The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50

Overview

“We must develop a compelling vision of later life: one that does not assume a trajectory of decline after fifty, but one that recognizes it as a time of change, grown, and new learning; a time when ‘our courage gives us hope.’” —from The Third Chapter

At a key moment in the twenty-first century, demographers are recognizing the significance of a distinct developmental phase: those years following early adulthood and middle age when we are “neither young nor old.” Whether by ...

See more details below
Paperback (First Edition)
$10.00
BN.com price
(Save 33%)$15.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (88) from $1.99   
  • New (17) from $2.07   
  • Used (71) from $1.99   
The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook - First Edition)
$9.99
BN.com price

Overview

“We must develop a compelling vision of later life: one that does not assume a trajectory of decline after fifty, but one that recognizes it as a time of change, grown, and new learning; a time when ‘our courage gives us hope.’” —from The Third Chapter

At a key moment in the twenty-first century, demographers are recognizing the significance of a distinct developmental phase: those years following early adulthood and middle age when we are “neither young nor old.” Whether by choice or not, many in their “third chapters” are finding ways to adapt, explore, and channel their energies, skills, and passions in new ways and into new areas.

It’s this process of creative reinvention that the renowned sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot details in The Third Chapter, which redefines our views about the casualties and opportunities of aging. She challenges the still-prevailing and anachronistic images of aging by documenting and revealing how the years between fifty and seventy-five may, in fact, be the most transformative and generative time in our lives, tracing the ways in which wisdom, experience, and new learning inspire individual growth and cultural transformation.

The Third Chapter is not a how-to guide but a fascinating work of sociology, full of passionate and poignant stories of risk and vulnerability, failure and resilience, challenge and mastery, experimentation and improvisation, and insight and new learning. These stories reveal a whole world of learning and discovery awaiting those who want it. In The Third Chapter, Lawrence-Lightfoot captures a new moment in history and offers us a book rich with insight and hope about our endless capacity for change and growth.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
An upbeat yet realistic "road map" for older men and women eager to change their lives midcourse.

Nowadays, variations on "midlife is not the end of life" are trumpeted in scores of self-help books, televisions, and movies. Sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's book distinguishes itself from those feel-good genres with its nuanced blend of insightful professional observations and real-life stories of older Americans who achieved "third-chapter" life transformations. To formulate her encouraging conclusions, the author draws on extended interviews with scores of men and women who dared to navigate a new way.
From the Publisher
The Third Chapter is a compassionate rendering of the challenges of entering uncharted post-career years, followed by an eloquent vision of the joys that lie ahead for those who put giving at the center of living.” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School Professor and bestselling author of Confidence and America the Principled

 

“Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot follows her subjects on an extraordinary journey. Read this book and be inspired by the diverse ways these women and men redefine their lives, adding purpose, passion, and reflection as they grow older.” —Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund

 

“In this singular book, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot introduces a new stage of life, delineates its intriguing and unexpected contours, and draws lessons that are meaningful for every human being.” —Howard Gardner, author of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet

 

“Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, one of our most graceful and gifted chroniclers of the changing psychological landscape, has produced a biography of the new lifestage emerging between the end of the middle years and the arrival of old age. This remarkable tale is conveyed through the nuanced stories of individuals navigating their way through their fifties, sixties, and seventies, and is punctuated by Lightfoot’s arresting observations. The result is not only the best book yet about the changing lifecourse, but an inspiring roadmap for individual and social renewal in the emerging third chapter. As ten thousand baby boomers turn sixty each day, the timing of this book is as exquisite as its insights.” —Marc Freedman, author of Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life and founder/CEO of Civic Ventures

Publishers Weekly

New opportunities for creativity and self-fulfillment await men and women between the ages of 50 and 75. Sociologist Lawrence-Lightfoot (Balm in Gilead) coins the term "Third Chapter" to describe the rich possibilities as illustrated in her extended interviews with 40 well-educated, affluent Americans. Founding her thesis on classic formulations of life-stage development, particularly that of Erik Erikson, the author offers a wide range of models for people who feel burned out, restless or dissatisfied with their lives, describing how each of her subjects became "a different person." A newspaper executive retires and devotes himself to fiction writing and playing jazz piano; a law firm partner leaves work behind and develops small urban gardens; in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack, an artist organizes interfaith quilting groups; a neurobiologist moves from the laboratory to the public arena, to work with HIV/AIDS patients in East Africa. Readers feeling that something is missing from their lives, that there is something more they can contribute, will find this book a helpful guide. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

