The Third Third

Poster Child for the Third Third?

I met a woman this weekend I may have to nominate as a Poster Child for The Third Third. A former professional opera singer, pianist, wife, civic volunteer, and mother of three grown children, she looked ahead when her daughter was in high school and decided a life stage dedicated to golf, tennis and bridge – even though she knew she’d enjoy it -- just wasn’t going to cut it. So she went back to school to be certified as a landscape architect. *And* she took up hiking and climbing – serious hiking and climbing, replete with courses, ropes, guides, and equipment. She has hiked the world. She describes Alpine Hiking – hiking and climbing over a combination of dirt, rock and glacier ice -- as her favorite sport. Have you ever been afraid? My husband, the not-at-all-intrepid hiker of only the most familiar trails, asked her. Afraid? She acts like she doesn’t understand the concept. Yes, like afraid you might fall, or die, or be left to die in the snow and cold? (He is known, by some of us, as a catastrophic thinker.) She thought long and hard before conceding that yes, she had from time to time been scared. “I guess that would be the word for it,” she said, “when I’m crossing an ice bridge 12 or 18 inches wide with deep crevasses on either side.” My husband is, immediately, distressed. He turns pale and his heart begins to race, though we are not even close to a summit. We are sitting, beers in hand, in a friend’s back yard on the plains of Texas. She explains why she’d even attempt to cross a dangerously narrow ice bridge. “More than fear, being there generates focus. It demands my total concentration and focus. And that’s what makes it worth doing.” She has found the measure: what makes it worth doing? That’s how she’ll make her choices about Life in the Third Third. Finding that unique personal measure of what it is that makes something worth doing is the developmental work of the third third, I think. This woman is, clearly, ahead of the game. Still, it is not, as they say, a race; it is a journey, a process, even a pilgrimage. You may find it in something you have done before. You may see it – or its opposite, for that matter -- in a mentor or role model. You may have buried it deep inside you years ago and find it’s not that hard to dig it up. It may develop in something entirely new. You may have to experiment – without the crevasses. You may stumble, fall down, pick yourself up, and try again. But what you’re looking for – what each of us is seeking – is our own personal measure of what’s worth doing -- in exchange for this wondrous opportunity to live, and live well, another 30 or so years. Fear. Or Focus. Our choice.
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