Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose


From the authors of the bestselling ''Repacking Your Bags'' and ''Whistle While You Work'' comes a new paradigm of successful aging for men and women entering into the second half of their lives.
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From the authors of the bestselling ''Repacking Your Bags'' and ''Whistle While You Work'' comes a new paradigm of successful aging for men and women entering into the second half of their lives.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781459626003
  • Publisher: ReadHowYouWant, LLC
  • Publication date: 8/18/2011
  • Pages: 228
  • Sales rank: 813,625
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.48 (d)

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claiming your place at the fire


Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57675-877-9

Chapter One

The Flame of Identity Recalling Our Stories

New Elder Richard Strozzi Heckler

At an age when most of his contemporaries were wondering what to do with themselves after retirement, Richard Strozzi Heckler embarked on a new and exciting journey uncommon to men at any stage of life.

The words of the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung seemed to have been written just for him: "Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life ... we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as before. But we cannot live the afternoons of life according to the program of life's morning—for what was great in the morning will be little in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie."

We cannot tell if we have entered the second half of life solely by counting the candles on our birthday cake. We do not really step into the afternoon of life just because we reach a certain age. To know where we are in the process of becoming a new elder, we must learn to look inside.

When Richard Strozzi Heckler looked inside at age 59, he discovered that living in his 60th year was a time of transformation—a time of spiritual awakening. Instead of answers, he was left with questions: "What exactly does it mean to be an elder? How do elders grow? How is the process the same or different for everyone? Who are the new elders?"

Just as predicted by Jung, Richard had noticed a shift within himself. Noon had passed. He had entered a different part of the day, about which he knew very little. But he was aware of crossing a threshold; he was aware that this was a new stage in his journey.

Many older adults pretend that the second half of life is no different than the first. Billions of dollars are spent by millions of people trying to avoid the inevitable changes that attend the advancing years. Jung wrote that such a person "must pay with damages to his soul." Whether we enter the second half of life on purpose with our eyes open, or against our will with our eyes shut, enter we will.

Richard Strozzi Heckler is entering the second half of life with his eyes wide open. He says, "It's an internal thing, definitely! It's clear I am my own obstacle. To be free in the second half means to release those internal mechanisms that hold me. Freedom now feels much more like extension, engagement, striding into an open field."

Richard is the founder and president of the Strozzi Institute, an organization dedicated to exploring the frontiers of somatic (mind-body) learning and living. Combining a Ph.D. in clinical psychology with a 30-year history as a student and teacher of the martial art aikido, Richard still glows when he discusses his love for teaching—particularly the teaching of young people.

"When I'm teaching younger people, I wake up with a warmth and a fire in my chest that gets me going. I wake up and see a wreath of color—I've been given another day to serve. I hold a genuine feeling of possibility, that there's something out there today that will allow me to help them advance their dreams."

Richard, like many of the new elders we interviewed, has a life that represents an exception to the traditional model of aging in our culture. We spoke with him early one morning while he was making breakfast for a 6-year-old child—his son, not his grandson. At an age when most people his age are launching their children into the world, Richard finds himself in a welcoming space with a second family and three young kids. For Richard, finding purpose in the second half of life involved marrying and starting a whole new family.

"Our world is so open," Richard claims. "There are more options than ever before—more lifestyles and work-styles available. I have choices before me at any given moment to put the best part of myself forward."

In addition to his family, Richard feels the fullest expression of himself emerges through his work. "If I sold my business," he admits, "it would be like selling myself." Reflecting on what qualities he would look for in a wise elder, Richard names his friend and colleague, George Leonard. At age 80, George is "still future-looking. He sees the horizon. And he's a stand against ageism!"

According to Richard, "wise elders like George are patient—patient in the sense of having the long and panoramic view. Not just that someone takes time, but that their patience comes from a deep and wide perspective on life. Wisdom is the intelligence and generativity that is beyond the self. Over three billion years of evolution is evident in wise elders. They know how to tap into that and show others how they can tap into it."