From 50 to 75, imagine yourself shifting gears from a longtime career onto a new course of self-awareness and discovery, learning and development. This is the third chapter of your life, a time when you don't need to go quietly into retirement to do nothing else purposeful, a time when the competitive attributes of your work life won't suit you so well. But collaboration, patience, and humility will. What you're pursuing now is not building profits or your reputation. It's satisfying your own soul, staying actively engaged, and maybe helping to repair the world in the process. Lawrence-Lightfoot (Emily Hargroves-Fisher Professor of Education, Harvard Univ.; I've Known Rivers) interviewed 40 subjects who transitioned into the third chapter. The author notes that these men and women, from a range of rather elite professions, did not have to worry about mortgage payments or household budgets. This is not a cross section from "Main Street." At some length, the author describes her subjects' backgrounds, motivations, support systems, learning styles, joys, and frustrations. Although she references psychologists and other social scientists, the book is not dryly academic. It's a collection of powerful stories by a gifted interpreter and storyteller. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Lisa Nussbaum

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374532215
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 12/22/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 239,022
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is the Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education at Harvard and the chair of the board of the MacArthur Foundation. As a sociologist, she examines the culture of schools, the patterns and structures of classroom life, socialization within families and communities, and the relationships between culture and learning styles.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Facing the Mirror

Perhaps it is my age. I am sixty-two, and for the last several years my conversations with friends, colleagues, and even casual acquaintances have often been punctuated by what I have now come to call "confessional moments." Certainly there is the expected chatter and grumbling about minor and major infirmities or unwelcome signs of deterioration—lower-back pain, varicose veins, bald heads, and gray hair—and there is the usual whining about offspring, now finished with college, maybe even married with young children, who return home to live and still need to be provided with health care and spending money. When I refer to confessional moments, however, I do not mean the habitual grumbling about our inevitable decline as we grow older. (One of my friends refers to these gripe sessions as "organ recitals.") Nor am I referring to the odd and troubling sensation of gazing into the mirror and seeing not yourself, but someone decades older than you imagine yourself to be—someone who looks very much like your mother.

I am, instead, talking about moments when we manage to resist the signs of burnout, make peace with the old/new mirror image, and refuse to be preoccupied with our chronic laments about aging or our sadness about our vanishing youth. These are moments when our faces light up, when there is a palpable surge of energy and we begin to reveal stories about learning something new. These are stories told most often by people who are—like me—in the "Third Chapter" of our adult lives, the years between fifty and seventy-five, the generative space that follows young adulthood and middle age. And these stories are recited with intrigue, passion, and self-discovery—stories that reveal themselves like mysterious secrets; tales often striking in their contradictions and paradoxes.

My friend Jacob, an ardent intellectual and a distinguished journalist with a Ph.D. in political science, has a quick mind and a subtle wit. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the only son of Jewish immigrant parents, he is a man of expansive warmth, whose greatest pleasures are relational and social and whose currency of discourse has always been language: a rapid-fire delivery blending a New York Bronx dialect with a sprinkling of Yiddish, for emotional effect. Now sixty-two, he tells me of his first experience attending a seven-day silent retreat where—after much resistance, fear, and panic; then resolve and determination— he began to let down his barriers and inhibitions and learn to live in the stillness. This still-raw understanding and practice of meditation has opened a whole new discipline and perspective that seem to "challenge old inhibitions and raise questions" about who he is "becoming," and about his capacity to be alone with himself. He says dramatically, "Meditation is the most counterintuitive thing I could have possibly tried to learn to do."

Roma, a fifty-seven-year-old physicist I met at a dinner party, who has spent all of her professional career in the laboratory enjoying the quiet and order of the space, the exacting, familiar rituals of the scientific process, and the pursuit of the objective, quantitative evidence, recently began to feel—after thirty years—the limits and constraints of her existence. The solitude and discipline of her work, which used to feel safe and generative, started to feel claustrophobic. The rituals began to seem routine. The questions that used to inspire curiosity began to strike her as dull and formulaic. But mostly she sensed the need to "make a difference on our planet" in a more direct and immediate way; she yearned to teach, to serve, to give back. Cutting back on her hours in the lab, Roma signed up for a mentoring program where she teaches middle-school black, brown, and poor students in an after-school program the subject that always fascinated her the most when she was a young adolescent: astronomy. In her first year of teaching, Roma admits that this is the hardest, most challenging work that she has ever done: learning the science now long forgotten and finding a palatable and relevant way to present it; learning to relate to and discipline the children and capture their imaginations; learning to recover from the awkwardness and public failures that come with being a total novice. "I’m so completely uncool," she says with a smile. Like Jacob, she has chosen "the most difficult path," strewn with minefields and misunderstandings, and rare, unexpected successes along the way.

