My older grandchildren (ages 10-16) continually intrigue me. They’re in the process of (re)discovering and (re)defining themselves. They’re trying on different roles and interests. They’re full of goals and ambitions and firsts as independent people. I think they are assembling a drawer full of options and preferences they can open and tap into or leave alone for the rest of their lives.
My friends and colleagues (ages 50 to far beyond it) are intriguing me, too. Many are in the process of (re)discovering and (re)defining themselves, just as the youngsters are. But they’re facing vastly different pressures: a greater awareness of time, a more mature appreciation of what a productive and meaningful life means, recognition of the need to be flexible and realistic about plans, and the ability to manage paradoxes and irony. Here’s where their situations differ from the younger ones:
- They still have ambitions but nothing (or little) left to prove. This dramatically changes the reasons they make selections and decisions.
- They still want goals and realize that a life after 50 built exclusively on goals and goal achievement yields little opportunity for contentment.
- They know that at 50 they could have 50 more years to live and that the second half of their lives cannot be a duplication of the first.
- They are still seekers and also must stay open for what may be coming their way. This doubles their chance of success and surprise (the good kind).
- They are making important and often difficult life choices and also know that their choices may be impermanent. They are slowly coming to the realization (not necessarily welcome) that there is no “there” at which one arrives and permanently remains.
- They want their voices to be heard and clearly see that the baton has passed to younger generations. For people used to exerting power, this can be a life-changing realization. If they don’t have control, what do they have?
- They still have lots of energy but not so much that they can squander it the way they used to unthinkingly do. This brings into focus the need to invest energy more wisely than ever in people, activities and self.
- They need plans and recognize that long-term planning is only a direction, not a guarantee, and that success is as much about skillful adaptability as plan achievement.
- They admire change in the abstract and are often uncomfortable with it face to face.
Which brings me to An After 50 Manifesto I’d like to propose.
- Our lives will be longer, with a greater need for engagement, creativity, and funding than any other generation in history.
- We know our previous experience is important but that it cannot predict, nor dictate, our futures.
- We know our futures are primarily up to us, that no one else can be more responsible for them than we ourselves.
- We know we all need plans and will still have to be increasingly adaptable.
- We know we live in increasingly polarized society yet acknowledge that this should not stop us from creating and maintaining diverse personal networks from which to draw awareness, strength and insight.
- We vow to find satisfaction and opportunity each day.
- We commit to leaving a better place for those who will follow us into this very interesting phase of life.
And with that, I wish all of you a happy, fulfilling and healthy year.