Updated: Nov 20
The Third Act
The years between mid fifties to early sixties herald a host of changes for many of us – a new set of opportunities and challenges. For many, it's a time eagerly anticipated, a period of newfound freedom and leisure to make new choices. It can be filled with both excitement and apprehension as we contemplate the new freedoms and also new limitations. Approaching this stage of life intentionally and thoughtfully sets the stage for living it in the best way possible.
These years are sometimes called the “third act”, or in Ericksonian Psychology’s human psychosocial development model, the late"life stages" which are characterized by the following “conflicts”
Stage 7 Generativity vs. stagnation 40 to 65 years: The desire to give to family and community, and to succeed at work. Often the later part of this stage turns to teaching, managing, mentoring others versus “doing”
Stage 8 Integrity vs. despair 65 years and beyond: Your evaluation of what you’ve achieved, and congruence with the kind of person you aspired to be.
Using this time for all it can be:
There is much to love about middle age. We arrive here armed with vast and valuable accumulated wisdom, but ironically many of us struggle to remain relevant and make our valuable contributions in the face of pervasive age bias. In short, this period of life introduces challenges and opportunities in finding meaning, keeping and deepening relationships, accepting limitations while enjoying newfound freedoms, unleashing creativity; and building on integrity and authenticity. It is a period of deep change, possible upheaval, and unprecedented opportunity to make the most out of life on our own terms.
As it's the third, and generally the last act, many people take it seriously and want to use their resources to access psychotherapy, and/or use self-help tools and community resources. It can be rewarding to have an experienced professional to help you move consciously along this part of your path, setting intentions, planning, and growing psychologically and spiritually.
Setting intentions can help you to plan and initiate, and provide a useful guidepost for checking in along the way as you embrace the changes. Think in terms of what, where, with whom, why, and how – that is:
What activities/pursuits will be fulfilling to you at this time,
Where you want to be,
With whom you want to be connected and the meaning of those connections,
What is your purpose, including what legacy do you want to leave (this is the “why”), and
How you want to use the resources available to you, within your limitations.
For many, this shift offers the gift of time, allowing us to explore and pursue passions we may have set aside while focused on building a career and taking care of basic needs for ourselves and our families. Whether we have deferred traveling, art, gardening, or writing, or even taking bold steps in work, refocusing provides the opportunity to delve into activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. For many, dealing with financial limitations and responsibilities for caring for aging parents, elders, or special needs children necessitate special attention to planning to make the most of this time.
What we know
Healthy aging means taking care of our minds, bodies, and relationships, as well as finding purpose and meaning. Exercising and indulging your mind – Enrolling in courses, attending workshops, or taking up new hobbies can keep your mind active and engaged. Lifelong learning not only stimulates your intellect but also helps you stay connected to the world around you.
The liberty and flexibility of having less responsibilities also opens up the possibility to explore new places, cultures, and experiences. Whether it's a road trip across the country or an international adventure, travel can enrich your life in countless ways.
Taking care of our minds includes the following elements:
Stress Management: Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
Develop a support system and engage in activities that bring joy and relaxation.
Adequate Sleep: Ensure you get enough quality sleep each night. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep, as sleep is crucial for overall health and well-being.
Mental Stimulation: Keeping your mind active with activities that challenge and stimulate cognitive function, and learning new skills.
Engaging socially with others -- your intimate others, family members, friends, communities is key to mental well-being, resilience, and longevity. Finding meaning through volunteering, studying,
Positive Attitude: Cultivating a positive outlook on life and focus on the things that bring you joy and fulfillment.
Embracing change and view challenges as opportunities for growth.
Being flexible and adaptable to changes in your physical and mental health.
Seeking support and resources when needed to address age-related challenges.
Balancing accepting with striving.
You might be surprised to know that human connection is the single most important factor in healthy aging and longevity. People who are socially isolated, are more prone to dementia, heart disease, and premature death. And for satisfaction and health, adequate contact and quality of relationships are both important.
Taking care of our bodies includes:
Engaging in regular physical activity to maintain muscle strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health.
Combining aerobic exercises (e.g., walking, swimming) and strength training. We may find that generic fitness programs don't fit our aging bodies and choose to seek out lower-impact workouts, or other modifications that use the capabilities we have now.
Exercising for healthy aging includes strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance.
Balanced Diet: Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy.
Staying hydrated and limit the intake of processed foods, sugary snacks, and excessive amounts of alcohol
Regular Health Check-ups: Scheduling regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor and manage any health conditions.
Staying up-to-date on vaccinations and screenings.
Harmful Habits: Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol and other recreational drug intake.
Being cautious with medications and consulting with your healthcare providers and paramacists about potential side effects and interactions.
Hydration: Drinking an adequate amount of water to support overall health and proper bodily functions.
Sun Protection: Protecting your skin from the sun to prevent skin damage and reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Although aging may bring changes, sexuality provides health benefits, enhances loving human bonds, and can be a meaningful part of feeling alive and vital. Learn to communicate your needs to your partner(s) and your healthcare providers, and be flexible and creative. (Note: Although there is a stereotype that middle-agers are not sexually active, the fastest growing STD rates are among 50+ folks, so: If infection is a possibility, talk to your medical provider!)
As we focus on what’s most important, we have the opportunity to strengthen bonds with family and friends. Spending quality time with loved ones, creating lasting memories, and offering support when needed can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your third act. Human connection, from casual, friendly interactions to deeper, more intimate relationships are key to healthy aging. If you are familiar with blue zones, you may know that human connections are equally important as genetics, diet, exercise, or financial wealth in influencing quality and length of life.
Many third-acters find fulfillment in giving back to their communities through volunteering. Sharing your knowledge, skills, and experience with others can be incredibly rewarding and provide a sense of purpose, and even legacy.
These years invite a reprise of the questions, "What is life all about?" "What is it for?" It is a natural time for evaluating how we have used our lives, accepting ourselves and our actions and choices, making any amends, and resolving how to use those opportunities ahead of us to marshall our resources and strengths to align our lives with what we think they ought to be.
The third act is a journey filled with both challenges and opportunities. While the complexities of financial planning, adapting to a new identity, and addressing health concerns can be daunting, the chance to pursue passions, engage in lifelong learning, travel, strengthen relationships, and give back to the community can make the third act a truly fulfilling chapter of life.
With planning, intentionality, and a positive mindset, it
can be a time of personal growth, self-discovery, contentment, and joyful experiences. So, embrace this new phase of life, and make it your own.