"Youare old, Father William," the young man said...

BLOG          MUSINGS         RADIO SHOW         LETTERS         STORIES          GLOSSARY          LINKS        THECENTER

I Am Not a Third Ager!

DearFather William,

Myolder brother keeps bugging me about this Third Age stuff. I've told him that no matter how good it's been for him, it's not for me eventhough I'm in my early fifties.  I've just gonethrough a very liberating divorce, I have a new job that I love and am good at, and inanother year in a half all my kids will be gone from the house. My life is more alive and exciting to me than it's been for at least a decade. Retirement is the furthest thing from my mind. I don't feel old; I feel rejuvenated!  I'mlike a kid in a candy store with all the possibilities open to me - all the possibilitiesI've put on the back burner while being married and raising the children. There's no way I consider myself a Third Ager, and I can't see any reason why Ishould pay any attention to my brother, even though I have to admit he's given me somegood advice in the past.  Would you please tellhim to get off my back?

Thanksfor your help, Second Age Sister

DearSecond Age Sister…

You'vecome to the right place for help.  I’m anolder brother myself, and I know how we can be sometimes, so I'm delighted to help youcope with yours.  First, let’s clear up somemisconceptions about the different ages.  

AllOur Ages Begin with "Unformings"

Nomatter what anyone tells you (especially the media of our youth-worshiping culture),First, Second and Third Ages are all periods of growth and expansion. What makes them different is what kind of growing we're doing and what we'refocusing that growing on.  (HowDo the Ages Differ?)

Eachage begins with an Unforming.  Unformings aretimes when we let go of what we've been before so we can grow into what we can become. An example of this is the caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. To get the goodies of being the butterfly, the caterpillar has to give up what it'sbeen before.  It does this by creating a safespace (the chrysalis) and literally “Unforming" itself. (The safe space is essential because Unformings can produce a lot of anxiety,especially if you're the dissolving caterpillar and can't see any butterfly yet.)

Wehumans go through the same kinds of Unformings as we move from one age to another. These are necessary because they release our dependence on the age we’re leavingbehind.  But such Unformings can also be scary,especially when we hit the place where we have to let go without knowing for sure there'sanything ahead for us.  "You can fly, butthe cocoon has to go" is what we say to the caterpillar who’s hanging on. This is small solace when you feel on the brink of extinction, but it does explainwhy we can get stuck in an age we've really grown beyond. Let’s take a look at the Unformings that open up First, Second and Third Ages forus …  

1stAGE:  BIrthEvicts Us From "Home"

TheUnforming that leads us into First Age is birth, and it’s a doozy. Imagine having spent nine months in Paradise where every need is taken care of without your doing anything. It's always warm and snug.  Food isdelivered on time, every time.  There's eventhe reassuring surround sound of mom’s heart beat… ba boom… ba boom… ba boom… Then one day with no warning, you’re thrust out of Paradise into the cold.  And this thrusting is not aquick or easy process.  It hurts your littlebody a lot.  Loud noises hurt your ears(especially mom’s screams).  Bright lighthurts your eyes.  You get smacked on your buttfor no reason.  Syringes are jabbed in yournose and ears.  If this Unforming isn’t atraumatic experience, what is?

Evenso, most of us make it through the birth canal (as well as the delivery room), and thisgives us a shot at life in this physical here and now. If we'd known what the trip was going to involve, we might have refused to embark(maybe we did know, and that’s why mom had to do all that pushing).

Sincebirth is the archetype (Imprintings& The Unconscious) for all Unformings to come, it’s highly unlikelywe’ll approach them with glee.  In fact, we’llprobably do everything we can to delay, deny and avoid them. (This doesn’t bode well for opening to future growth.)

DuringFirst Age our growth is primarily physical, and, with a lot of trial and error, we expandour physical abilities to survive in this strange and often threatening world. If things go reasonably well, we can even flourish, but we still remain dependenton, and subservient to, those know-it-all adults in our lives. At its best, this is a time of safety, play and little responsibility. We grow naturally and easily, but our freedom is restricted by all the grownups wemust please (and, as we hit our teens, this begins to chafe).  

2ndAGE:  Adolescence Fills Us With ConFUSION

TheUnforming that opens up Second Age is called adolescence, and it's hard on everyoneinvolved.  In First Age we've been dependent,and we're getting sick of that.  We want andneed to be independent, but we have no experience at it. All we know is we don't like being told what to do any more. So, whenever we can get away with it, we refuse to do what were told (even when itwould be really good for us).  This behavior iscalled counter-dependence.  (The error ofdependence is that we blindly obey; the error of counter-dependence is that we blindlyresist.)

 Counter-dependencemakes life hard for us and the adults around us.  Itusually sound sounds something like, “Don’t tell me what to do – and give me myallowance!”  because we’re trying to havethe best of both ages (being taken care of and being free). It takes teenagers a while to learn it doesn’t work this way (unless your parentsare really stupid and really rich).  For alucky few, movement through this Unforming is relatively quick and easy. For most it is painfully long, lasting even well beyond our leaving home.

Oncewe do achieve some degree of personal independence, we begin to grow intellectually andemotionally in ways not possible during the dependence of First Age. We now are responsible for our learning, relationships and livelihood. For some, this can happen in the early teens (or even before); for others who areoverly protected, this may not occur until well into their twenties (or thirties orfifties).  Whenever it does occur, we nowexperience the consequences of our actions unfiltered, and this helps us mature bothintellectually and emotionally (reality can be a real waker-upper). Such maturing does not occur quickly.  Forme, it took over thirty years, and at times I despaired of it ever happening. So if it’s going slowly for you, take heart and read on.

