I’m reading a great book. Inventing the Rest of Our Lives – Women in Second Adulthood by Suzanne Braun Levine is like a guidebook for our midlife journey. It’s well-written and informative, and as I read it, I felt as if I were sitting down and yakking about life with a bunch of girlfriends.
Suzanne says second adulthood (I love the term) is characterized at first by uncertainty. This is because we have no cultural expectations of ourselves at this age, except that we retire and relax. (The Great Recession may have put the brakes on those plans, however.) Assuming we’re able, we might plan to travel, play with our grandbabies, golf, putter around in our gardens, and read. For some, this scenario would be a great relief; a reward for a lifetime of hard work. But for others, it’s not enough and we don’t know why. Worse, we may feel it’s wrong to want more.
I’m starting a second career as a writer, for example, and some days I think I’m an idiot to put myself through this much effort. I also wonder if I’m throwing a great gift – that of leisure – back at the Benevolent Cosmos. Will I be punished for my ingratitude? Am I expecting too much? Is it ridiculous to run around with your hair on fire after fifty? How are we to think of ourselves at this age? What are we supposed to do now?
Years ago, Betty Friedan coined the expression, “The Problem That Has No Name.” It alluded to, per Wikipedia, “the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s…despite living in material comfort and being happily married with fine children.” We used to wonder what more a woman could want (the selfish thing!) Now we understand.
In the same sense, Levine is calling this midlife angst “The Question That Has Many Answers.” Second Adulthood is a journey each of us embarks on, but it is also a stage that our generation is in the process of defining as we live it. Levine says:
There is great promise in Second Adulthood, but there is also an inescapable downside to getting older…Some of this bad news we have to accept, but every day we encounter situations that can be turned around. As we zero in on what really matters in our lives now, we become better able to recognize – and make peace with – circumstances we cannot change and we become more experienced in taking charge of those we can and want to change.”
One of the beautiful things about getting older is the accumulation of wisdom. We older people are better at deciding which battles to fight and which to walk away from. I think we have more insight into what it means to be human, and therefore, more compassion and patience.
As I read “Inventing…” I felt better about wrestling with how to balance my life and work, the needs of my family and my own. I am old enough to accept that I can’t do everything, and I’m okay with that. I’m also wise enough to take stock of what I have, what I am, and what I’ve accomplished, and feel that quiet joy of having made it to this sublime age, mostly intact, and with beautiful dreams about the future.