Research about our phase of life increasingly views the 60s and 70s as entering an entirely new stage of life, much like adolescence to adulthood is a stage transition. This certainly contrasts with the view of these years being the end of our societal influence and participation because we have reached the final step of the 20th century “learn, earn, retire” view of life.
But what does this shift to a stage transition perspective really mean for our understanding of this phase of life?
A century ago, by your 70s – if you were still alive – you probably would be experiencing or expecting decline. After all, the life expectancy for a woman in the US was around 55 years. So, being 60 and beyond was a bit of a waiting game. Not so now!
In fact, I just read an article urging universities to expand life-long learning options; they defined the end of midlife at 75 years! That is quite a change from our society’s focus on decline in our 60s or even earlier.
We live in a new age that focuses on health span as much as life span. Never before has a generation in our phase of life been called on to maintain vitality and relevance. Yet this phase of life is not a continuation of who we were in our 40s and 50s.
We are carving a new niche in our culture for older citizens. We are driven by internal motivations, rather than the recognition and rewards of earlier life phases. How do we do this?
The three stages of all human transitions are well known and studied – detach from the past, the “liminal” time, and then new beginnings (Bridges & Bridges, 2019). The idea is to move through these stages with thoughtfulness.
First, if we leave our professional lives, some of us detach even before the final day of work – “Hurray, I’m out of here!” Some of us, like I tried, ease out by working part-time, often because no other option is obvious. That works if you love what you do.
The point is to note if you have detached. Who are you if you let go of who you were and blossom into who you are meant to be now? When you detach, then what?
This is the “liminal” stage. It is a time of being ‘in-between’ what was and what is to be. It is a time of not knowing, exploration, sensing possibilities and seeing opportunity – all things that women can be very good at. If you don’t allow this process to happen, then you will not discover what is calling you on the other side. You may feel confused or stuck… or even disheartened.
At some point, as you explore and experiment, you will realize you have arrived at a new way to dwell in life. During this phase of life, meaning is defined by personal values and inner desires. The trick is to let your inner wisdom lead the way.
Moving through the liminal stage usually requires support. You may feel uncertain and vulnerable, so choose your support wisely.
The first kind of support needed relates to whatever you call the ‘higher power’ in your life. It may or may not be secular religion. It is the sense that you are part of something bigger than yourself; that there is purpose to life. It helps to shape your values and what you believe in. Some have called it your “true north” if that helps you get a sense of it.
Some practices may be personal, such as prayer or meditation. Some may be in community with others.
That leads us to the second important kind of support – community. Find others who are also on their journey or have navigated it. Find people who share your values and beliefs. You will recognize them. Remember, this is a vulnerable time where you need to feel safe to be curious and try new things. Find others you can trust.
I’d love to hear from you.
If you would love to have support and guidance in a community setting, please connect with Ardith to join in the 2023 Yes to Life Circles beginning in late January.
Have you experienced the stages of transition? What was it like for you? Do you think you have gotten stuck somewhere along the way? What role did your relationships with a higher power and with community play?