And there is Robert, the seventy-two-year-old retired mechanical engineer whom I meet at an ice-cream joint on the side of the road in rural New Hampshire. He and his wife of fifty years are out on their ritual Sunday drive, and they are looking to pick up an interesting conversation with a stranger. They sit down next to me at the picnic table and begin in a place where we all meet: with family stories. I listen to their proud tales about their grandchildren scattered all over the country and admire the photographs of their smiling faces. But soon, with a bit of gentle prodding from his wife, Abbie, the conversation turns to Robert’s "new passion," and he goes to the car to fetch his drawings, postcard-size pen-and-ink sketches of birds. He has always loved birds: listening to their songs in the morning light, watching them visit the bird feeders outside his kitchen window, observing the "social interactions" among them. And he has always said, "I wish I had an artistic bone in my body, so I could draw the beauty I see in them." A week after his retirement party, as he faced the "surprising emptiness" in front of him, he took the leap of faith and signed up for three drawing courses— "a total immersion"—at the adult-education center. "This has become my life!" he says in confessional tones, as I remark on the steady improvement I see in his portfolio of work, and as he talks about the exhilaration and vulnerability of learning something new.

For women and men in the Third Chapter, the process of learning something new feels both familiar and strange, exciting and terrifying, mature and childlike, both in character and out of body, like returning home and setting out on an adventure to an unknown destination. This is true whether we are talking about learning a new skill, craft, or art form—like learning to speak a foreign language, play jazz piano, or become a play-wright—or whether we are learning to feel and express a broader and deeper emotional repertoire—freeing us from the bondage of the rigid requirements of decorum forged in our childhood— or whether we are learning to grieve after the death of a loved one—learning to make ourselves vulnerable and not retreat from intimacy—or whether we are talking about shifting the focus of our energies and priorities, from solitary, individualistic, and competitive to community-based and collaborative; from making it up the ladder of success to making an imprint on the lives of others.

This book focuses on the creative and purposeful learning that goes on in the Third Chapter of life. I explore the ways in which men and women between the ages of fifty and seventyfive find ways of changing, adapting, exploring, mastering, and channeling their energies, skills, and passions into new domains of learning. I believe that successful aging requires that people continue—across their lifetime—to express a curiosity about their changing world, an ability to adapt to shifts in their developmental and physical capacities, and an eagerness to engage new perspectives, skills, and appetites. This requires the willingness to take risks, experience vulnerability and uncertainty, learn from experimentation and failure, seek guidance and counsel from younger generations, and develop new relationships of support and intimacy.

In writing this book, I wanted to understand what motivates people in this Third Chapter of life to want to learn something new. What are our sources of inspiration; what are our greatest fears and inhibitions; what are the major barriers to learning; and what allows us to pursue adventures? I also wanted to know how the processes of learning, adaptation, experimentation, and mastery are different during this period of life. Do maturity and life experiences support a greater sense of liberation and collaboration; a new level of patience, perspective, and confidence; and a sturdy sense of self that permits risk-taking? How do people break long-established patterns of behavior, old habits and inhibitions that no longer serve them well? How do people seek and make productive use of feedback and criticism when they are developing new skills and adapting to new realities? How do they hang on to their dignity, sense of authority, and self-respect when the awkwardness and imbalance of new learning make them feel infantilized? What needs to be unlearned if someone is to learn something new? How do people balance—and negotiate the tensions between—the losses and gains of new commitments? What are some of the things that people in their Third Chapters discover that they simply cannot learn; what are the physical, developmental, cognitive, and emotional limitations that prevent them from gaining mastery of new skills and taking the next developmental step? And, finally, what are the connections that can be drawn between individual learning, community building, and cultural creativity? What institutional innovations, shifts in cultural priorities, and educational reforms might support the translations from individual gain to public good?

