Questioning the notion of boomers as “old”

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Our friend Liz Kitchens of Maitland, Florida, the founder of Be Brave. Lose the Beige, has been thinking about something a lot of us baby boomers think about but the difference is, she might have come up with something useful to help us define our lives. She calls it, My Next To The Last Dog.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference on positive aging. As a Baby Boomer I have an acute interest in what aging looks like in the future. A key theme of the conference was positive and purposeful aging. I kept hearing “60 is the new 40″ (music to my ears since I turned 60 this year).

Marc Freedman

Marc Freedman

The speaker, Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org., called for a new paradigm on aging. He took issue with statements that say our later lives are just a pale imitation of our earlier lives. He argues against retirement communities where residents are surrounded exclusively by the aged rather than a variety of ages.

I have been struck by the fact that no one has yet managed to concoct a satisfactory label for our post-middle-age years. At the conference, I heard references to “The vintage years” (hated it); “Act 3 or Chapter 3” (not a fan); “the afternoon of our lives” (nah).

Liz Kitchens

Liz Kitchens

Freedman suggested the following: “I’m on my next to the last dog.” Any way we can approach our aging joints and our sense of mortality with humor has great appeal to me. Freedman also suggested a “Gap Year for Grownups.” As the mother of children who took more than a few gap years to find themselves between college and careers, I think a gap year to help us transition to later life and try out new roles is a splendid notion.

Now back to this concept of purposeful aging. Conference speakers emphasized the importance of identifying a purpose in our lives, how older people with a purpose and meaning are 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. So, how do we go about identifying our purpose for our next to the last dog years? Dr. Victor Strecher of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health suggests the following exercise:

Identify your core values. For example, which of the following values resonate the most with you: kindness, security, expertise, achievement, spirituality, creativity, vitality, tradition, self-control, responsibility, independence, or enjoyment? Now, write a sentence personalizing these values. For example, here’s mine for vitality: “My health, vigor, and energy are essential in helping me navigate my life.” Once you have written a specific statement for each value, write a paragraph weaving four or five concepts into a Statement of Purpose. It can serve as a guide, helping you make choices about how and where you want to spend your time, energy, and resources.

I would love for you to share your Statements of Purpose below in the comments section below. Happy envisioning.

Follow Liz online.

11 Comments

  1. You’ve nailed it! First, I totally agree with you that the way we define this period in our life…sucks, pardon the English. I’d go for our “Second Act” (rather than the third) and because we’ve accumulated so much experience, it’s MUCH BETTER than the first act!

    As to my personal Statement of Purpose, I would prefer to call it: MIssion Statement – yes, a mission because I feel so strongly about it.

    Now that I have time on my hands to pursue 100% all I’m really interested in (and don’t have to pick up the kids from school or rush to the office or go on duty travel abroad), I am truly becoming what I had always meant to be but never had the time before: a writer! Incidentally, I first thought I’d be a painter but after trying 5 years, I abondoned it. The art scene is not my scene. And in any case, it’s just a small portion of the whole. I wanted a bigger stage to fight the good fight! That’s what literature does: the weapon is the written word and it goes everywhere. I love that weapon!

    So what’s the fight all about? A better world! That’s what we should strive for, a better world for our children (we won’t live that long to see it come through – but they will have to live with the consequences of all our mistakes). So let’s try to correct those mistakes, redress injustice, clean up the planet! A tall order, I know, but one worth fighting for – which is what I try to do with my blog writing and my novels…

    Because writing novels is for entertainment, sure, but it’s also for stimulating readers to think about the future, about who we are and why we’re here on this earth…

    And all that thinking is something one does much better at 60!

    1. Claude — I think you captured a far greater sentiment than just a notion of aging and I agree. Thanks.

      “I wanted a bigger stage to fight the good fight! That’s what literature does: the weapon is the written word and it goes everywhere. I love that weapon!

      So what’s the fight all about? A better world! That’s what we should strive for, a better world for our children (we won’t live that long to see it come through – but they will have to live with the consequences of all our mistakes). So let’s try to correct those mistakes, redress injustice, clean up the planet! A tall order, I know, but one worth fighting for – which is what I try to do with my blog writing and my novels…”

  2. I’m less concerned about the label and more concerned about being happy and having a purpose in life. That’s why I do what I love, love my husband and family and I will never “retire.” How about you?

