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Shifting Perspectives

June 28, 2018

When I was 13, I couldn't wait to be 18. I would be grown up, have a boyfriend, be able to drive a car, and graduate from high school. When I was 16, I couldn't wait 'til I would be 21. I would be an adult, independent, have a job, and do all those other things adults get to do.
 
By the time  I was 26, I was so busy with a new job, a new boyfriend (who later became my husband) and being completely on my own, that I had no time or inclination to think about what I would be like when I would be older. 
 
Fast forward 48 years and I am now in my mid-70s and retired. I certainly never thought about being 70 when I was younger. Recently I've been a member of our Homeowners Association Board  (HOA) for three terms. During this time, the Board completed a number of improvements, initiated others and our budget is in good shape.  I have no desire to run for for the Board again. This past year I was an officer of a non-profit educational organization, and value that experience.  They asked if I wanted to be nominated for a second term. I declined.
 
From where I sit today, being 70 feels different than being in my 50s or 60s. For one thing, I am very aware that there is more past behind me than future ahead of me. On the other hand, I do still have a future ahead of me.  Sometimes I think about this as an unexpected gift. It's a gift I haven't yet figured out how to use.
 
Some writers and researchers have begun to explore and describe this phase of life. Here are four excerpts that resonte with me:
 
In an article in the Huffington Post, Ken Dychtwald suggests this is a time when " 'be-ing' increasingly replaces 'do-ing'."  This may explain why my role on the HOA Board and with the educational organization were no longer satisfying. I needed to leave these roles to make space for the next thing, whatever it will be, to enter my life.
 
A part of this sense of difference also includes a realization of both greater choice over what I do. There are no expectations for what people in their 70s "should" be like. Gloria Steinem, in a video interview with Oprah, characterizes it this way, "The whole idea is not to figure out what you should do that will matter, but to make each thing you do reflect the values you want."
 
Laura Carstensen, founding Director of the Stanford Center for Longevity,  in her TEDxWomenTalk on Older people are happier, describes the shift that occures this way: "our time horizons grow shorter and our goals change. When we recognize that we don't have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly. We take less notice of trivial matters. We savor life. We're more appreciative, more open to reconciliation. We invest in more emotionally important parts of life,..."
 
I came across Mary Catherine Bateson's book, Full Circles, Overlapping Lives. In it she says
"Lives take new shapes as we live longer and try out multiple paths and roles, ...but coming to terms with them is personal, as individuals recognize and work creatively with the changing contours of their lives and the shifting ways they overlap."
 
Being in the middle of making the shift each of these authors describe isn't easy!
 
While on vacation in Naples, Florida, a few years ago my husband and I visited the Baker Museum of Art. There was an exhibit of Dale Chihuly's work, and this is a photo I took of one of his hanging glass sculptures. As I see it, it represents my life. The glass rods and balls refelct Bateson's words -  "the changing contours of  [my life] and the shifting ways they overlap" - a sculpture depicting my life as a whole, with the colors providing vibrancy, variety and energy.
 
How does this relate to the notion that being 70 is different? Do you see the three rods at the top reaching up? It's as if the sculpture is stretching to create the next phase of its design. That's what I think makes being 70 different – it is an opportunity to stretch and grow in a distinct way. It occurs through a deeper understanding of who I have become during all the "do-ing" of my younger years, while also embracing the shift in perspective which empowers me to become the next evolution of myself.

Barbara Adler is in her 70s and exploring the potential inherent in this next phase of her life. She is a retired Board Certified Coach.