I think that part of the reason we who are in our Third Chapters tend to speak of our new learning in "confessional tones"—in tentative, hushed voices that barely veil the excitement and the terror we feel inside—is that something in us feels we are being irresponsible, or inappropriate, maybe even unseemly, when we admit our lust for new learning. Somehow, we feel that people our age should be consolidating our experiences, integrating all that we’ve learned and accomplished, and resting on our laurels—not engaging in risk-taking projects, embarking on unmapped adventures, and enduring the awkwardness and vulnerabilities of new mastery. Maybe we even feel it is somehow undignified to be so childish in our enthusiasms and eagerness to explore new domains of knowledge, recover ancient passions, and try on new roles and costumes.

Our sense of inappropriateness is related, I believe, to deeply ambivalent, shifting societal expectations, institutional norms, and cultural presumptions about the "normal" developmental trajectories of aging. Some of these changing societal expectations are visible and quantifiable, reflecting demographic shifts, increases in educational attainment, and lifestyle changes for people in their Third Chapters. Each generation is living longer than the last one. Better health care, improved diet, more exercise, new medical innovations and interventions, and changes in the routines and rhythms of our work and play allow us to live much longer—stretching the time when we are fortunate enough to be energetic and productive.

U.S. Census statistics from 2000 tell the story of a recent and significant bulge in the population of older Americans who are healthier, better educated, and yearning for a productive and enjoyable alternative to retirement.1 The arc of life and learning is continually being expanded and redefined. As a matter of fact, demographers who study the shifting patterns tell us that not only are people living longer and thus facing interesting questions related to how to compose their lives, but also that what I am calling the Third Chapter represents a significant and new developmental period in our culture, one that comes along only once a century. It seems that every hundred years or so a new developmental phenomenon emerges on our cultural horizon. It becomes noticed and named, and entered into the lexicon of our views and rhetoric about human experience.

Last century, we "discovered" and labeled "adolescence" as a distinct developmental period between childhood and adulthood. We began to see it as a time of enormous change, drama, and fluctuation, and as an explanation for new alignments in the strained relationships between parents and their teenagers. During adolescence, powerful peer relationships pull young people away from family expectations, rhythms, and rules and into a world in which parents have little control, access, or understanding. The "work" of adolescence—say developmentalists—is to differentiate, establish some measure of separation from family, and take the initial steps toward independence in the world. This is usually not a smooth or benign process; there is the predictable tumult, drama, awkwardness, and pain as the parent-child relationships are renegotiated and redefined. So, last century, the chronological period of adolescence emerged as a cultural construct that was stamped into our psyches and written into the social scripts of our families, schools, and communities.

In the twenty-first century, another phase of life seems to be emerging as significant and distinct, capturing our interest, engaging our curiosity, and expanding our understanding of human potential and development. Demographers talk about this new distinctive chapter in life as characterized by people—between fifty and seventy-five—who are considered "neither young nor old." In the Third Chapter we are beginning to redefine our views about the casualties and opportunities of aging; we are challenging cultural definitions of strength, maturity, power, and sexiness.

Signs of these shifts in our cultural regard and societal expectations have appeared in the media, in popular culture, and in everyday conversation. Helen Mirren stands on the stage, accepting the Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II—her white hair perfectly coiffed and gleaming, her shimmering, low-cut dress exposing a healthy cleavage, her sultry, seductive voice softening her British accent. As she walks up to receive her honor, she is called "hot" by her male presenter. She knows she’s sexy; telling a reporter after the show that if she were offered a role that required a nude scene, she would be more than happy—at sixty—to bare it all. But it is not just movie stars; whole marketing campaigns are designed to court the humanly flawed and give a different face to aging. Dove commercials of older nude women in frontal poses challenge earlier standards of modesty and decorum, openly reveal their sagging bodies, gray hair, and lined faces to audiences still struggling to see and accept the new definitions of sexy. Documentaries offer inspiring narratives of Baby Boomers carving out new altruistic careers, and life-insurance commercials depict handsome, bronzed seventy-year-olds fly-fishing, snowboarding, and romping with their grandchildren—capturing the physical prowess and gentleness of confident, mature men.

This is a chapter in life, then, when the traditional norms, rules, and rituals of our careers seem less encompassing and restrictive; when many women and men seem to be embracing new challenges and searching for greater meaning in life. The Boomer generation—once defined by their youthful boldness, achievement, and opportunism—bring to the Third Chapter their wealth and resources and their social capital and sense of authority, as well as their appetite for new adventures and their yearning for inspiration and reinvention.