  3. If 60 is the new 40, as an almost Baby Boomer approaching my 70th, I have to say that 70 is the new 50. I feel every bit as well now as I did when I was chronologically 50 and will be taking part in the Belfast Marathon on 5 May to raise money for the Northern Ireland Community Foundation’s Women’s Fund. No, I won’t be running or walking the 26 miles (couldn’t have done that when i was 50 either) but will be sponsored to walk part of it with a 60 something friend. ” The Fund aims to help women overcome the barriers currently preventing their personal development, by providing small grants to foster and develop new opportunities in their own lives. “

  4. Love the “next to the last dog” label! More accurate for me is “the adopting senior cats years”–I volunteer at a shelter where I picked up an 8- and a 9-year-old in 2012. (And no, I’m not a crazy old cat lady–I have only the two, although that’s my husband’s mandate.)

    A discussion I had with a friend a couple of years ago seems relevant to this post. I said that I, and most of my boomer contemporaries, seemed younger than our parents when they were the age we are now. My friend replied, “That’s because they were taught to become old. We weren’t.” That seems right–we’re creating a new image for these years.

    1. I completely agree. Each generation is seeming younger than the previous one. My mom who is turning 80 in a few months is so much “younger” than her mother at 80. Same is true for me – I’m 56 and my husband is 59 and we’re younger than our parents at our age were. And I agree there is something about being taught and then taking that idea on that either ages you or not. My grandmother had a specific idea of what it was to be a grandmother and it didn’t include all that much fun. I’m now a grandmother and I honestly have no preconceived notions of what it is or should be. Makes it much easier to just be myself – and when people say – “oh, but you can’t be 56, you can’t a have a son who’s 30, you can’t be a grandmother,” I just smile and say, “but this is what 56 looks like.” Gloria Steinem said it and I’ve flagrantly stolen it.

  5. I agree that having a purpose is key to a satisfying retirement and the exercise provided by Dr. Stretcher is good but inadequate. Lacking is identifying or discovering what is meaningful and significant In a person’s life. Tying values together with an aspect of life that holds significance is the beginning of a person discovering a real passion for themselves.

    BOOMERangs Retirement Coaching uses a similar values activity and pairs it with others such as “Larger than Yourself” In this activity you remember in highly specific detail a time when you had the powerful sensation of being involved in something much greater than you. Once the details are written, extract from them why this situation so powerfully impacted you and describe it in writing. Do this with a few more situations. Like the values exercise, write a paragraph that weaves together the “why” statements and also integrates the value statements.

    Another exercise we use is called “Bullet Bio.” In it a person writes short phrases describing numerous significant periods in their life, i.e., “discovered I like boys/girls” or “bought first house.” Once written, the idea is to, again, extract a theme or identify a through-line that runs through the different eras.

    The purpose of these activities is to discover (or in many cases, RE-discover) a high-level purpose or vision for yourself. Once this is brought to full-consciousness, you can search for avenues that will bring the vision to life.

    BOOMERangs Retirement Coaching is with a person through-out this exploration holding them accountable for taking the actions they’ve determined are critical for moving forward.

    .

  6. My life partner, Ilona, and I believe tango movement crystallizes all of the plans and aspirations of our version of boomer life. Dance in unison communicates without intellectual attachments, increases intimacy, delivers anti-pain endorphins and presents opportunities to open new neural pathways.
    The power of tango applied as a means to grow personally recently exploded into my other creative side as well. Describing dance scenes in my first novel proved to be among its best elements.
    Tango travels easily across generations too. The dance has repeatedly demonstrated its depth in presenting opportunities in our couple life as well as in the mirror image unions of our daughters, resolving differences through the creation of beautiful movements, while applying acceptance of roles based on necessity not power.
    In every cloud there is truly a silver lining. Tango entered our lives 16 years ago because an injury required me to strengthen my back muscles. The trick was to find a way to build my muscles in such a way as to maintain couple intimacy while fighting with pain. Tango opens doors.

  7. As for terms, I like “Act 3.” It captures the idea that life comes in “dramatic” stages and Act 3 is when the story is approaching its climax and all the various subplots will come together. The mysteries will be revealed ending in varying degrees of emotional satisfaction and personal insights into life.

  8. Two years ago, when I was about to retire from full time teaching after 38 years in high school classrooms, I told my students, “I am not retiring. I am re-firing.” The last two years have been busy with new adventures, becoming a grandmother, traveling in the Middle East, and now writing for the Winter Park Voice, and I feel like I am just getting started. The re-firing just keeps getting better.

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