Archive for April, 2016

In preparing for the Third Act, an easy default position is to fill our heads with facts, expose myths and do whatever it takes to reassure our minds that everything will be just fine. Of course this approach neglects what my heart may be saying about this journey.

In life you can choose many roads, those frequently traveled and those less so. The journey into and through the Third Act of life, undoubtedly needs to be a healthy balance between understanding and feeling, a balance between head and heart. I say this as in my own experience, no matter how much ‘self-discovery’ I engage in, no matter how much I reassure myself that I still have a great deal to offer the world and others, I am still experiencing the myriad of feelings that go with simply growing older.

I have always been a very purposeful and goal-oriented individual. This has served me well, whether I was working a physiotherapist, health care manager or educator. Goals have been the back bone of my life. I suspect I am not alone.

Today, I still love the idea of purpose. I find myself more curious about how that purpose might manifest and indeed, I feel less inclined to be quite as goal obsessed, in fact, I find myself being intentional instead. Something you might also consider.

One of the perks of the Third Act is less urgency. You have the opportunity to explore and discover, to be curious about what’s next and how this might manifest. It is healthy to have a sense of what is important to you and what lights you up – that important sense of purpose AND rather than launching into a plan, why not relax, breath and wonder what this might look like.

Just for clarity, intention, by my definition, means opening up possibility. Rather than specific goals, attached to specific outcomes and time frames, I recommend simply “attracting all that is in your highest good” or “attracting what serves your purpose”. Then exercise your curiosity and pay attention to what begins to show up.

And then there is the whole issue of choice. While I am not fully ‘retired’, I have chosen to work differently. Three words keep coming up: Freedom, Flexibility and Fun. You would think that these would be natural and easy to adapt to. Right! Not so easy, especially for those goal-oriented, list-making, scheduled individuals like myself. So I am sliding into this choice, gradually. It’s all about choice I remind myself.


Spreading Your Wings

Spreading Your Wings

One of my Third Act choices has been a return to painting. In my late teens and twenties, I studied art and various mediums, only to leave it behind for three decades. I can’t explain why that happened. Life I suppose. Then four years ago, two of my coaching clients opened a new studio and the next thing I knew I was taking one of their courses – a happy accident (or perhaps a significant SIGN!).

As I write this I am preparing for my fist Art Exhibit (yes, this was designed to give me a goal!). Painting, like life, is a process. The feeling of paint on a brush and then the movement across the canvas, how a slight flick of the wrist can leave an image that is magical. Testing myself in both abstract and realistic forms and with each step learning more about the important triad of brush, paint and canvas.

And isn’t that what you are doing in the Third Act, painting a new life, body mind and spirit. There will be times when the paint goes on easily and the image simply grows on the canvas just as there will be times when the paint gets muddy and you have to start again. The important thing to remember is that you have the freedom to choose what you will paint. You can exercise flexibility in how you approach your creation and most importantly in you can have fun because in the end, the choices you are making are for YOU!

With this ramble today, and it is that, I simply encourage you to engage your head and your heart for your Third Act journey. As I am so often reminded, I do not want to approach the end of life with regrets, nor I suspect do you. Listen to your heart and begin to explore what is truly meaningful to YOU. Set an intention and explore the possibilities regarding which path might lead you to where you want to land. Enjoy the journey – enjoy your freedom to choose and spread your wings.

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We have all fallen prey to the ageist beliefs that pervade society and show up in everyday conversations. Likewise, as you approach retirement and your Third Act, you will be wondering what is in store for me. Speaking for myself, I truly dislike the word “retire” as it had always felt like the equivalent of disengaged, coach potato, slowing down, ‘disappearing’ from life. My preference would be to re-tire, put on new treads, or re-fire, examine the possibilities and ignite my inner fire.

I am in a fortunate position though. I re-tired from health care when I was only 47 and began a new career, forming my own business and engaging in corporate coaching and consulting. Here I am almost 20 years later, still engaged, and changing gears. I get to re-invent myself and I have the experience to do it. This is not so for everyone. Despite this I still hold the same fears about what’s next, will I still be vital and active, will my brain and my body hold up, will what I do and who I be matter, and more.

To that end, I began to explore and examine some of the myths concerning me in terms of the Third Act. Here are a few excerpted from my search.