Even with these marked shifts in societal views and expectations, and in our identities and self-images, however, there is a palpable cultural undertow that continues to regard aging beyond fifty as defined by inevitable decline; by the slow deterioration of mind, body, and spirit. Our culture continues to be youth-obsessed. Beauty and strength, lust and passion, energy and optimism, daring and courage are still seen as embodied by people in their twenties and thirties; and women and men over fifty continue to mourn the ways in which their bodies no longer conform to those youthful ideals, lifting and Botoxing their faces, dyeing and thickening their hair, flattening their butts, reforming their breasts, and working their muscles. All of us—old and young and in between—to some extent still harbor a jaded and static view of life beyond fifty—a depressing image of people slowing down, losing interest, and fading away. It is a picture of disappointment and loss: loss of vitality, curiosity, sexiness, and drive. It is seen as a time for leisure and retreat, not challenge and engagement; a time for resting on our laurels, not meeting new challenges; a time for circling the wagons, not journeying forth. The "golden years" are perceived as anything but golden and lustrous. They do not shimmer with excitement and adventure; they grow rusty with routine. They mark the beginning of a slow decline toward death. In the twenty-first-century culture, then, there continues to be a preoccupation with all things youthful, and a prejudice—however veiled—against the symbols and signs of aging.

These contrasting, contrary images of aging express a profound cultural ambivalence, one that leads to oppositional attitudes, mixed metaphors, confusing imagery, and ambiguous societal signals about what is developmentally appropriate for us, about what is possible and achievable, and about what our dreams should be made of. And I believe that the confessional tones we use—our hushed disclosures of new adventures in learning that we would prefer to scream from the mountain-tops—reflect our wary response to this cultural ambivalence.

This book offers a strong counterpoint to the murky ambivalence that shrouds our clear view of people in their Third Chapters. It challenges the still-prevailing and anachronistic images of aging by documenting and revealing the ways in which the years between fifty and seventy-five may, in fact, be the most transformative and generative time in our lives; it traces the ways in which wisdom, experience, and new learning inspire individual growth and cultural transformation. The women and men whose voices fill these pages tell passionate and poignant stories of risk and vulnerability, failure and resilience, challenge and mastery, experimentation and improvisation, and insight and new learning. Finally, this book explores the public benefits, the ways in which new learning in the Third Chapter—both individual and collective—might begin to reshape our culture’s understanding of education, wisdom, productivity, and even work.

For two years, I traveled around the country interviewing forty men and women between the ages of fifty and seventy-five who saw themselves as "new learners," who were eager to reflect on their experiences, question their motives, celebrate their achievements, and tell their stories. I spoke to twenty-four women and sixteen men, from a variety of professions and careers, from diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, and from a range of geographic regions around the country. Although many had grown up in poor and working-class families, the women and men whom I interviewed were all well educated (with college and advanced degrees), and relatively affluent (living middle, upper-middle, and upper class lives). "I have known a generous abundance in my adult life," said a former entrepreneur who had grown up in poverty and was now, at sixty, trying to master a pair of courses in quantum physics, "and that has allowed me the freedom to take the risks of creating a new reality for myself." Most of the people I interviewed, then, did not to have to worry about paying the mortgage, keeping their health insurance, educating their children and grandchildren, or funding their retirements. They enjoyed a "privileged place" that allowed them the resources and emotional space to explore new adventures, imagine different scenarios, and make unlikely choices they might never have anticipated in their first two chapters of life.

Using what sociologists call a "snowball" sample (asking each interviewee to recommend others who might be interested in joining the project), I searched out people who were embarking on new learning adventures; who were eager to examine their motives and the goals and processes of their learning; and who wanted to be intentional in shaping their journeys. I was interested in exploring what these men and women meant by "learning" and why it felt "new" to them. I asked them to trace in detail the initial impulses and motivations that led them to the learning experience, the barriers and breakthroughs they experienced, the path, pace, texture, and rhythms of their learning. I also wanted to know whether their learning was solitary and self-sustained, maybe even secretive (the stealth learner), or whether it was being supported by mentors, teachers, or coaches. What scaffolding was needed to support their efforts; whom did they go to for criticism, assessment, and feedback? Along the way, how did they stay motivated; how did they withstand the inevitable failures, setbacks, and criticism; and what did they mark as signs of progress and measures of achievement? Did the new learning become their life’s central preoccupation, and in what ways did it impact their normal rhythms, routines, and relationships? Did the mastery of learning make them feel different about themselves—their capacities, strengths, and intelligence; their vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and challenges?

