Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife

by Marc Freedman
Reviewed by David Bradshaw, June 2013

The Big Shift is a must-read for Boomers in search of a sweeping panoramic view that comprehends the massive cultural shift now unfolding before our eyes - and the role we Boomers can choose to play in it.

Author and founder of Marc Freedman makes an impassioned call to us to accept the longevity decades now opening up between midlife and old age as an entirely new stage of life, which he dubs the "encore" years.

This book is written for the tens of millions of Boomers about to reach the intersection of midlife and this new "encore" stage. More than half of today's Boomers seek continuing income, deeper meaning from life, and increased social impact.

Freedman leads readers on an exciting guided tour of the growth of "Third Stage of Life" thinking over the last century - marking the end of the "retirement" era popularized over the last 60 years - and the birth of a new "reinspirement" era.

Growing economic uncertainty has helped to kick the slats out from under Boomers, exposing a major "purpose gap." Freedman feels we are entering the aftermath of "The Great Bloating" of America that lasted from the 1980s-late 2000s. This era's "McMansion lifestyles were both unsustainable and unattainable for most."

"Baby boomers are killing themselves at an alarming rate," reports the Washington Post. But why?

"Psychologists and academics say it likely stems from a complex matrix of issues particular to a generation that vowed not to trust anyone older than 30 and who rocked out to lyrics such as, 'I hope I die before I get old.'" writes Freedman. "Bob Knight, Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at University of Southern California says, 'We've been a pretty youth-oriented generation. We haven't idealized growing up and getting mature in the same way that other cohorts have.'"

In light of the longevity revolution, Freeman argues that we must forge a new road map both individually and as a society. "The future is already here, it's just distributed unequally." He sees this emerging encore stage as a win-win situation for all ages, announcing that it's "a windfall of talent, a new crown of life - a second chance at fulfillment and contribution - a time to grow up."

Intergenerational motivations can be clearly discerned in this book.

"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit." Rather than bemoaning what Harvard Review calls "career menopause," Freedman correctly explains that morality stands at the core of midlife crisis, which he calls "midlife chasm."

What Freedman does bemoan is a society extraordinarily wedded to the idea of endless youth, which Richard Rohr's Falling Upward calls "first half of life identity building." The result is a confusing, chaotic new second stage of life void of individual identity, coherent institutions or policies - and a lack of understanding in society.

Despite strong headwinds he offers scores of examples of how to make this transition successfully away from an "infantocracy" to more of a "gerantocracy" - a nation led by elders rather than by juniors.

In Chapter four, "New Stage Thinking," he underlines the emergence of a new stage of life with the publishing of the monumental work Adolescence by Grandville Stanley Hall in 1904. This groundbreaking book described a new stage of life between childhood and the adult world of work, a stage we now call "teenagers." Amazingly, this stage did not exist prior to the 20th Century (and some may wish it did not exist today, LOL!).

Freedman brings to light Hall's final work, completed at age 78, entitled, Senescense: The Last Half of Life and refers to it as a lost masterpiece. Hall was convinced that modern man is meant to do his best work after age forty.

"Grown up brains are good at connecting the dots because they see more dots," quoting Sara Lawrence Lightfoot's important book, The Third Chapter.

"At age 60 we have about 25 years to do what counts most ... and this realization will produce a boomer-led elevation of purpose greater and more enduring than our self," writes Freedman, quoting Daniel Pink's Drive. This compression of time during our Encore years gives us the possibility to create a positive "generativity" in the culture.

Freedman offers "10 Steps Toward a New Stage" in which he presents his recommendations for a smoother transition. He urges us to finally put the notion of a second childhood behind us. Instead of trying to be young, we should invest in the truly young; rather than trying to be them, we ought to be there for them.

"Millions are already in the midst of inventing a new stage of life and work - the encore years - between the end of midlife and anything resembling old-fashioned retirement," Freedman concludes. "We're envisioning this chapter as a time when we make some of our most important contributions, for ourselves, for our world, for the well-being of future generations. Each generation has its task, its opportunity, its moment of truth. Let us be remembered for what survives of us, for living our legacy."

I cannot recommend The Big Shift strongly enough to those seeking to comprehend what is going on right now in the Boomers' external world and Western culture.

To better understand what is going on inside the heart, mind and soul of Boomers, I recommend Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Reading Freedman and Rohr together doubles their impact!

A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

By Richard Rohr
Reviewed by David Bradshaw



Every once in a while a new book comes along that speaks to your circumstance so clearly that it has the ability to transform, expand and elevate your worldview for the rest of your life.

Falling Upward was such a book for me.

My research on redefining "retirement" was accelerated in the summer of 2012. I was asked to discuss the topic, "Will You Ever Be Able To Retire?" on several radio talk programs, as a part of my duties as publisher of a new economics book (The Great Debasement by Craig R. Smith & Lowell Ponte).

Comics joke that "80 is the new 65," but for millions of Americans, it's no longer a laughing matter.

Insurance giant AIG has already warned that the U.S. and other indebted Western governments will soon be pushing up retirement ages to as high as 80. This presents a new window of time and opportunity opened for a very non-traditional "retirement" by the vast Baby Boomer generation.

