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The Last Third: Aging in Our Culture
I remember, when I was 25 years old, wondering what it must feel like to be 60 years old. I assumed that there would be a point in my life, probably around age 40, that a transformation would happen, and I would become an adult with all the maturity, insight, wisdom, and power, that I assumed older folks must feel. I thought there certainly must be a threshold that would be crossed that would change everything. I would understand life differently than I did at age 25. Things would make sense, and I would enter into that world of adulthood where I could take my place as a leader and decision maker with confidence and assurance. There would be this adult thing that happened to me, and I would feel like an adult!
Well, I did turn 40, and to those of you over the age of 40 reading this, you will know exactly what I mean when I say that I was dramatically surprised to learn that nothing dramatic happened. The assumption I had all those years that there would be a time when something would happen and I would be a completely different person when I became and adult just was not true. No bells and whistles; no lightening from the sky indicating to me that I had now arrived! I was the same person I had been becoming all along.
So, what does all that have to do with the last third of life in our culture? Considering the previous set of illusions I carried about adulthood, I am suggesting that we approach the last one third of life in a different manner. Rather than assuming that turning 60 will automatically set in motion a chain of events that puts us over the hill, I would like to suggest that we can be a little more proactive about our course in life.
There are all sorts of mythologies about senior years that I believe we don;t have to accept: over the hill, no meaningful role, economically unproductive, depersonalization, anger and withdrawal from life, rigidity of attitude, fear of risk, depression. We can be more determinative about the direction and emotion of our lives. In fact, just as I have learned that my first 40 years set the stage for my middle years, I believe that my current attitudes and directions in life are setting in motion the directions for the last third of my life. I have no intention of going over the hill,unless it involves a few more ski days than I have had in my middle years.
So, I have a few thoughts about preparing for that last third of life with integrity and hope:
Look for and develop opportunities to grow and develop potentials in your life. What are some of those things that you always wanted to do that you just never got around to?
Develop an intentional growth plan for your mind, body and spirit. Decide on the kind of future you want and create purposeful plans for implementation.
Set aside time now to communicate what really matters to you to the persons who really matter to you. Don't let the walls of distance or past hurts be barriers to relationship.
Discover and nurture your heart hungers for the aesthetic in your life. Where do you find and appreciate beauty in life?
Develop your support group. Where do you find your caring community?
Enrich your inner environment, your spiritual potential. If you are living in a barren place, you don't have much to give in relationship.
Find a cause that you can give yourself to. What passions and gifts do you have to offer the next generation?
Aging in our culture presents some difficulties to be sure. We do seem to be so focused on youthfulness in our advertising, our marketing, and our energies as a culture. And yet, all the statistics indicate that in the next 25 years, there will be more folks in the older years of life than in any previous decades. It is important that we provide the models for healthy and hopeful living to those who do look for mentors and role models for living.
Randy J. Simmonds, Ph.D. is the Clinical Director of the Samaritan Center of the Rockies, a non-profit counseling center in Edwards, CO. Dr. Simmonds can be contacted at 970-926-8558. For more information about the Samaritan Center go to http://www.samaritan-vail.org
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