In addition to exploring the origins, processes, and trajectory of new learning, I also was interested in having people describe the context—historical, physical, relational, and cultural—in which the learning was embedded, and the ways in which the setting and timing shaped their engagement and mastery. How were they influenced by these external forces and events, those that were within and out of their control? Were there pivotal moments—of public achievement, personal crisis, serious illness, family realignments—that rocked their reality and inspired change in them?

I was also curious to see the imprint of the immediate context in the places where people were learning. I visited a sixty-three-year-old portrait painter in her studio, traced the history of her work chronicled in her large portfolio, and watched as she applied thin luminous layers of paint to a portrait in progress. I examined the Victorian cabinet of a seventy-year-old furniture maker and listened as his colleagues offered their tough critiques of his design. I toured the gorgeous studio of a seventy-year-old quilter, and watched her lure novices into working on a collaborative public exhibit, in the process turning the privacy and asylum of her studio into a space for public art. I sat for hours on the bench beside a sixty-two-year-old jazz pianist as he practiced his scales and played me some of his new compositions, and I observed Roma, the fifty-seven-year-old laboratory scientist in her first year of teaching adolescents in an after-school program.

I sat in the audience of a fifty-two-year-old woman who had worked with a voice coach for two years to become a more fluent and compelling public speaker, watched the dress rehearsal of a play written by a sixty-three-year-old new playwright, and enjoyed the debut performance of a fifty-eight-year-old former schoolteacher at the conclusion of his first year of studying acting. I stood on the beach and watched a fifty-five-year-old woman biologist take surfing lessons, bravely battling—rather than riding—the big waves, and stood at the finish line when a seventy-year-old man completed his first half-marathon, to raise money for cancer research. I followed in the footsteps of a seventy-year-old architect going on her first archaeological dig at the site of an African American meetinghouse that had been a stop on the route of the Underground Railroad, and watched a sixty-year-old former CEO working with activists and advocates from a nonprofit, to apply his business knowledge to their mission.

Each of these visits not only helped me visualize and document the settings in which learning was taking place, but also allowed me to observe those processes of mastery that people were not yet able to identify and articulate—the inchoate, often chaotic experience of newly emerging perspectives; the rawness of embryonic skills. My site visits allowed people to "show" me rather than "tell" me about what they were learning—for example, to witness the knowledge expressed through their bodies, rather than through thinking and language. And it helped me notice the almost imperceptible changes and tiny improvements in mastery of which people were often not aware. In the days and weeks following the interviews, people would often want to continue our conversation, fix a misstatement, embellish a point, or explain something further; they sent me e-mails and letters, published pieces and diary excerpts that they had written, photographs they had taken of new work, or drawings that mapped the progress of their learning since we last spoke.

As I observed and witnessed the learning of these men and women, I listened carefully for the ways in which the storytellers composed their central narrative. I was attentive to the talk and the silence; to those moments of expressivity and restraint; to those places where they feared to tread; to those revelations that surprised them; to those memories long buried. These were emotional encounters, filled with tears and laughter, breakthroughs and breakdowns, curiosity and discovery. Even narratives that might have begun as intellectual excavations often found their gravity and expression in the affairs of the heart, blending emotion and cognition, feelings and intellect. Talking about the present and the future almost always required journeys into the past. More than one person exclaimed, "This is like looking backward into the future." As I listened, I always pressed for details, for nuance, for complexity; for the subtext, the hidden underside of things palpable and tangible.

In her wonderful autobiographical account One Writer’s Beginnings, my favorite storyteller, Eudora Welty, says about her craft, "What discoveries I’ve made in the course of writing stories all begin with the particular, never the general." 2 In the particular resides the general. Stories—well told, with detail and context—allow for texture, subtlety, and multiple interpretations, and they help us to discover the universals among us. As I traced the narratives and delved for the particulars of person and place, I listened for the patterns, the themes, the collective voice. I worked to discover the idiosyncratic even as I probed for the similarities and commonalities—the places where people’s stories converged and overlapped, even when those people at first appeared to be so unalike.

