This afternoon I was in the gym at my senior community, and I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in months. What have you been up to, we asked each other. The answers may surprise you.
JD, a retired teacher with a doctoral degree, had just received Master Gardener certification from a local university. She’s been hired to bring horticultural education to students of the thirty-two school districts in our county. The implications go far beyond plants, reaching into fitness, community activism, science, and global involvement. She’s hoping to influence the future.
My own answer was a bit less lofty but still exciting: my next novel is going to be a new genre. Silver Romance, because romance is popular now, and I think people over fifty deserve to fall in love, too. But what I’m really excited about is that my stories will include life lessons and inspirations about getting older. My characters might demonstrate how they learned to cope with losing a loved one, or living alone after so many years. They may come to a new understanding about self-sacrifice: how much is too much? Is it okay to be a bit more self-centered in older age? Is this the time to go to war with The Establishment again like we did in our Boomer youth? When do you say no, and mean it? When do you agree to bend, and how do you avoid breaking?
“You know what, JD,” I said. “You and I are demonstrating something about aging well: we’re doing Generativity. It’s a life stage.”
After I explained the stages listed below, we debated whether we were actually in the next stage, Keeper of the Meaning. Either one sounds good to me.
We used to think that adults, once they matured, were pretty much set in stone.
We didn’t change or grow, it was thought. We mostly just deteriorated and lost parts of ourselves.
But now we know that isn’t true. If you want to read a lovely, uplifting book, I recommend Aging Well by Dr. George Vaillant. He was in charge of three longevity studies extending over eighty years, in which Americans were studied to find out how to age in a satisfying way. From studying the studies, Vaillant and his team concluded that successful adulthood requires the mastery of six tasks, skills or stages:
- Identity – a sense of one’s own self separate from family of origin
- Intimacy – the task of living with another person in an interdependent, reciprocal, committed, and contented fashion for a decade or more.
- Career Consolidation – expanding one’s personal identity to assume a social identity within the world of work (this includes homemaking)
- Generativity – demonstrating a capacity to unselfishly guide the next generation (without parenting them; involves giving up control of outcomes)
- Keeper of the Meaning – similar to Generativity but less related to individuals and more to broader society. Focus is on conserving and preserving “the collective products of mankind – the culture in which one lives and its institutions.” Concern for a social radius extending beyond one’s immediate community.
- Integrity – acceptance of oneself in existence; wisdom of one’s place in the larger scheme of things, of one’s uniqueness, of where one fits in the cosmic order; acceptance of mortality (that last one was in my words).
From genealogy to memoir writing, to providing childcare or volunteering in a classroom, to attending political town halls, to raising money for a homeless shelter, to participating in supporting your community, to signing on with the Raging Grannies, your activities are critical to humankind.
Many of us engage in this kind of activity when we’re older just because we have more time, and we’re interested. Now I’d like to suggest another reason: we do them because we’re human.
We’re fulfilling our destiny, following a call to service that’s as ancient as civilization.
I always suspect that the second half of life is richer than we ever imagined. In fact, as I get older, that suspicion, and the pursuit of that hypothesis, drives me more and more. It informs my writing, and directs my research. In years to come, I predict we’ll shake our heads at how little we once knew, and how much we never realized we do contribute. How much vibrancy and promise there still is, in the second half. thanks for joining me on this journey.
If you’d like to read previous posts on this same topic, here are several:
And if you’d like to read a neat, empowering, uplifting post by my friend, positive-aging advocate Ashton Applewhite, click here.
Yes, I did a book giveaway and I hope you got your copy. That ended June 23, 2017 at midnight. I did it to celebrate a new cover on a book that’s a couple years old.