What I discovered in researching this topic was that more and more headlines were appearing asking a different question; "Do You Really Want to Retire?" This is the key question many boomers, largely unprepared for a traditional retirement, are now asking.

Then, in the Spring of 2013, a Sunday morning guest speaker at Paradise Church in Phoenix, AZ named Mark Bankord (Founder and Directional Leader of The Trajectory Institute) introduced the idea that this monumental migration of Boomers presented the culture in general - and the community of faith specifically - with a new and exciting challenge.

Bankord highly recommended two books to understand this topic further - The Big Shift by Encore Founder Mark Friedman and Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Which leads me to my book review.

A Visionary Book About Growing Up Spiritually

A book about growing up spiritually, Falling Upward, is by visionary Franciscan pastor/teacher/author Richard Rohr. It offers a fresh road map to guide Baby Boomers through the next vital rite of passage they face. Rohr offers readers his flashlight to help us find our way out of the dark and into a joyful, bright second half of life.

"Falling Upward is fresh way of thinking about spirituality that grows throughout life," says "Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite."

Rohr's inclusive writing style is, I suspect, the fruit of his four decades of experience in helping injured souls find healing, feel loved again and acceptance at last - and from this experience becoming free to discover the hidden meaning of the "necessary sufferings" we all face in our lifetimes.

His premise is simple: "The way up is the way down." He sees many examples of this axiom everywhere and in every culture - ranging from Greek mythology to "Man of Steel" modern heroes, and especially in Scripture, such as Jesus' Beatitudes, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the Apostle Paul's words, "It is when I am weak that I am strong."

Like the U-shaped curve seen in all of the natural world, so our lives are formed by a series of fallings, losses and even failures - in preparation for the next rebirth, rising, gains and successes. "The goal," Rohr writes, "is to make the sequences, the tasks, and the direction of the two halves of life clear."

"The loss and renewal pattern is so constant and ubiquitous that it should hardly be called a secret at all. Yet it is still a secret, probably because we do not want to see it. We do not want to embark on a further journey if it feels like going down."

It is this 'losing our life to find it' that eludes us during the first half of life, but becomes ever clearer in the second half of life. But we all need some help and guidance finding that road less traveled. "You cannot imagine a new space fully until you have been taken there," writes Rohr.

Falling Upward serves as a reminder to Baby Boomers that it is our duty and responsibility as elders to cross over into the second half of life to help guide the next generation down their path toward wisdom.

"In this book I would like to describe how this message of falling down is, in fact, the most counter-intuitive message in most of the world's religions, including and most especially Christianity," writes Rohr.

"We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it."

The problem we all face is that our rational mind cannot process suffering or setbacks, so instead we avoid them, deny them or blame someone else for them. What we should do, Rohr explains, is embrace them as part of our journey, our pathway to growth.

The Two Halves of Life Explained

In the first half of life we move incrementally from utter dependence upon our mother and father toward independence. In the first half of life we search for identity, meaning, significance and support to create a "proper container," Rohr writes.

"We all need some successes and positive feedback early in life, or we will spend the rest of our lives demanding it, or bemoaning its lack from others," writes Rohr. How true!

In the second half of life we discover the contents that the container was meant to hold and deliver. The old wineskins must be replaced by new, stronger, tested wineskins stretched to meet the changing needs of maturity.

True elders must learn patience with "juniors" because they cannot understand what they have not yet experienced. "The 'True Self' is very hard to offend," writes Rohr.

"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity," said Pope Paul XXIII, as a reflection of second half of life wisdom.

"The first journey is always about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, correct rituals and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for actual spirituality - yet they are all used and needed to create the container," Rohr writes. He sees that if we do not find a way to do the age-appropriate tasks of the two halves of life, both will be unfulfilled.

Today we live in a "first-half-of-life culture" largely preoccupied with surviving successfully. But, to quote a Native American aphorism, "No wise person ever wanted to be younger."

What does this say about modern American culture, driven to find the elusive fountain of eternal youth?

To me it illustrates how desperately our society needs true elders to emerge who have made a conscious choice to live and act like grownups, not like perpetual children who are content living in their first half of life forever.

The usual crossover points, writes Rohr, are a kind of "necessary suffering" and "homesickness" which could include the losses of a job, fortune, our reputation or health. This is the falling down which will end up turning into a falling upward if we allow the circumstance to do its inner work on our soul.

This second half of life also involves beginning to write our own life script, owning it and paying attention to 'the task within the task' of life. Moving from surviving to thriving.

"The familiar and habitual are so falsely reassuring, most of us make our homes in the first-half-of-life permanently," says Rohr. We do not willingly move out of our 'comfort zone' unless circumstances force us to do so.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, "If you have built your castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. But, now put foundations under them."

Connecting the first and second halves of life together is about seeing the world not as either-or, but rather both-and. Falling Upward presents a fresh vision of wholeness that calls us both upward and downward, for we cannot really understand Up until we have first experienced Down.

Regardless of your age, I recommend reading Falling Upward with an open heart, mind and spirit. You will better understand the spiritual aspects of aging and of making a "further journey" to discover your True Self. You will also grow in seeing how to "love thy neighbor as thy self."

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Disclaimer: All of the information herein is believed to be true, however errors are possible.