Recently, I told my ailing elderly mother about my Encore Incubator project, and she said, “that’s good, but you will live a long time. You are still young. You don't need to think about retirement and things like that yet…”
Actually, that’s exactly why I want to think about the second half of life, my encore act, now. I do hope to have a long and healthful life. I do hope to be active, engaged, and enjoying life well into my old age, but I don’t take these things for granted.
Take, for example, my parents. By the time my mother was my age, in her mid-fifties, rheumatoid arthritis had already crippled her body, bending fingers and toes and knotting joints. In the decades that followed, she had scores of surgeries to reconstruct nearly every joint ravaged by RA, including the cervical vertebra of her neck, which had to be fused together lest her head literally fall off the spinal column. Every medical treatment, every experimental drug, and the daily doses of aspirin have taken their toll on her, in spite of her sharp mind and strong will.
My father was a professor at the height of his career and traveling the world when he suffered a grand mal stroke just a few years before his retirement. He recovered to some extent from that episode, but not fully, and then he suffered another stroke, and another… Recovery, when it comes, comes in fits and starts, and only after grinding physical therapy. Physically and emotionally, one must be willing and able to shed old habits and to learn new ones to optimize recovery and quality of life. But that’s the challenge, isn't it?
In the past 20 years, I've spent more time in assisted care facilities, hospitals, and acute care centers than on vacation, at restaurants, or simply watching TV with my parents. I've had a lot of time to think about the second half of life, the “bucket list”, and developing the strength of character that will serve me regardless of what happens. Pursuing one’s encore acts -- and in the process, continually learning how to learn and grow -- is simply one way towards a more fulfilling life. Life is more fun that way.
A thought for today... Whether you are traveling for leisure, or adventuring into the folds of the second half, ponder the words of the Irish poet, scholar, and philosopher, John O'Donohue. An excerpt of his poem, For The Traveler, reminds us how we grow on and through our personal journeys.... we must take time to "bless our going forth, and free our hearts of ballast..."
For The Traveler
A journey can become a sacred thing,
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
I've been thinking a lot about the song "I'd love to change the world" by Ten Years After, a popular British band from the '60s. You might recall the lyrics... It goes, "I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do, so I'll leave it up to you..."
I used to roll around the lyrics in my head quite often in my twenties, but it always stopped there. "I don't know what to do, so I'll leave it up to you." If there was an ache to do something, I didn't know what or how, much like the youth of today, so I focused on work that was ahead of me. Now in the second half of life, this refrain has changed to something like, "I may not know exactly what to do, but I'm going to do something now."
It's not like we haven't been doing anything. Yes, many of us have had and are still engaged in full, productive lives. Yes, many are struggling with anything and everything that life can throw at us. And yet, for some of us, we come to a place where we take stock of our life experience and look forward, and we want to give back. What arises in middle age, if we are so inclined, is what psychologists call generativity, the desire to look beyond our own selves and to guide, support, or nurture the next generation. It's also defined as a fight against stagnation, one's own.
It's too easy to become stagnant, complacent, or overrun in life. By planning to approach the second half of your life more intentionally, you can create a more engaging and healthy life for yourself -- and what you do and how you live will touch the lives of others, whether you may know it or not. If you need examples of people whose second acts, big and small, made a difference in their lives and others, read Marc Freedman's book, Encore.
Peter Drucker was right when he said that you must begin managing the second half of your life long before you enter it.
I see people every day soldiering on valiantly in their daily work, sometimes enjoying it, sometimes overwhelmed, fretting, or frightened... Some tally the days before they can retire; some want to work forever, their identities so wrapped up in their roles. Most are simply too busy with the tasks and responsibilities of everyday life to notice that we have come to a point where the second half of life is right ahead of us, or here. Just as we endeavored to find our vocation and to build a life in the first half of life, the second half of life presents a unique and separate opportunity to engage all aspects of who we have become and express it in a new way.
Some find this mid-point in life troubling. It's normal and understandable. Even Dante wrote in the 14th Century, "In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray."
I think it need not be so gloomy. No doubt, life circumstances will intervene in our lives, but we can live intentionally, creating in the second half of life things that we seek and are important to us. It can be an encore career, a new personal endeavor, or something else. But you must first become awake to your own life, and you must act -- hopefully well before you enter your second half.
These days, I think a lot about a comment by David Bornstein, the journalist who has specialized in the issues of aging. He writes, "When you were young, you think about risk in terms of health, safety, or financial aspects. As you age, you realize that the biggest risk is dying without having really expressed who you are."
I agree. I'm committed to using my days and my energy to live fully, and to encourage others to do the same and to start now. We each get only one life and one lifetime to express who we are.
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.