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Third Act For Women Over 50 – Preparing For Joy and Fulfillment in Midlife

We are the first generation of women who have had careers for most of our lives. We are entering a period of life that is virtually uncharted, a time in which we are free from social expectations and reduced family obligations, with the freedom, resources and desire to engage in new activities with meaning and purpose. It is not news that we will live longer and with generally better health than previous generations. Science and medical advances have extended our years. This will give us the opportunity to turn our dreams into realities, to consider options previously considered impractical, and prioritize how we want to spend our time. Now, it’s up to us to decide how to plan for our continued vitality. Most of us are uncertain about what we want from the next 20, 30 or even 40 years ahead of us. Although we may be clear that we don’t expect to follow in the steps of our parents and grandparents and retire, few of us have maps for how we want to proceed. Many of us in our middle years share in conversations with friends comments like the following:

I don’t want to retire, but I want to work less. I want something more meaningful than just playing golf and traveling. While these are fun, they are not enough. I want to make a difference in my community, in the world. What will I do with my time, if I quit work? Will I be satisfied? I want more leisure time, a more balanced life. I want to continue to learn and be challenged. I want to do those projects I’ve never had time to do. How can I stay vital and healthy? I don’t want to feel old!

These are all important questions and considerations. The unspoken question often underneath them is, “What am I feeling called to do?” We often don’t stop long enough to ask this question, let alone wait for the answer. Yet, if we want to find meaning and fulfillment in our later years and be in charge of our lives rather than having them run us on autopilot, it is important to take the time to explore these questions.

This phase of our life that we reach during mid-life, might be called the third act. Our first act revolved around our growing up years, which morphed into our second act of finding a partner, raising a family, and establishing a career. Yet, as we enter our third act, we are often now free from social expectations, we have reduced family obligations as our children have grown, we may be divorced or living alone, and we might have accumulated savings from years of hard work. What will we meaningfully do with our time? How can we shape the life we choose to live?

What Is Waiting in the Wings?

Preparing for your third act means first reviewing your second act and identifying what scripts or themes connect the stories in your work and career, your family, volunteer and social life. What scripts are assets that you can build upon? Which ones are liabilities that you need to adjust or learn to manage? In addition, reviewing your second act may bring back interests and passions from earlier years that you want to resurrect. With this review you can begin to explore the opportunities that are waiting for you in the wings and that you might want to bring onto center stage. In preparing for the rising curtain of your third act, we have found it helpful to raise questions about the various facets of our current lives,the emotional, physical, professional, personal and spiritual,to clarify for ourselves what is waiting in the wings for our third act. Below you will find some thoughts about each area and some questions to explore.

Emotional

Popular stereotypes would lead us to believe that most of us go through a mid-life crisis between 40 and 60 leading to unhappiness and depression. But researchers report that, far from being a time of turmoil, dissatisfaction, and dread of getting old, only a small percent (23%) of participants report having a midlife crisis.1 In many cases it had nothing to do with aging. Based on the results of this study, most people are entering their sixth or seventh decades with an increased feeling of well-being, equanimity and sense of control over many parts of their lives.

Questions to explore: What brings you joy, pleasure, and deep satisfaction? How can you express your appreciation for those pleasures? How can you continue to find those emotional rewards in the coming years?

Physical

We know that many of us have two, three, four or more decades of life remaining and that each generation is more active with more health and vitality than ever before. Yet we also may have neglected our fitness and gained some weight, and now find our cholesterol or blood pressure too high for good health.

Questions to explore: How is your current health and fitness? Do you need to take some action to lose weight, quit smoking, improve your diet or get more rest? What will it take to improve your health and fitness?

Professional

As we mentioned in the opening paragraph, we are a generation of women who have pursued careers for most of our lives. For many, those careers have brought achievements and the personal and financial rewards of success in our chosen fields. Such success has also often meant the stressful demands of long hours and hard work to meet unfair expectations or to challenge traditional stereotypes. Many of us are ready to slow down, to have more time for relaxation and to enjoy other interests. And we may not want to or financially be able to quit working. Others of us want to leave one career behind and launch a new and perhaps more entrepreneurial venture that we have always dreamed about. Others of us want to use our professional skills in ways that contribute and make a different to our community or to the world.

Questions to explore: Do you want or need to continue to work? Are you interested in launching something new? How much do you want to work? Do you want to use your skills, experience or your time as an activist or leader contributing to the solution of global issues or volunteering in your community?

Personal

Full time work and raising a family leaves little time for women to pursue hobbies, leisure time activities or make contributions as a volunteer. As our family obligations are reduced and we think of working only part-time or even leaving our work and careers, opportunities open up. We can pursue long-delayed dreams, complete neglected projects, learn to play the piano, speak Spanish, study history, or make a meaningful contribution to causes about which we are passionate.

Questions to explore: Do you have a passion to make a difference, to contribute to your community? Do you have dreams or projects you have longed to pursue? Do you have subjects you want to study or skills you want to learn?

Spiritual

The multi-tasking, over-scheduled life, cruising on auto-pilot, leaves little time to explore the questions of deeper meaning in our lives. When time does emerge, we are often at a loss, listlessly drifting from one thing to another, and feeling somehow empty of purpose, meaning and direction.

Questions to explore: Are you wondering if you will be satisfied, if you quit work and leave your career? Are you asking what you are called to do and what will provide meaning and purpose in this next phase of your life? Is your life fulfilled and guided by your spiritual beliefs?

Creating the vibrant, rewarding script for your third acts requires the review of the second act. It also requires intentional focus on how to bring these important qualities that bring satisfaction into our lives. Some of us can find that focus on our own. For others of us, we may need to combine the space for our reflective focus with an opportunity to explore our questions in dialogue with others and seek feedback and encouragement. We need to take the time and intention to implement our hopes, dreams, and goals to shape and create a vital, vibrant, and engaging script for our third act.

(Endnotes) 1- Study of nearly 8,000 Americans by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development. Quoted in a news article. Paper unknown

Bev Scott offers The Third Act, a program for those in mid-life to create the script for what is next. As an organization and management consultant, she has supported leaders, teams and individuals to find meaning and develop their full potential for over 30 years. She has also served as an educator, presenter, author and executive. She can be reached at http://www.bevscott.com/thirdact.htm