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Written by: Jan Allen
Date: June 24, 2014

"Composing A Further Life" by Mary Catherine Bateson

“Composing A Further Life” by Mary Catherine Bateson

“It was confusing in adolescence to be flooded with hormones, and it is confusing again as they dwindle; confusing in adolescence to discover zits on one’s face and confusing again to deal with wrinkles; confusing in adolescence to become the object of sexual desire and confusing again to be invisible.” ~ Mary Catherine Bateson, from her book “Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom”

Here is a stark reality of the 3rd/3rd of life: for most of us, it requires a search for our new identity. Except this time, we don’t have an entire lifetime ahead to try things on and try them out.

In my numerous conversations with people who have either retired or simply moved past 60 or 65, the concerns I often hear are about “what am I going to do now,” or “why does life seem different now?”  At a level deeper, though, the concern is really about “who am I now?”

Rainbow bricks and Who Am I? sign

Who Am I? Photo: Witten/Ruhrgebiet

When we either leave what we’ve known for so long, or when we cross over that threshold where we begin to seem invisible to parts of the world (unless we intervene to change that, which we can do!), we become rattled at the deepest level of being, the level of our identity.

Identity means who we believe we are and what we take to be real. It organizes our lives. It is creative – who we believe we are and what we take to be real tends to show up in our experience. This is why identity matters SO much – is it foundational; it makes us feel as though we have our feet on the ground.

But if you’ve been a working professional all your life, who are you without that If you’ve always been called on to do this and join that, what happens when those invitations fall off? When you’ve gotten up in the morning and been clear about what you’re going to do that day, what happens when you no longer know?

At a minimum, it’s confusing. For many, it’s positively dizzying. As though something has been scrambled but you can’t figure out what. In adolescence, we went from who our parents thought we were to finding ourselves – from no identity to identity. Now we’re going from identity to no identity, and its jarring.

Spiral staircase at the Supreme Court. Photo: .mary

Spiral staircase at the Supreme Court. Photo: .mary

The good news, though, is we can just notice the discombobulation, but not invest in it for too long, and then use our adult experience and wisdom to land in our new identity. That is, as long as we don’t let limiting beliefs get in the way.

Here are 3 key steps:

Discern what you love: This seems simple right? What happens, though, is we sit down to write the 5 things we love most and almost before we take a keystroke, we start censoring the list. “But I wouldn’t know how to do that.” … “I can’t make money at it or I can’t afford it.” “No one would want me.” You get the idea. So, without ANY additional thought, write down what you love. And know it can be anything. I love tomatoes so I want to develop an artisanal catsup. I have a friend who loves helping people with technology, so she’s creating a business to help those in the 3rd/3rd with their tech needs. Another who wants to live in a European city several months of the year. Once she got over her “that’s impossible,” limiting belief, she found a way to make it possible.

Photo: LollyKnit

Photo: LollyKnit

Be willing to be who you need to be in order to have what you love: Here’s the tricky part. Having what you love now may require you to be someone a little different; that is, it may necessitate a new identity of sorts. So if you want to create a business to help others with technology, you’ll need to become an entrepreneur – which will require learning how to do a simple business plan, changing how you do your taxes, figuring out how to create your service and to market it, and getting “out there” in your new identity.

Lighten up on yourself while you go through this transition to the new you: This is the time to remember William Bridges’ great work on transitions. All transitions begin with an ending (in this case, an end to the identity or identities you have known). Then there is a middle, a neutral zone where things aren’t clear and you are perhaps grieving a little and discerning who you will be next, while likely feeling a bit scattered and without direction. And then, as things round into form, there is a new beginning, and the energy and excitement that goes with it.

Photo: Change Management Consulting Group

Photo: Change Management Consulting Group

You’ll know you are there when you confidently step into the world and proclaim your identity. “I’m a maker of catsup.” “I savor life by living in the U.S. and in Europe two months a year.” “I coach and teach people over 50 how to use technology.” And you’ll no longer miss what you used to say.