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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seek Passion and Adventure in Your Third Chapter, June 22, 2009
This review is from: The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 (Hardcover)
Women Who Could... and Did: Lives of 26 Exemplary Artists and Scientists

The "Third Chapter," a still newly defining phase of life, following the middle years, can be a time of exploration, adventure, risk-taking and new learning. Distinguished Harvard Education School sociologist, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's new book, The Third Chapter, takes us on a journey to meet 40 people she interviewed across the U.S.

What did she discover about people, aged 50-75 who are embarking on a new adventure? They were crossing boundaries, much as one would in an "anthropological expedition." Challenging themselves to leave the comfortable niche of their mid-years' careers, they enter a world where they feel like "awkward strangers, inept travelers, vulnerable observers." As one of the men whom I interviewed for my TV show, "Alivelihood: New Careers As We Age" said, "I'm both the oldest and the newest," at learning to be a stand-up comic after 30 years as a teacher.

Lawrence-Lightfoot finds that in crossing boundaries and learning to welcome ambiguity, these 3rd Chapter folks require several talents:
* Deep curiosity to know something new
* Ability to relinquish fear of the unknown and fear of failure; being able to name the fear and take a leap of faith
* Willingness to be vulnerable, exposed to public floundering
* Embrace contradictions and integrate the new with the familiar

This journey sometimes took people back to an earlier time when they felt vulnerable, challenged, unwelcome. Some of these were painful trips, back to times when a parent or teacher gave the message "You'll never amount to anything" or "Girls don't do that." Those people had to find a way to heal the wounds - by naming them, confronting the emotion, the inner gremlins, and then moving forward to take the risk.

In moving ahead, they defied long-standing stereotypes and institutional structures that still expect 3rd Agers to retire, withdraw, and leave the stage to the younger generation. But, in contrast, they are embracing new learning, new projects and careers with passion and a sense of adventure.

At her 60th birthday party, neurobiologist Anna Nielson (one of the women interviewed) remarked that she felt with sudden urgency the finiteness of life. "I had this big, newborn sense that I must do things I had left undone for too long." Instead of remaining in the research lab, she decided to bridge the gap between research and public policy. She went on to work on HIV/AIDS in East Africa.

Others that Lawrence-Lightfoot writes about shifted to entirely new mental regions - Charles Watkins, a corporate lawyer, embarked on working on public gardens in the Chinese community, where he discovered the "gladness" of opening his heart to "the world's great hunger." Lawrence-Lightfoot finds that while people engage in new passions, they develop patience, wisdom, and the desire to leave a legacy. These are more important to them than succeeding in a conventional sense.

To adapt and master new engagements, they stretch themselves in body, voice and soul. They learn to trust their bodies, even those who relied on the life of the mind in the past - "thinking with the body" is the way one man who became a jazz musician described it. They discovered their voices, both literally (learning to sing as a previously tone-deaf person) and figuratively by standing up and delivering a message. They discovered changes in their "core being," becoming more soulful, wanting to do something meaningful, to give back.

The author closes with a chapter that recognizes the need to "crack" or remedy the fissures in our infrastructure to make it possible for not only the affluent and educated 3rd Chapter people to have the resources to explore and reinvent themselves, but for more people to have opportunities to go on these anthropological expeditions in their 6th, 7th, and 8th decades. This is a book that echoes much of what LPNers believe in and try to promote.
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