Your Destiny is Out of Your Control According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, Your Third Act offers you more control over your destiny than you might believe. As you enter the Third Act, your choices actually increase rather than diminish. If you have chosen to retire, even more so. Your choices include how you spend your time, how you engage your personal strengths and accrued wisdom, how you choose to live your life on a daily basis. Remembering that you have control, it is then your choice to take certain steps to define the Third Act you wish to have.

You will Lose Your Tribe and Be Lonely There is no doubt that when you leave the J.O.B. (Justifiable Occupation or Business) and opt for retirement, that a significant loss is your tribe – your work colleagues. The interesting thing is that your social intelligence, your ability to meet and get along with others, grows as you get older. Dr. Margaret Gatz of USC reports that “you get better at sizing people up, at understanding how relationships work and at not getting into an argument”. In other words, you get to choose who you hang with and you no longer have to get along with everyone simply because you work with them. Yeah! Remember, socializing is in important choices in terms of supporting a healthy brain. You are wired to connect.

You will Stop Learning and Growing You can’t teach an old dog new tricks! NO! Studies on neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change its structure as the result of major trauma or brain injury, has helped science to understand that the brain is constantly changing and responding to experience. From a Positive Psychology point of view, you can employ self-directed neuroplasticity, using this to nurture new habits, manage your inner self-talk, develop self-compassion, and so on. Meditation and mindfulness, dedicating quiet time to allow your brain to shift and re-wire is supported by studies done with Buddhist monks and other meditators. It is an exciting new frontier which those of us in the Third Act can employ. Your brain has limitless capacity to learn and re-wire.

Your Physical Abilities will Decline Not true. Just as with the previous decades you get to choose. The adage, use it or lose it applies just as it always has. Muscle strength and tone can be maintained and even grown, depending on the activities in which you engage. And yes, there are all those warnings about ‘arthritis’ setting in and osteoporosis, and while these are risk factors, many Third Acters will never develop these issues. Invest in your body and it will invest in you.

You won’t BE Happy Research doesn’t support this, in fact, studies suggest that once you get beyond the 40’s it is uphill. Most Third Acters report feeling more contentment and opportunity because of their new found freedom. The Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization found that people are “at their happiest at retirement age.” Will this continue? That depends on the decisions you make regarding your Third Act.

You’ll Be Stuck with Bad Habits

Changing habits at any age is a matter of personal choice. The reality of aging is that you have more time to dedicate to your health, should this be a habit you wish to cultivate. From a Positive Psychology Perspective, developing new habits is a matter of understanding your motivation or the reward that you seek, identifying specific cues that you can associate habit formation with, and then supporting the habit you wish to develop. Be forewarned, old habits don’t die, they are replaced with new and better ones.

You’ll Stop having Sex

Here’s the good news for Third Acters, if you have had a healthy sex life before the Third Act, there is no reason for this to abruptly end. In fact, recent studies of those well over 60 suggest that we want to experience and enjoy sex. A national survey of 75-85 year olds reported the ¾ of male and ½ of female respondents reported that they were sexually active. Okay, as women, we have some work to do!

You’ll Feel Old When I was a physiotherapist working in Long Term Care, and during the completion of my Certificate in Gerontology, I conducted a survey with 40 of my most senior residents. I was curious how old they felt, not what they saw in the mirror, but what they felt inside. I was surprised to learn that most of them told me they ‘felt’ about 35. My data is supported by a 2009 PEW Research Study which found that “the older people are, the younger they feel”. The researchers observed that the gap between chronological age and “age felt” grew wider as people grew older. It supports our commonly held belief that you are as old as you feel!

Take time to examine your beliefs in regard to aging and retirement. Ask yourself if these are perfect for you. If they aren’t re-write them. Always remember, you get to choose!

Reference: 10 Misconceptions About Aging, Huffington Post

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How do we change or influence the ageist views of society, especially our youth? This past weekend I viewed a video on Facebook created by AARP (American Assoc. of Retired People) in which millennials were interviewed. When asked what age defined old the majority responded late 4o’s or 50’s. The interviewers went on to ask the subjects to perform certain tasks the way they thought an older person would. The results were interesting. Ah yes, perception! Then they young’un’s were introduced to some seniors, who for the most part outperformed them on certain tasks as they were invited to teach one another. The change in perception was amazing and when re-interviewed about their attitudes and thoughts about aging, it was evident the seniors had an impact.