Adult life increasingly develops to different rhythms. Some people begin new careers when others their age are concluding their final ones. Some start families at a time others are facing the "empty nest." In this era of choices, new twists and turns are the normal ingredients of growing older. We are free to experiment with new ways to live and work in the second half of life. Some are training for triathalons at 65, while others are headed for rocking chairs. Who would have thought, for instance, that a 77-year-old former astronaut named John Glenn would take another journey into outer space? The passage that Richard is exploring in his 60th year is not merely a shift from one chronological age to another. As Joseph Campbell put it so well: "The call rings up the curtain, always on a mystery of transformation. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for passing the threshold is at hand." Richard Strozzi Heckler is showing us the way across that threshold into a deeper dimension of ourselves.

To age successfully, we must do more than keep fit and stay healthy physically. Like Richard Strozzi Heckler, and George Leonard, we need to stay mentally and emotionally healthy as well by initiating growth to a new level. To do that, we need to deconstruct and reconstruct our stories—we need to pursue self-understanding by poring over the pages of life we have written and making sense of them in context of the chapters now unfolding. Too many people live their lives as a short story that warrants no revision. They live fully for only a short time and extend the dying process far too long. New elders point to an alternative. They show us how the second half of the story can be as vital and compelling as the first.

* * *

Rewriting the Story for Our Second Half

To set a path for the second half of our lives, we have to know where we've come from in the first half. "Life can only be understood backwards," wrote Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, "but it must be lived forwards."

At any stage of life, we can review where we've come from and take stock of our lives. But mid-life is a time when it may be possible to recover the life we have lost in living. The inward journey involves the return to our place of origin. Or, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot in "Little Giddings," the end of our explorations "will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

The process of recalling our stories is one of the critical steps toward vital aging. It is never too late to begin to know oneself for the first time. The extent of our earlier inability or refusal to honor our stories will determine how long it will take to recover the life lost in living.

Most of us have been too busy writing the story of our life in the first half to be able to read it, Attention to our own stories is partly forced on us by the circumstances in the second half of life. Our children mature and move out, our colleagues retire and move on, our parents and friends grow old and pass away—all of these events focus our minds on who we are, how we've gotten here, and where we're going.

However successfully we've managed to deny death, changes in our bodies make an awareness of it impossible to ignore. Indicators as commonplace as graying hair and slower recovery from injury expose a new—or at least long-neglected—understanding of what it means to live and to die.

With this understanding comes an opportunity to draw and communicate great wisdom from the life we have led, through the recollection and retelling of our life's stories. Of course, many people are reluctant to share those stories. Usually, this is because they feel there isn't much to tell or because they fear revealing secrets. Yet, it is commonplace that from the most ordinary lives often come some of the most extraordinary tales.

Recalling our stories moves us forward and frees us from the wounds of the past by helping us to put our lives in context. Taking stock of the first half of life is a step toward being freer to live the second half with greater vitality. The events of the first half forced us to pay attention to the "doing" of them; we spent more time making things than making sense of them. But there is something about systematically recalling our stories that accelerates the growth process and puts us in a more solid position to move forward creatively.

As we tell our own stories, a new relationship with the world emerges. We move from an emphasis on external matters to a focus on inward feelings, replacing a feeling of outward obligation with a renewed sense of personal purpose. The inward look transforms the outward journey.

Paradoxically, by becoming better acquainted with our own story, we more fully understand the stories of others. We are freed from the perspective of seeing all reality as revolving around ourselves. We continue to be important, but what's around us—individuals, society, all of nature—takes on new significance. We often move from an egocentric view of reality to one that is more universal.

Increased attention to one's own story carries with it a deeper appreciation for the stories of others. Recalling and affirming our own story frees us from the wounds and despair so evident in many older people. Recalling our own story uncovers feelings of kinship with people with whom we have shared times and places. Doing so enables us to rediscover and respect a new and potentially more purposeful way of relating to the world—both within and around us.

Nobody is beyond growth. No person ever reaches a stage where further development is either inappropriate or unwarranted. We all need—and whether we know it or not, want—to keep growing. Of course, there are times when staying on a plateau is legitimate and times when, for good reasons, we hold back from advancing, but overall, there is no denying the truth: We either continue to grow or we begin to die. Recalling our stories is an antidote to such stagnation and a catalyst to growth.

