Second Adulthood Rocks!

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 the journey most of us are on. 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.


  1. says

    I found your blog through Linda Hoye’s “Look” challenge. Your words “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,” resonate with me.

    • says

      Thanks, Christine. It’s true, though, isn’t it? The decision is ours. Nobody is holding a gun to my head, except the fear of being on my deathbed and having regrets! Glad you stopped by.

  2. says

    Lynne, I’m busier than ever since in this second half of my life I “retired”- a huge misnomer! Great post, as usual. My favorite line-“zero in on what matters the most.” Now if I can do that and strike some balance, I’ll be all set :-)

  3. says

    I am sure you are right Lynne. Second adulthood rocks, but the trouble is that I am still a kid in my head. That’s where the problem begins because my old skeleten can no longer keep up with my adolescent brain that says go, go, go. Here’s to reinventing my life to match my physical limitations without giving up my childhood dreams.

  4. says

    Lynne (my middle name)…Glad to find you. I’m a ’46 boomer, always seeking to make a difference…now at 66, that hasn’t changed, but I’m more tired now…trying to find a second wind after 10 years as caretaker for my mom who died in 2011 at 101 and ten months. I also got my journalism degree at 58 and worked four years in newspapers before quitting to be available to her full-time (not in my home) in 2008. I realized early in the year how exhausted I was, but kept pushing.
    I launched a new business as a personal historian helping people write their life stories, but just after I launched it, I had foot surgery. A minor setback…:)…, I will find a third wind!! I will. Glad to find others of the same ilk.

    • says

      Martha Lynne, I’m glad you found us, too. What drives you, if I might ask? Because I sometimes wonder if we try too hard, speaking for myself. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be on my deathbed thinking, Christ! I should have learned the art of sleeping in!

      • says

        I read your reply to my husband on the way to breakfast…we both laughed out loud. I have, in fact, learned to sleep in after this foot surgery, but it doesn’t come naturally.
        As for what drives me?… First thought was fear…fear of being irrelevant, fear of getting to that last day and having the regrets that I didn’t live life to the fullest, doing the things I dreamed about doing.
        Second, a sense of purpose…that I’m not here to take up space. More practically, all that drive, fear, and purpose, didn’t help when it came to having adequate retirement funds. Married six years ago…he’s in the same boat. At 66 and 67 we work…he FT, me PT.
        That said, even with retirement, I believe I would still be working … at the very least, on a book, a long-term goal. However, I do recognize that I have to work at a different pace than I did even four years ago.

  5. says

    I’m 57, working in a corporate job and writing a blog. Sound familiar? I’m enjoying your blog! Second adulthood sounds great, although I struggle with the whole idea of reinvention, since I haven’t given up on Plan A. But I’m all about adding Plan B and Plan C.

  6. says

    Sounds like a fascinating book, Lynne! Like you said, we don’t really have a road map for the second half of life. Far too many women never made it to that point; others meekly “hid” behind successful husbands; still others became tired and retired, taking to knitting or whatever (not that knitting is bad, if that’s your thing!). I admire you for embarking on a second career — since I’ve been writing practically all my life, I don’t consider it a second career, though I suppose it is to the extent that it’s now a different form of writing. I’ve never believed that, as long as you have your wits and your health, you should just “sit” — there’s far too much to be done, whether it’s volunteering, working, or whatever! Onward and upward, my sistah!

    • says

      Thanks, Deb. The question of what “should” we be doing is so interesting to me because it’s challenging to accept that we might be the only ones who get to answer it.

  7. says

    I really identid with this post, Lynne, and I’m heading over to Amazon to check this book out now. I too am working on my second career as a writer. It’s more than challenging right now as I’m still working full-time at my corporate job and will be for another year or so. The hurried pace I often find myself living sometimes leaves me wondering if I should chuck this writing dream and slow down. Of course I won’t. It’s a blessing to be at the stage of life when I’m able to finally attain those goals I set for myself so many years ago. I love the term “second adulthood”. I’m there!

    • says

      Linda, that’s exactly the temptation: give it up and make your life instantly, suddenly, HALF as busy! So seductive. But impossible. I have to write, like you do. What is that? It’s hard to explain the need.

  8. says

    It sounds interesting. For many women, like myself, we not only want but have to take on a new career due to financial circumstances brought on by the recession. For me it was tackling the sales of antiques and vintage, a lifelong love. Did I expect to be doing this in my 60’s? NO!! but I am much better prepared for it than my mother would have been.


    • says

      Laura, I’ve also felt that I need to create an income stream from my writing, blogging, speaking, and teaching. Although it’s still only an income dribble, I have a dream of having a little cash arriving every month as I age, An accountant might laugh, but I have Bag Lady Syndrome. You know, that fear? Refusal to feel safe or take it for granted?

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