The Third Third

Sticking Points

“Stuck” is not a pleasant word. In fact, it’s almost onomatopoeic, for it’s clearly not pleasant to be stuck, either. But “stuck” is where we are, according to a new book, *The Hourglass Solution – A Boomer’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life*, by social scientists Paula Forman and Jeff Johnson. The two, once gurus in the advertising industry, analyze the situation in terms of the life forces that have shaped the baby boomer generation to date, and offer realistic options (and not a few verbal kicks in the butt) to get us un-stuck. Their unique focus is metaphorically the skinny middle of the hourglass, the lifestage after midlife and before The Third Third, that sticky transition period prior to achieving what the authors call “Greater Adulthood,” (a term which has a nice ring to it, I think). It explains, for me, the apparent lack of enthusiasm I have seen for The Third Third, the fact that, instead of seizing the abundant opportunities to make more of our lives than any generation before us, thanks to better health and more plentiful resources, many of us are looking at the post-children, post-career years as a great, yawning abyss eager to suck us into old age. We’re paralyzed by denial (baby boomers getting old?), fear of this unknown, a lack of role models, and sometimes by our own success and the patterns we have laid down to achieve it. Forman and Johnson also suggest in our cluttered, competitive, complex culture we’ve lost track of who we are and, with that loss of self, have lost touch with what we want, what makes us happy. We muddle on, of course, but we are stuck. We literally don’t know anymore how to engage in the rich potential of the next third of our lives or, returning to the hourglass metaphor, the full second half. I’ve seen this – and like any personal weakness in others which might – just might – reflect one of my own – it has on occasion made me judgmental and critical. Why can’t these women get with it? I’ve asked. Why are they still whining about all they weren’t able to do as “good mothers” or because they “had to work” instead of rejoicing in their new freedom and the ability to do whatever they damn well please now? Why can’t they get over it, get beyond the divorce, the kid on drugs, the failure to go to law school and move on? Why do they insist on playing the victim – forever? Where’s their energy? Where’s their spunk? Why are they acting so old? Why won’t they try anything new? Don’t they get it? We’ve got a huge chunk of our lives left and the ability to go almost anywhere and do almost anything and they’re afraid. They act like they’d rather die than change. They don’t even want to talk about a deepening spirituality, or ways they could make a difference, or travel or classes or a different kind of work that might excite them, or taking up golf, or cooking, or meeting new people. They can’t, they say. They just can’t. What The Hourglass Solution showed me is that this malaise – or identity crisis -- is endemic to our generation, even a generation that has redefined every life stage it has moved through. Somehow, the fear of getting old has arrested our ability to think about life differently now, now when Forman and Johnson insist, we have better resources than ever before to bring to bear on the process. We have lived well, they say, and we should take what we’ve learned about ourselves to make even more self-fulfilling choices going forward. If abundant choices and options are the blessing of our age, however, making those choices – and the concomitant changes -- are the curse. Or, less onerously, the challenge. Here Forman and Johnson offer useful guidance: Start with a self-assessment. Re-evaluate your goals and accomplishments, examine your relationships, recalculate the balance of work, money and job satisfaction, address the demands of your body. What’s working for you? What’s not? What makes you happy? What do you really want? What’s getting in the way? What keeps it in the way? If you are not happy and fulfilled now, why not risk a change – in the work you do, the place you live, the people you love, the way you spend your day? Otherwise, they say, we risk what we seem to fear most: simply getting old, living less of life, and dying. And that’s really stuck – as in, in the ground! As always, it helps to know you’re not the only one feeling stuck, that “stuck” is, in many ways, a developmentally appropriate condition. What Forman and Johnson provide is a revealing roadmap of baby boomer development – where we’ve been and why, where we are now and how we got here, and sign posts for the road ahead, should we choose to move in a positive direction, toward happiness and self fulfillment. In a way, their book is a permission slip, if not a prescription, to continue our life-long quest to exercise control over our own lives and to seek happiness and self-fulfillment and they show quite clearly how that all translates in daily life: You can quit your job with all its power and perks simply because you’ve grown to hate it; you can suggest that someone else host the family holidays if you feel you’ve exhausted that role; you can jettison responsibilities that hold you back and keep you down; you can renew your relationships or seek new ones if the old ones aren’t working; you can engage as fully in life as ever before; you can even make mistakes and change your mind. But – and here the hourglass image returns – time is passing. Don’t waste it staying stuck. **For more from Forman and Johnson:** *Add to the conversation. Do you feel stuck? Have you gotten un-stuck? Please share your stories and counsel.*
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