I was left with a personal ‘WOW!’; is that what they really think. Have young people become so distanced from elders, their parents and grandparents, that they really view us as ‘incapacitated’? We have some work to do!

And, what are we as ‘Third Acters’ believing. Have we bought into the same ageist philosophy which suggests that retirement is a near death experience?

Through the years I have coached many folks who are retired and my sense is that they have lost their way. They retire with the belief that golfing will occupy their time; or perhaps volunteering, or reading, sewing, knitting, woodwork…..the list goes on. They grow disenchanted because they become bored or they realize that the activities which they are pursuing are not engaging. They did not understand, or they forgot, that the Third Act is the opportunity for a New Beginning and that the new beginning requires some thought and reflection and definition.

In his book Transitions, William Bridges examined the human side of change. In his model, change or transitions evoke three stages: Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings. The model is an excellent beginning to approaching the Third Act, specifically when you are leaving a job behind. Endings is that opportunity to assess, and if you will, mourn, the loss. When you step away from a job or profession, you shift your identity; you lose your tribe, those whom you have worked with; you give up your routines and habits. While you may be looking forward to all of these things, many people approach the Third Act with little or no consideration regarding what it will mean everyday. Many have never considered or planned for the empty hours.

While this sounds negative, perhaps a little daunting, the upside is the opportunity for New Beginnings, the re-invention of self. My experience with coaching clients has been that they forget that they have choice on their side and that there are many things they do not forfeit by retiring: the essence of who you are, your strengths, your values, your accrued wisdom and experience and so much more. These are the important building blocks for what’s next.

The there is the magical time between these two stages – the Neutral Zone. This is the fallow field, the time to release the past, reflect, dream, consider and play with possibility. It is the time to dabble and experiment, to question and to research. Clearly it involves more being than doing. And this is the time where flourishing begins to be defined and where the work begins in  defining the New Beginning.

I have had my own journey with transitions through the years, first when I left health care almost 20 years ago to begin roadSIGNS, and then most recently as I begin to consider my plans for My THIRD ACT. The journey I am developing for Third Acters is the one I am experiencing and supported by my previous work and Positive Psychology. These are exciting times. For those of you sharing the journey with me – hop on board. The best is yet to come.

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My absence from the roadSIGNS Coach blog duly noted, I am now here to say that I am officially back. This last year has been an informative one:

  • I turned 65, that magical age where we are told that retirement is an option
  • I experienced my first ‘mid-life’ crisis – it seems that I did not think turning 65 would mean anything and it did!
  • I enjoyed one of the busiest years on record with our business and subsequently decided that I no longer needed or wanted to work with that same level of intensity
  • I completed my Certificate in Positive Psychology, an intense program offered through the winter
  • and I was introduced to the concept of the Third Act, the final decades of life beginning at age 60.

It is this business of the Third Act that has really captured my attention. In her amazing TedTalk on the topic in December 2011, Jane Fonda stated that we need a new metaphor for aging in our society, one which considers aging as a staircase — the upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness and authenticity. Age not at all as pathology; age as potential.

In a society with such a strong youth orientation, it is easy for those of us approaching or beyond 60 to wonder what belongs to us. And yet when I look inward, when I consider my future, I am aware that I want to do so with gusto, perhaps even a bit of bravado. I am struck by how much desire I have to learn, develop and pursue. I am hungry for meaning and a desire to continue to be of service and I am convinced that I am not alone.

As a generation, those of us 60 years plus, are physiologically younger than any generation before us. We have the potential to live 3-4 more decades or more. While we may see some decline in our health, this decline does not have to apply to our spirit. We are in charge of that just as we are in charge of our curiosity, our passion, our attitudes and beliefs. As Fonda suggests:

Entropy means that everything in the world, everything, is in a state of decline and decay, the arch. 
There’s only one exception to this universal law, and that is the human spirit, 
which can continue to evolve upwards — the staircase — bringing us into wholeness, authenticity and wisdom.

Perhaps the Third Act is really our time, a time to FLOURISH, a time to expand on those things that escaped us in our youth, a time to exercise our curiosity and be active learners, a time to finish what was left undone.

I invite you to join me in this conversation as I pursue Flourishing in the Third Act.

Using the principles of Positive Psychology,  I intend to carve out a course for us to follow, one which will allow us to become re-acquainted with the many aspects of who we are and who we wish to become, one which will help to find our way into this new territory called the Third Act.

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