Finishing Our Lives

For many people today, retirement is a roleless role. This is true in large part because the traditional notion of retirement fits with a worn-out notion of aging that conceives of it primarily in terms of disengagement and decline. Today, though, many of us are asking "How appropriate is retirement for a vital person with 30 or more years left to live?" Retirement, as it has been conceived for the past 100 years or so, can turn purposeful lives into casualties.

The traditional story of retirement will no longer be relevant to a growing number of people in the second half of life. It is time to retire that conception of retirement.

James Hillman, in his book, The Force of Character, talks about the "finish" of our lives in a way that distinguishes "finish" from "end." Finishing our lives, says Hillman, is better understood as "putting a finish" on our lives—that is, burnishing our character to a high gloss. Hillman makes the natural connections between finishing our lives and distinguishing the legacy we leave. Both require us to develop the most authentic expression of who we are to claim our place at the fire.

Recalling our story is essential to the challenge and privilege of finishing well in life. The true expression of our life's purpose is as vital to our ending as to our beginning. Heeding our call keeps us journeying on purpose—and thus growing and evolving to the very end of our lives. We may retire from our jobs, but there is no relaxing from our individual callings. Calling not only precedes career but outlasts it as well. Callings never end when careers do. We may at times be unemployed or retired, but no one ever becomes uncalled. Our vocational story unfolds from cradle to grave.

Betty Friedan, in her book The Fountain of Age, gives a fascinating account of her research into the aging process. One breakthrough insight is that "being old is not the same as acting old." She concludes that the mind plays an essential role, along with the body, in how we age. Our stories determine whether we are growing and heeding our calling or declining and decaying. And according to her research, the almost universally held story for aging is a period of decline. As Friedan observes, "Myth has replaced reality."

We have all seen people who are aging well. Actor-director Clint Eastwood, at age 73, talks fondly about being on the "back nine" of life. Author Jane Juska, in her best-seller A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, tells the story of what happened after she took out an advertisement in the New York Review of Books that said: "Before I turn 67—next March—I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like."

These are obviously not 21-year-olds, but they have the curiosity and hunger for the life experience of a young person. These are people who heed their callings from cradle to grave. These are people who refuse to see themselves as "senior citizens." These are new elders like Vivian Marsh.

New Elder Vivian Marsh

Vivian Marsh's transition to a more purposeful second half of life happened almost by accident. "And that in itself represents a pretty huge transition," she tells us, "for most of my life I've not been someone who does things unless they're very clearly planned out. My friend Charlotte tells me that this is because I'm a double Virgo—I don't know about that—but I do know that my entire career was built upon organization and preparation. So, it's a been a great adventure to have this new phase of my life more or less emerge by itself, without my having decided beforehand how it would look."

It makes perfect sense that Vivian should have emphasized organization and preparation in the first half of her life. Pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and earning tenured professorship at a major research university—the only woman in her department and one of only a handful in her field—doesn't happen without a lot of planning ... at least for Vivian it didn't. "I was always interested in numbers, even when I was little. When I was in high school, I took all the math and science classes I could—I was often the only girl in those classes—and I decided pretty early on that I was more interested in the 'applied' side of things than the theoretical. That's how I got into engineering. And I picked mechanical because I've always loved gadgets."

At 53, though, with over 16 years of service in her department, Vivian took her first sabbatical. "That's sort of pathetic, really," she jokes. "Here I am, someone who's supposed to be an expert with numbers, who managed to go more than twice the number of years you're supposed to before taking a break. Sabbaticals are supposed to happen every 7 years; I more than doubled that before realizing it was time." (Continues...)

Excerpted from claiming your place at the fire by RICHARD J. LEIDER DAVID A. SHAPIRO Copyright © 2004 by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Invitation to the Fire....................vii
Prologue At the Fireside: The New Elder....................ix
Introduction The Four Flames of Vital Aging....................1
Chapter 1 The Flame of Identity: Recalling Our Stories....................13
Chapter 2 The Flame of Community: Refinding Our Place....................47
Chapter 3 The Flame of Passion: Renewing Our Calling....................67
Chapter 4 The Flame of Meaning: Reclaiming Our Purpose....................103
Epilogue Keeping the Fire Alive....................127
About the Authors....................151
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