In my memoir, My Life So Far, I defined my life in three acts: Act I, from birth to 29 years; Act II, from 30 to 59 years; and Act III, from 60 until the end. It really seemed to resonate with people, and a few years after the book came out, my editor at Random House, Kate Medina, came to me and suggested I write a book focusing more on the Third Act. I was interested in doing this because I was already well into my Third Act and relished the challenge to dig deeper, to understand its meaning, to learn how to make the most of it, and to navigate the inevitable challenges of aging--what is negotiable and what isn't.
Third Acts are important. They can make sense out of what may seem like discordant, confusing First Acts. Third Acts can, if we think about it, allow us to discover who we really are. Entered with intention, Third Acts can help us become midwives to ourselves before we die.
I knew that this exploration is especially important now, because in the last century, the average life expectancy has expanded by 35 years! Think about it: At the time of our founding fathers, the average person died at around 35 years of age. Now we can expect to live, on average, 80 years! An entire second adult lifetime! This amazing gift of time means that Third Acts have gained a whole new significance.
Yet we are pioneers within this new reality. We need a road map to show us how to navigate the new terrain. I wanted to create this roadmap--for myself, as well as for my readers. We who are approaching our Third Acts (or are already in the midst of them, as I am), can show the way for those coming up--our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
We are still living with the old paradigm of aging, which can best be described as an arch: We are born, we peak at midlife, and then decline--age as pathology.
While researching my book, I discovered another paradigm, one that is far more appropriate given the longevity revolution. It is the image of a staircase, an upward ascension until the end--age as potential--for wisdom, authenticity, and wholeness.
This metaphor for aging is one that I myself am experiencing, and I wanted to understand why this is so and write about it. Yes, my body is experiencing the effects of age, but after coming through a very difficult, painful midlife, I find that I am happier, more peaceful, and more content than I have ever been. My relationships are deeper and less anxious. I find this is true, by the way, for most of my older friends. This was not at all what I had expected at this stage of life! Yes, we forget things, but we also remember a lot and with more vividness now because we know why we want to remember them. Yes, we lose eyesight, but we gain insight. We learn what we need and what to let go of. We tend to make lemons into lemonade instead of mountains out of molehills. Scientists call this the Positivity Factor and their research shows it to be the case for most women and men over 50, regardless of their circumstances, even in the face of physical challenges. How, I wanted to know, can we ensure this is true for us?
I sat myself down and made a list of all the things I wanted to know about aging, from sex to exercise; from nutrition to wisdom. A to Z. I talked to scientists, doctors, priests. To centenarians. To men and women in long-term marriages, and those who were looking for love or needing a way out of loneliness. I write about my own experiences and much more.
I realized that to better navigate our Third Act, we benefit by reviewing the first two acts. I call this doing a Life Review, and it can profoundly alter our understanding of ourselves, our past, and what we need to do to complete ourselves as we ascend the staircase to the end. This is why Prime Time includes a discussion of Acts I and II and the developmental issues that lie within each of them, as well as questions you can ask yourself about how you were at those times. Understanding these things can help you swing into your Third Act as prepared as possible to make it your Prime Time.
“A how-to book about being happy and self-aware [that] cites research and interviews with upbeat, lively, sexually active older people to extract some all-purpose lessons about endurance.”—The New York Times
“Warm, informative, and incredibly life affirming.”—Woman’s Day
“Read this, age gracefully.”—InStyle
From the Trade Paperback edition.