When I recently attended an event in my town to discuss current issues facing seniors, I had high expectations. I wanted to learn what people like me - who identify as ‘neither young nor old’ - could contribute to our community’s well-being.
I wanted people in my age group - sixty five plus - to feel motivated to use our skills and the power of our numbers to engage in making life better for us all. But I was seriously disappointed when I heard this room packed with resourceful seniors simply given a list of services available to us: like meals on wheels, recreation activities like painting or strength training, and education against fraud.
After finishing the book The Third Chapter I fully realized what a missed opportunity this was. It’s true that many seniors need support services, especially those with fewer resources. But according to sociologist and author Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, people between the ages of fifty and seventy five are in a new stage of life full of potential. A result of the increase in life expectancy, experts are referring to this new developmental stage as a kind of second adult life, after our careers have come to an end, but before we’re too old to stay active, healthy and productive.
Instead of decline or looking for a life of leisurely retirement, many seniors at this point in their lives want to use their considerable skills and continue to learn and be creative. The goal, the experts say, is to find new meaning and purpose, beyond former jobs, established family, and past achievements.
This ‘third chapter’ requires a shift from the assumption that seniors “need” services and “take” resources to the belief that seniors can contribute and should be compensated accordingly. Instead of more services and volunteering, I’d like to see Third Chapter seniors afforded more rights and opportunities - like the right to affordable health care and a decent job as long as we can work.
And we need the opportunity to participate in intergenerational exchanges where the energy of the young meets the wisdom of elders to benefit society. So, in addition to attracting young professionals to invigorate our state, we should also find new ways for seniors to contribute to our state’s ongoing vitality.