On my 35th birthday, my younger brother took me wind surfing for the first time. Determined to prove that I was not old (or at least, still young), I spent all afternoon trying to stay upright for more than a minute. Since the sail filled with water every time I capsized, it was incredibly hard to pull it up out of the water. That evening, I could barely walk, sit or stand up without assistance. It took two years for my back to heal. That was the first time it dawned on me that I am not immune to aging.
Fast forward to last month, when I attended a terrific two-day workshop that focused on how people at various stages of Adult Development view and deal with aging. The information presented was applicable both to clients that I work with and to me personally. We identified key themes that Baby Boomers face as they age, and discussed tools and approaches for addressing those themes in coaching. The workshop was designed to help us identify the major tensions related to aging, especially for those in the “Third Chapter” of life (loosely defined as between mid-50 up to even age 75 or beyond). To prepare for the workshop, each participant interviewed someone in the Third Chapter who was at least ten years older. As you might expect, interviewees expressed some fears relating to loss of independence; who will take care of them when they are no longer able; decrease in physical abilities; decline in mental acuity; financial concerns; and worry over being sidelined or irrelevant.
However, I noticed themes that reflected the many positive elements of aging. There was a determination and vibrancy on the part of the interviewees that was inspiring. Their advice (which most appeared to be modeling) was to stay connected with others; take initiative in keeping active and engaged; perform some type of service or contribution to others; live in gratitude; get out in nature whenever possible; be open to both giving and receiving; and maintain practices to keep both mind and body healthy.
Learning was another theme. Those in the Third Chapter who were engaged in some form of learning, ranging from new dance moves to intellectual pursuits, were the happiest. As we age, being creative in how we adapt to our changing bodies, minds and roles is important. Healthy acceptance of whatever is the “new normal” is essential, which entails not comparing ourselves to who we were, but rather appreciating and accepting who and where we are at any point along the aging continuum.
There are many gifts of the Third Chapter in life. There is the gift of better health and more energy in the years that evolution and medical advances have given us. The Third Chapter gives us more opportunities to reflect and make sense of our life. It can be a time of spiritual awakening and deepening. Perspective, wisdom and the ability to recreate a new story for how we will live are also gifts of the Third Chapter.
Regardless of your age, none of us can stop the clock. Taking the time to step back and take stock of where we are in our personal development is something we can do. How we see ourselves, our relationships, our work and our world can greatly impact our ability to design a life that is rich and rewarding, for decades to come. If I can support you in this exploration, please ask. May your Christmas season be filled with peace and joy. I wish you time with all those you love as you close out 2014.
Sharon Keys Seal