I have always dreamed of going on a safari — the elephants roaming, the lions stalking and the luxurious tent and campfire meals! This would be the moment to go for it — my kids are grown, my freelance work gives me the time flexibility, I am still healthy, and I have enough financial backing to take the trip of a lifetime.
The problem is that now that my dream trip is an option, I am stunned to discover that my wish list is outdated. Conventional wisdom states that the years after adulthood and before old age are when you are able to do some of the things you “always wanted to do.” Besides travel, the list often includes: learn a language, read serious books, play tennis (or golf or pick-up basketball), or establish a regular poker game. So you are surprised when, given the opportunity, you don’t want to do any of it. But, why?
This new stage of life is less about doing what you have always wanted to do and more about becoming who you really are. That wish list was composed by the person who had roles to fulfill and responsibilities to live up to.
Those days are gone. But because we are pioneers in the new stage of life — referred to as the encore stage — we have no guides or role models. We also have no prescribed standards to measure up to. Navigating this experience is much more challenging than learning a new language.
Revising our priorities and expectations to suit our encore selves can shake up our behavior and shock not only ourselves, but our friends and especially our children.
Here are just some of the areas in which all bets are off:
- Friends. As your needs and interests shift, there may be friends who slip from the inner circle; you still love them, but they are not whom you want to hang out with. Other friends may become more interesting or compatible, and making new friends may become a high priority.
- Work. Whether work is what you do primarily to make a living, a major part of who you are, or even if it is a burden you can’t wait to escape, your relationship with it may change. For one thing, the drive that got you where you are is abating; instead many people long for more meaning, even if that means cutting back on material things. By the same token, many women in particular, find themselves more committed to their work now that they no longer have to balance it against other demands.
- Food, drink, and pastimes. What used to look like fun or the way you relaxed may become less interesting — perhaps because you are already more relaxed now. Finding out what it is that really gets you going may not be easy. That’s why it is important to give yourself a little slack when the second or third project you try doesn’t hold your attention.
- Yourself. It may take a while to get used to the unexpected behavior or interests that come over you. For women, the hardest shift may be from caregiving to care-getting. Gloria Steinem calls for a new golden rule: “Do unto yourself as you have been doing unto others.” For men, the stumbling block can be the shift from being what you do to being who you are. After years of focusing on the road ahead, it takes a while to reactivate your peripheral vision.
Getting older isn’t about taking who you have always been to the next stage, it is about reconsidering the elements of your life so far and deciding what you are going to do for an encore.
Photo Credit: Arias Levhita