The Third Age

“Experience is not what happens to a man, it’s what a man does with what happens to him.” ~Aldous Huxley

There exists an oft-overlooked developmental life stage. Yet, few acknowledge and plan for it. When people are putting children through college, still pursuing their career, and paying bills – retirement isn’t usually on their radar screen.

The Third Age, lest you be unfamiliar with the (European) term, represents a huge chunk of active adulthood. According to a Harris poll, 80% of U.S. Boomers desire and expect to work for pay well into traditional retirement age. They also expect to contribute their time and energy to address economic, social and political needs at home and abroad.

The Third Age brings exciting developmental changes and a greater understanding of ‘what really matters.’ It is frequently characterized by:

  • A search for purpose;
  • An increase in individuality and authenticity;
  • A new imperative to pass on values and wisdom.

In an (at least I think) interesting study, researchers have coined five stages that people experience before and during the Third Age:

  1. Imagination (15 to six years before retirement day): Retirement isn’t necessarily top of mind. People are focused on previously mentioned activities. As “the day” gets closer, they pay more attention to and define goals for their next life chapter. When a clearer vision emerges of what is next wanted, a sense of enthusiasm and excitement develops.
  2. Anticipation (up to five years pre-retirement): This is a time of hopefulness. Emotions intensify and requisite financial resources are aligned. People spend more time planning for their “new” careers and lifestyle.
  3. Liberation (“The” day and the first year thereafter): The honeymoon phase. People feel a sense of relief from worries and responsibilities. They miss their work connections but reconnect with significant others, families, traveling and (yes!) beginning new businesses. 89% of study respondents indicated they were “very busy” during this time.
  4. Reorientation (two to 15 years post-retirement): This is a significant stage, one I’ll elaborate on in a later post. This is a transition period, a time during which there can be a “let-down.” People will gradually reorient their priorities, activities and relationships.
  5. Reconciliation (16 or more years into Third Age): Many retirees shift into greater contentment, and acceptance. They begin to set their sights on moving into a new home, confront end-of-life issues with family and friends and find resting and relaxing more appealing.

Why do I choose to highlight this? In my collaborations, I encounter Third Agers who have given this major stage little more than passing consideration. And they wonder why they’re at a loss for an answer to the question “what’s next?”

In our First Age, life is pretty much determined for us by others. We’re along for a wild ride. In our Second Age, we plan, choose and are directly responsible for many of our desired outcomes. We develop goals and focus our experience and energy on their achievement.

By sharing the potential in and importance of planning for our Third Age, perhaps people will muster greater clarity about “what’s next,” they’ll seek out and accumulate more information, and they’ll better position themselves for living a fulfilling next chapter. Their Third Age.

And you?

2 thoughts on “The Third Age

  1. Good thoughts. Blogging is a great way to share what we’ve learned with others . . . as well as clarifying what we’ve learned for ourselves.

    I expect that some people are afraid to retire because they don’t know how they will fill their days. And because working gives them a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, and narrows their choices a bit.

  2. And touché for those living/being in the present moment. Yet I know there are many who, with a subtle mindset shift, can and would later appreciate some planning (thus yielding, clarity) about their future. Wouldn’t it be nice to see them broaden rather than limit their choices.

    I enjoy your blog!

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