourself into proper positions then you’ve spent the better portion of your adult life striving for some sort of mastery at living.
Failing mastery, at least you’re proficient if you’ve managed several good outcomes along the way.
Post50 brings us to late adulthood and a reckoning with what we have achieved, not achieved and missed in life.
All with the enduring possibility for both repairing and reinventing the most important elements in our lives. It’s a last chance mentality for a reason.
Are you are too old and too unschooled to be good at another life endeavor?
Passing through middle age are you through with trying to get life how you want it?
Are you so worthless with every passing year you’d prefer to get on with the dying?
I didn’t think so.
According to a new poll we’re happier if we make plans for our Post50 life than those who don’t take such steps.
And if you’ve already chosen to retire, research suggests after two years, most people run out of activities that give them meaning, continuous engagement and support their overall wellbeing. (Welcoming them back to the place without a map.)
What constitutes ‘careful planning?’
How do you begin to craft the last third of your life?
Well, you could get cracking with current advice on bookshelves, blogs and from people who seem to know better and who think it’s helpful to fashion lists of platitudes for a late adulthood life.
They are everywhere – the lists and the people. I’m sick to death of them.
Phrases and sayings about what’s needed to make your best life are patently unhelpful despite the seemingly encouraging tones.
Here’s a fresh list from bestselling author Ken Blanchard and leading psychologist Morton Shaevitz:
• Be playful. Laugh and kid
• Be friendly. Smile and be happy
• Be joyful. Embrace the moment
• Be loving. Approach and welcome others
• Be spontaneous. Get out of your comfort zone
• Be enthusiastic. Give it your all
Their just released (02/02/2015) book, Refire, Don’t Retire. Make the Best of The Rest of Your Life, offers advice for infusing the second half of life with passion, energy and excitement.
The book has lots of lists like the one above.
I do believe it is best on the long road of life to focus on being in the world rather than doing; but, it’s lousy advice if you are trying to create a map for your third chapter.
People with the most focused long-term paths are the least likely to die young.
Looking at the participants in this study who were in their 70s, those that had not retired were looking at much longer lives than their golfing counterparts: “The continually productive men and women lived much longer than their laid-back comrades.” (Death By Golf: Why Retirement is a Bankrupt Industrial Age Idea by Chuck Blakeman, Inc. Magazine, 02/17/2015.)
Also, those who moved from job to job without a clear progression were less likely to have long lives than those who went deep and long in a focused direction with their business lives.
The term conation, one of “The 1,000 Most Obscure Words in the English Language”, is defined as “the area of one’s active mentality that has to do with desire, volition, and striving.”
Conating may rise from the shadowy depths as more aspire to productive longevity. Conate could be your new verb right along side “tweet,” “defriend” and “zorb.”
This month Inc. Magazine declares ‘conation’ the most important business word you’ve never heard and central to a long life.
We define conation as, “Committed Movement in a Purposeful Direction.”
Since there is arguably no better time in history to be old, this fierce intentionality gives clarity to every individual Post50.
Conate – “to know where you’re going, be committed and focused to get there.”
Welcome to a soon-to-be-famous, happy word. Conate, baby. Conate.
Fall in Love With Post50 Life (What Not To Do)
Herb and I mapped out our future marriage in front of George, a smart, competent counseling psychologist in Atlanta. It took three months. We began with admonitions – mild but earnest.
Me: I don’t cook. I don’t make beds. I don’t do your laundry. I’ll not turn over my paycheck. Do not parent my child.
Him: I don’t do lawns. I don’t fix things. I don’t do early. I’ll not turn over my paycheck. I don’t want to parent your child.
I am no marriage expert but this one soon comes upon a 34-year marker. So I do think there’s merit in crafting a life on being against something.
Here’s a dressing-down approach to poke a large hold in your brain, maybe tick some of you off so you’ll try harder to live your best last third of life.
Based on interviews, observations, research and experience, people who master the transition and live Post50 life well don’t spend time and energy on these things:
1. They Don’t Try to Shape A Statement of Life’s Purpose.
A lot of people talk about life purpose. They say it’s something you’ve got to find, something you have to figure out. An elusive, intimidating thing that if you don’t discover will cause your life to be forever devoid of meaning.
And alas, while you scurry to scaffold and scale your life into one sentence, be sure you unearth your passion.
Because, you know, until you discover your passion you’re not going anywhere.
Pretty terrifying. Pretty much baloney.
Here’s the truth: Personal mission statements are lame. I earned good money to help companies and teams figure one out. They are contrite, convoluted and bloated with words like “happy,” “make the world a better place,” “be the best” and “give back.”
Passion in real life ebbs and flows. I have a passion for writing stuff that matters. Some days when it’s more pain than passion, I feel like giving up and going for a bike ride. So I do.
Call it a purpose, mission, vision, mantra, position, promise, or passion – this unnecessary endeavor limits your potential and wastes your precious time. Skip it.
You already have a purpose, and it’s so much bigger than “saving the whales.”
Don’t get me wrong. Ending world hunger and making the world a better place are worthy activities.
But individuals who live their best lives engage not only in goals like these, but simultaneously mine relationships, absorb and act on curiosity, find and treasure beauty and acquire serenity.
They lead bigger lives than one statement could ever hold.
Your purpose is to express your fullest potential and live deliberately. Your purpose is to become who you are, express your gifts and use your time wisely. That’s it.
