“What’s Next”- was the question I was wrestling with in my fifties when I attended the Emerging Women Conference in San Francisco a few years ago. The keynote speaker walked into the room of more than 1000 attendees and gave powerful clues about what was next for me.
She wore no hint of makeup, she had gray hair pulled back in a bun and wore a simple black dress with an elegant scarf. She was 81 years old and you could hear a pin drop as she spoke. At 59 years old, I was struggling with “who do I want to be when I grow up?” After watching and listening, I thought: “I want to be like Jane Goodall.”
Jane Goodall left the jungle at around my age with two causes: (1) to save the gorillas, and (2) to save the rain forest. The enthusiasm she displayed was incredible. There was no doubt that she was fully engaged in her cause and she wore it well. Clearly, she had put these years to good use and showed no sign of giving up.
Betty Friedan took what the younger generations might call a “gap year” when she was 59 years old and went to Harvard University. Yes, the same Betty Friedan who wrote the “Feminine Mystique” that fired up the feminist movement in the 1960s. In 1993, she published “The Fountain of Age,” an extraordinary chronicle of her search for meaning and purpose in what I would call, the Third Age.
Now that people are living longer, the Third Age is a term used to describe the period between middle age and old age. This can be a time of growth and continued success. Friedan worried that this stage of development was associated with a decline rather than a time of opportunity and growth. Preoccupied with staying young, she warned that we could miss the opportunity to discover our mature selves and therefore fail to enjoy what could be the best years of our lives.
Individuals in their Third Age are hungry for enlightened experiences and eager to learn new things. According to the Longevity Economy by Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin, in many cases retired or semiretired professionals such as engineers, scientists, nurses, venture capitalist, etc., will form start-ups of their own, using their innovation and experience to solve problems. As reported by Encore.org, an innovated hub tapping the talent of people 50+ as a force for good, older entrepreneurs now have the highest rate of any age group of opportunity entrepreneurship.
I may not be going to Harvard or taking a gap year (yet), but I certainly can fight ageism at every turn. Maybe I can start a consciousness-raising group to push and inspire others to fight age bias. I may not be saving gorillas or saving the rain forest, but that does not mean I cannot have a cause that is greater than myself. As CEO of AARP, Jo Ann Jenkins reminds us in her novel Disrupt Aging, boomers as they move into their fifties and sixties, are disrupting aging every day, just as they have done in every other phase of their life. Furthermore millennials, as she also states, are disrupting aging by demanding a work life balance and showing us the benefits of shared communities and a shared economic model. To that end, it reminds me that the key to the third age is to use the same tools that got me through every other important transition in my life.
- Find a cause that is bigger than yourself
- Use your time and resources to further that cause
- Reject distractions that deter you from your cause
- Be enthusiastic and learn everything you can
- Develop routines and practices that further your cause
Many 50-year-olds could feasibly expect to live another 40 years. The question is: What will you do with all these years? For me, what’s next is to use my voice, my time, and my resources to change the way we think, talk and live in our Third Age. The time is now and we are just getting started.
Nancy Burner, Esq. is the founder of Burner Law Group, P.C. established in 1995. She holds the designation of a Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), awarded by the National Elder Law Foundation as accredited by the American Bar Association. For 11 consecutive years, Nancy has been named as a Super Lawyer in the field of Elder Law. Nancy frequently lectures on the legislative changes, financial implications, and governmental benefits affecting the elderly and special needs population.