It was an honor for “Write, Open, Act: An Intentional Life Planning Workbook” to be included in Laura M. Holson’s fine news analysis, “Forget a Fast Car. Creativity Is the New Midlife Crisis Cure,” in The New York Times.
Writes Holson, “In this era of mindfulness, and today’s preoccupation with pursuing a meaningful life, a new antidote has emerged to cure the doldrums of midlife: creativity. Creativity classes and seminars for those in their 40s and 50s are thriving. So are books devoted to creating a meaningful life plan ahead of retirement.”
Human beings are tremendously creative and resilient, and creativity itself at any age can give us all sorts of new ideas and energy. It’s great for the heart and brain! Potter, designer and author Jonathan Adler, at a store opening here in Portland, told me how much he loves creating things—and the sheer exhilaration he feels in the process.
One of the readers of an early draft of “Write, Open, Act” was author and counselor Norene Gonsiewski, who suggested I add a section for people 60+ who have accomplished so much but may not have considered what they want their life to look like. We’re living longer, which requires different planning. The whole notion of retirement is changing, and there’s tremendous opportunity as we enter life’s Third Act to be creative and even to invent a whole new life!
There are many examples of famous people reinventing themselves at 60+. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start the “Little House on the Prairie” series until she was 60. Jane Fonda totally reinvented herself as she approached 60; she writes, “Entered with intention, Third Acts allow us a second adult lifetime.” Fonda sees age as a time of potential—for wisdom, authenticity and wholeness. And just look at how her career has taken off since she entered her Third Act. That’s the power of writing things down and being intentional!
Our friends Nancy and Mike Teskey are approaching 60 and have just quit their jobs, sold their house and most of their possessions, and are moving to Mozambique to work at an international school. Mike was formerly the head of Alumni Initiates at Reed College, and Nancy headed the music program at Oregon Episcopal School.
“We always thought about how after we retired we might do a Peace Corps experience and had all these great plans, and then Nancy was diagnosed with cancer,” says Mike. “It caused us to recalibrate what we wanted to do and think differently about things. Is it really worth waiting for that mythical date of retirement? What we realized because of Nancy’s cancer is, ‘Holy cow, life is fleeting,’ so we decided to seize the moment. There was nothing compelling keeping us in Portland and the U.S. right now, so we started the process of asking: Is international teaching something we could do?”
Nancy reflects, “While going through chemotherapy, I would get up every morning while it was still dark and have a cup of tea on the patio. I thought a lot about life and death. Each morning when the sun came up, I realized I had one more day and I should make the most of it.
“Mike and I are doing our best to live each day with intention. We are planning for the future but not stressing over it. I lost my hair during chemo and realized I loved being bald. I also realized that I am not my hair. I have friends who say they could never even change their hairstyle, much less move to Mozambique. My advice to them is start with a new haircut. Start with small changes and the big changes become easier to fathom.”
As I write in the workbook, “Even if we’ve had a life’s purpose up until 60+, with kids out of college or careers at their zenith, about this time many of us start to wonder what our life’s purpose is now. It may be that you want to take care of your grandkids or an ill neighbor up the road, or help rebuild an athletic facility in your community or join a nonprofit board. It could be that you want to run for mayor or president.”
I’m taking the workbook “Exercises for People 60+” to heart and beginning a year of introspection to plan for my Third Act. I’ll admit, looking ahead at 60, I’ve been locked—I don’t know what I want to do. But this month, as our students at the Portland Underground Graduate School were writing their obituaries, I reread some of the questions in the workbook:
- What is your life’s purpose now? Why are you here now? What are you missing? What are your values? What’s upcoming that may add to your life’s purpose?
- What haven’t you accomplished?
- If you have one, two or three decades left, what’s most important to accomplish?
- How are you going to keep learning and growing?
- How will you keep your relationship fresh? If you’re single, do you like being single and want to remain so?
These questions helped me re-examine what I want my 60+ life to look like. I may pick up the mandolin but, as one of the readers of Holson’s Times article commented, “I think the issue is not so much trying to tap into some inner muse of creativity as it is to maintain a lifelong pursuit of learning. Complacency is death with a long lead time. Learning keeps your intellect and your soul active until the day you die.”
As Mike Teskey advised, “If you don’t plan your retirement years, someone will plan them for you.”
What do you want your life’s purpose to be now?