Inthe independence of Second Age our focus turns to “success” in the external world. We want to amount to something we believe is worthwhile. We want to have the love and respect of others we care about and admire. We want to have financial security and material goods. We want to do a good job raising our children. These are all good things to want.  

Whatmakes Second Age so hard is we’re too focused outwardly on the external (and material)world.  This world bombards us with powerfulmessages of who we’re supposed to be and how we’re supposed to be it. It's impossible not to be deeply, and often inappropriately, influenced by thatbombardment.  We're told to want wealth,status, prestige, position, centerfold lovers, eternal youth, gas-guzzling SUV’s,religious righteousness (this list could go on a very long time), and we buy into too muchof this nonsense.  It's only after spendinglots of time and energy getting such stuff (or trying to get it) that we gain a moremature perspective on what the external world really has to offer. At first, this can be disorienting and depressing.  


Thisdisillusionment with external acquisition and achievement is the Unforming that launchesus into Third Age.  (Peggy Lee’s, “Is thatall there is?” has expressed in this feeling for more than one generation.) Actually, there's nothing wrong with the external world. What's been wrong is us.  Our immaturityduring First and Second Ages let that external world confuse us about who we are and whatwe want.

InThird Age we take our lives back from the world. For five decades we've been "amounting tosomething" in terms others and the world laid out. Now it's time to live on our terms - to "Follow Our Bliss" – and what ajoy this is!  (JosephCampbell & “Follow Your Bliss”) In theory, now that we’ve gained the maturity we’ve been lacking earlier, thisshouldn’t be hard.  All we have to do is stepback, look inside, recognize who we are and remember what we care about. Equipped with this mature wisdom (and a lifetime of experience), we can return tothe world and use it to grow more fully into ourselves.

Butoften theories suck, and this is one of those times.  Whenwe run into this Unforming between Second and Third Ages, there's nothing about it thatseems simple or easy.  For those same fivedecades the world has brainwashed us to believe there is no life after Second Age, and itsused very smart people and sophisticated media techniques to plant those sick messagesdeep in our unconscious.  Once past fifty we’re"over the hill,” “past our prime,” “on the way out” and a thousand othersuch depressing descriptions.  (Bill Sadler’sresearch says our culture has taught us do associate Third Age with the “D” words -Decline, Disease, Dependency, Depression, Degeneration, and Death).  Nowonder we cling to Second Age when the alternative seems so dismal!

Thehardest thing about this Unforming is managing your own mind. I'm serious.  You’ve got to changeyour attitude about aging to go forward – you've got tobelieve Third Age will be as full and fertile as your previous two ages! Simply put, this is a bitch to do.  We'vebeen conditioned all our lives to believe Second Age is the be-all and end-all. We couldn't wait to get there, and we never want to leave. It takes a lot of hard personal work to overcome this conditioning and open to theamazing growth of Third Age.

Andit is amazing!  Something that helped mebelieve was Maslow's distinction between Deficiency-Motivated and Being-Motivated Needs.  Hesaid we have to negotiate at least four areas of Deficiency-Motivated Needs (Survival,Security, Belonging and Status) before we’re able to spend any significant amount oftime on our Being-Motivated Needs (Self-Actualization). The former he called D-Needs because the motivation comes from feeling deficiencyand fear.  We feel we lack something and fearwe can't cope without it.  D- Needs have a highcomponent of anxiety motivation.  (Isn’t thisthe story of Second Age most of the time?)

Incontrast, he said Being-Motivated (B-Needs) focus on what we have, not on what we lack. When we satisfy enough (not all - that never happens) of our D-Needs, we shift fromtrying to get more of what we lack (living up to the world’s expectations) to using moreof what we’ve got (being who we are).  Thisis so important I’m going to put it in bold type:

Whenwe stop trying to get more of what we lack from outside,

Wecan appreciate and use more of what we’ve got on the inside.

 Joseph Campbell said, “Follow Your Bliss.”

InThird Age, that’s what we do.

Learningto “Follow Your Bliss” is not a gimme.  Wehave to let go of a lot of accumulated nonsense (like “somebody else knows better thanme”).  Then we have to grow a profound trustin ourselves and the universe around us.  SecondAge made this more than a little difficult.  Butthis trust in ourselves is what makes "Following Our Bliss" possible, and it'swhat Third Age is all about.

Andyou, Second Age Sister, are our poster person for Third Age! Of course you don't need to listen to your brother or any of those otherintellectuals with their conceptual nonsense.  You’realready living Third Age to the hilt:

I'vejust gone through a very liberating divorce, I have a new job that I love and am good at,and in another year in a half all my kids will be gone from the house. My life is more alive and exciting to me than it's been for at least a decade. Retirement is the furthest thing from my mind. I don't feel old; I feel rejuvenated!  I'mlike a kid in a candy store with all the possibilities open to me - all the possibilitiesI've put on the back burner while being married and raising the children…

"FollowingYour Bliss" doesn't come any better than this!  Justkeep right on following your nose, and have a little empathy for those who are better attalking about stuff than doing it (I include myself with your brother here).

Butdon't for a moment think you're not a Third Ager - you're just doing it so well and soeffortlessly you can’t understand why we're making such a fuss about it. So put up with our fuss, know it's our problem (not yours) and go right on showingus how to do it!

Love, FatherWilliam


BLOG          MUSINGS         RADIO SHOW         LETTERS         STORIES          GLOSSARY          LINKS        THECENTER

©1964-2008William Idol All Rights Reserved