2. They Don’t Disregard Their Hungry Heart.
Even the most miserable of us has a hungry heart. Those who live best have high desire. What’s in your hungry heart? I don’t know. But you do.
If your soul has been asleep while you raised the kids and carved out a stellar career, you can wake it up.
Google attracts top talent by hiring individuals not only for business acumen but for “passion, character, curiosity and someone who is engaged in the world around them.” How do they determine an individual’s curiosity and engagement in the world around them?
Eric Schmidt, who served as CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, said he uses “the LAX test” (picking that airport for maximum discomfort, he explains): “You’re stuck at the LAX airport” with the candidate. “After six hours, are you still interested in talking to them? That’s a very tough test.”
Could you talk about yourself for six hours?
Imagine what you might learn? I bet hour five might hold something of what’s in your hungry heart.
If you allow yourself to listen to old longings and new yearnings you begin a map for the future.
There are things you have that no one else does. Channel that.
There are desires, hankerings and thirsts that are yours alone. Find them.
3. They Don’t Watch and Wonder. (They Do Things.)
Watch-and-wonder times are valuable. We’ve all benefited from being an apprentice to the mystery of life as it unfolds – observing, waiting, planning.
But Post50 lives contain less years ahead. Time spent as merely a witness to life, stagnate or in boredom, confused and without direction is time lost.
If I looked inside your life would I want to live it?
There’s much to learn answering this question. This chapter of life coming Post50 is a time to realize possibilities and the promise of renewal.
That means it’s time to test assumption and try things out not make a list of your strengths which you’ve already done a hundred times.
The vast majority of academic studies shows “virtually no relationship between age and job performance,” says Harvey Sterns, director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron. (Why Everything You Know About Aging is Probably Wrong, Wall Street Journal, 12/2014)
You can be successful in new work, continue upward in your current profession, write that novel or lead the organization where you are now a volunteer – no matter how old you are.
Individual Post50 who create fierce identities may begin with moments of watch-and-wonder, but they move to action sooner than later.
You can be one of them.
Or you can be one of many I meet who say,”I need to figure out what I want to do.”
Six months later when I run into them again? “I need to figure out what I want to do.”
It’s cringe worthy.
3. They Do Not Depend on Others.
As a middle school counselor I placed my hand on the shoulders of 11- year-old children in the hallways to let them know I was happy to see them in school.
These children took hold of their lives despite lack of money, caring or competent parents, no supervision, and little or no encouragement.
No one set expectations or consequences for them.
They got themselves to school on time, completed homework, washed their clothes, occasionally took a bath, ate supper in their rooms while mom and dad screamed, followed the rules and protected a place deep inside where a small “self” resided.
No one within their family unit cared about their lives. Few individuals offered guidance or support. They traveled each day alone.
Do not tell me that navigating your adult life gets any harder than that.
Men and women in their late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in far corners of the earth carve out lives of meaning without anyone at their sides – no one.
Adult aloneness in itself is belonging to life.
Waiting for husbands, wives, daughters, life partners or friends to join us in living the life we want creates a narrow symmetry that dangerously undermines life’s capacity.
Your life offers a promise that is made upon truth and built with a future that no other person has – this is your promise. The promise doesn’t always include someone by your side.
It takes courage to slip over the threshold of going it alone. Sometimes it’s not as easy as it looks. But people late in life do it every day.
They sit on buses that cross Chilean borders, hook casitas to cars and take off to National Parks and occupy park benches in plazas throughout the world where no one speaks English.
Individuals see, do, add new friends, cross cultural divides, learn and give back.
This is not to say they wouldn’t appreciate a companion. They would.
But a Post50 vibrant life may by necessity mean doing something alone.
5. They Don’t Base Decisions on Chronological Age.
When ask what age a person becomes old, respondents ages 50-64 said 72. The ’emerging adults’ ages 18-29 see it differently – by a dozen years.
They think the age of becoming old is 60.
When other people see you as old, that’s one issue. But what happens when you think you are old is far worse.
Older adults who believe negative stereotypes about aging can unwittingly undermine their own performance on memory tests.
No telling how we limit ourselves in other ways.
Research reveals we feel younger than our chronological age. But it’s not enough to feel younger, we must think younger.
How do we keep our thinking young?
Recently, I met an individual who’s extraordinarily successful with a tool all of us should employ.
In his first years of business, Chuck Tessier was very involved in the redevelopment of downtown Asheville, North Carolina, an area that experienced $200 million in reinvestment over a five-year period. Today he’s involved in a number of significant developments in the South East. Tessier Associates is dedicated to high quality urban developments and poised for a bright future
Tessier, 65, is a smart, gregarious and warm individual who makes sure he’s clear headed about his decision-making.
“I call it, Twilight Savings Time,” says Tessier.
Instead of using a his 65 year-old-perspective, Tessier turns time 10 years to consult with his 55-year-old self. “I view and assess all of my work and life decisions as if I were 55, not 65. It illuminates an entirely different thought process.”
Might your younger self offer a different point of view than your real-age self?
I’m pretty sure it would.
Twilight years come soon enough. Until then, try out Tessier’s ‘Twilight Savings Time’ as often as you can.
Late adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief.
Be swift. Make haste. Try harder this time.
All photos by B. Pagano. Tucson, Arizona, 02/2015