The Third Age: Six Principles of Growth and Renewal after Forty

The Third Age: Six Principles of Growth and Renewal after Forty

The Third Age: Six Principles of Growth and Renewal after Forty

The Third Age: Six Principles of Growth and Renewal after Forty

Synopsis

Medical and technological breakthroughs have given most of us the equivalent of a thirty-year life bonus. As a result, we face a new period in the middle of our lives, what Europeans call the third age, which challenges us to change the way we live and transform the way we age. But rediscovering a youthful spirit and staying truly involved in life demands an attitudinal shift, a resistance to outdated stereotypes, and an effort to balance the seemingly paradoxical pulls on our time and energy. Practically instructive and powerfully inspiring, The Third Age expertly guides us toward and through the second half of our lives.

Excerpt

Thirty years ago, as a young professor, I spent a summer in East Africa directing a program for American and Canadian university students who had signed up to live and work with Africans on an agricultural project. It was a summer of wonderful surprises. One of these, I now suspect, was the germ for this book. As I learned a little Swahili and became better acquainted with our friendly hosts, I found myself misjudging the ages of some of the African men I met by about twenty years. I remember once playfully bantering with a man who I assumed was a university student; to my embarrassment, he turned out to be a forty-year-old administrator. He could have been my boss! Several of our coworkers, whom I thought to be about my age, were actually about fifty. One host who led us on a brisk three-mile hike into town admitted, as we tried to keep up with him, that he was sixty-five. The African male youthfulness in midlife was expressed in attitude and outlook as well as vital physical condition and activities.

When I returned to the United States, it seemed to me that compared with African males I had met, many of my forty- and fifty-year-old colleagues were aging prematurely. I did nothing with this suspicion but sleep on it. Only after I began the research on which this book is based many years later did I critically question our culture's assumptions about "normal" patterns of adult development and aging. If other people can retain youthfulness and experience growth for decades longer than we have assumed likely, then why should we follow conventional patterns? Why indeed? What we expect to be normal is only what we are accustomed to.

Most of us have limited, inappropriate assumptions about how the second half of life is likely to go for us. These may be characterized by words like degeneration and decline. Obviously, our African male hosts did not share our assumptions. Through my research on alternative models of midlife and aging, I have come to realize that our ideas about what is normal for us as we grow older can become impediments to seizing and even . . .

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