Longer lifespans have produced the third age

The emergence of an extended middle life, the “third age” if you like, can be compared to adolescence. One hundred years ago it didn’t exist. There were no teenagers. You were a child and then you were an adult.

Economic, political, educational and social factors created the teenager.

Now, longer lifespans have created the third-ager. The average lifespan of Canadians has increased by more than 30 years since the early 1900s.

British academic Peter Laslett, whose own life spanned the 20th century as he studied social history, politics and aging, was one of the first to recognize this gift and named it the third age.

The first age is from birth to independence from parents, the second age is the work and childbearing years and the fourth age is the final years.

Acknowledging that there have always been some people who were healthy and active into their 70s, 80s and beyond, Laslett postulated that since this longevity is now so common, this pattern must be seen as the norm rather than the exception.

In their book, Changing Course Navigating Life after 50, authors William Sadler and James Krefft stress the importance of attitude and encourage readers to watch their language. Instead of retiring “from” something, think of retiring “to” something.

Both university lecturers and researchers have focused on these years and now consult with companies and health-care organizations on how to enrich and take advantage of this newer modern societal element.

A retiring farmer might say, “my wife and I are retiring to our new careers as part-time gold prospectors in the Yukon. We bought a little piece of land there and that will be our base. We’re starting out panning, but you know, we’re thinking sluice box, maybe next year. She’s starting ground school in September so next spring we’ll be flying out to our claim. Would love to chat but I’m on my way to price out a little Cessna two-seater.”

Some third age advocates speak of the end of their second age career as their “graduation,” complete with a ceremony to launch them into their new lives.

Recent research has an important message: if you reframe your life perspective, you can look forward to having a long satisfying life — if you do it right.

Doing it right calls for an attitudinal shift, careful life planning, some good fortune, wise choices and taking control of your life well before you reach old age, say the researchers.

Sadler, with the Holy Name University in Oakland, California, said many people with active lives and distinctive roles in society “find they are exploring their third age in a way that often seeks renewal, rather than a path to wind down their lives.”

The Denver, Colorado-based Krefft consults with Fortune 500 companies on human resources issues related to workforce renewal and often implementing large-scale change projects.

Krefft and Sadler suggest five major tasks for third agers approaching retirement:

Although third age planning is multidirectional and paradoxical in nature, doing your homework will require old-fashioned project planning, timelines, detailed financial planning, deadlines and asset management. Now is the time to ask the important questions such as, what factors are most important about where I live?

First recognize the array of negative images such as those in books, songs, movies, television, experiences, social and religious beliefs and birthday cards. Choose one negative image you’d like to let go, but rather than push it away, move yourself toward a positive image with which to replace it. Don’t resist what you don’t want; go toward what you do want. One by one you can walk away from belittling stereotypes of aging and walk toward positive images.

The first age is about school and focuses on preparation, while the second age is your career and focuses on achievement. The third age strives for fulfillment and the fourth age attains completion.

Most of us see the world in terms of black and white, either/or. For this task the authors encourage readers to be open to both/and; in other words, shades of grey.

“Most people over 50 need an outside force to wake them up, an event to knock them off course to provoke discoveries of the richness within them, the possibilities in front of them.”

A coach or mentor can be helpful to create the environment you need to sustain second growth after 50. Maybe there’s a second career that needs a nudge, an urge to write or paint, become a beekeeper or a preacher — any of those dreams that you put on hold because you had to make a living. A mentor or coach could help you see what’s important now and what you want to do with your third age.

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