Another important insight from Welty’s exposition on craft focuses on the subtle but critical distinction between "listening to a story"3 and "listening for a story."4 The former, she says, is a more passive, receptive stance in which the interviewer waits to absorb the information and does little to give it shape or form. The latter is a much more engaged, discerning position in which the interviewer searches for the story, seeks it out, and is central in its creation. She does not compose or direct the unfolding drama; she does not impose her own story, drowning out the narrator’s voice. But she is willing to enter into a dialogue that reveals part of her own journey, and she is aware of the part she plays as witness in shaping the story’s coherence and aesthetic. In this work, I employed Welty’s more activist, artistic approach of "listening for the story": for its shape, intensity, rhythm, and texture; for its substance and content; for its metaphors and symbolism; for the light and shadows.

As I listened to the voices of Third Chapter learners, I played many roles. I was the empathic and attentive witness, putting myself in their shoes, trying to decode the environment as they saw it, resonating with their anxieties and fears, reckoning with their inhibitions, challenges, and successes. I was the eager cheerleader, offering applause, appreciation, and acclaim for their creativity, their grit, and their courage. I was the discerning connoisseur, developing a taste for the shape of their sentences, the cadence of their language, the arc of their stories. I was the artist, painting the landscape, drawing their portraits, sketching in the light and the shadows. I was the spider woman, weaving together their life remnants, unsnarling the tangled threads of their stories, casting a net to catch them if they should fall. I was the probing researcher, patiently gathering data, asking the impertinent questions, examining their interpretations with skepticism and deliberation. And I was the fellow traveler, walking beside them, watching their backs, admiring the vistas, avoiding the minefields, and bringing my own story to our dialogue. As a matter of fact, as I heard the narratives of these women and men, I felt myself deeply engaged in new learning as well—echoing and reflecting the curiosity, vulnerability, risk-taking, and passion of their journeys in my own. I looked into their eyes and saw my reflection, the refracted images of my face in the mirror: a sixty-two-year-old woman with "confessional moments" of my own.

Excerpted from The Third Chapter by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Copyright © 2009 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction Facing the Mirror 3

1 Loss and Liberation 19

2 Constancy and Change 49

3 Healing Wounds: The Journey Home 79

4 Looking Back and Giving Forward 105

F IVE Crossing Boundaries and Embracing Contradictions 141

6 New Learning: Body, Voice, and Soul 173

Conclusion: Cracks in the Mirror 225

Notes 249

Bibliography 255

Acknowledgments 259

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the cultural challenges and myths surrounding life after fifty. How have these challenges and myths shifted over time? How do you, your friends, and your family regard the different stages of life? Do you exalt youth?2. Chapter one, "Loss and Liberation," describes the fear that often comes with leaving behind a lifelong routine, or a career and an identity. How did the author's interviewees cope with this uncertainty and anxiety? What did it take to spur them to change?3. How has The Third Chapter shaped your definition of learning? How do you think the reverence society holds for IQ-enhancing learning differs from its respect for learning wisdom and patience? What would it take to get society to change the way it prioritizes these different kinds of knowledge? 4. Chapter three describes those who courageously confronted the past. Were you surprised that emotional wounds from years ago can have a significant impact on the Third Chapter? What common threads do Luther Brown and Pamela Stein share in the way they managed memories of authority figures? What power lies in writing our own narratives, as Grace Clark did when she left her job in publishing? 5. How has the boom in retirement communities, and even Franklin Roosevelt's notion of social security for retirement, changed our concept of the aging process? How would your life look if you never anticipated retiring? Has retirement had a negative impact on the way we perceive the Third Chapter? 6. Chapter five captures the sometimes daunting experience of venturing into new places, such as Roma Wolfe's sojourn from a physics lab to a low-income school. What are your "forbidden places"? What rejuvenation might you find there? 7. How do gender differences affect our approaches to the Third Chapter? Can age liberate us from gender stereotypes? 8. The conclusion of chapter five describes the stages of crossing boundaries: curiosity, letting go of fear, willingness to be vulnerable, developing empathy, and finally discovering that new learning doesn't mean losing touch with your known world. Have you reached any of these stages? What are the risks and rewards of the process? 9. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot describes the unique history of the current Third Chapter generation members, many of whom were steeped in 1960s activism. What makes it especially hard for this generation to "recede"? What special potentials does it possess? 10. Discuss the impact of ancestors in shaping your sense of self. How do your expectations of the Third Chapter compare to those of your parents' generation? 11. Many of the people interviewed by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot are artists. Does society encourage artistic expression? What are the emotional costs of stifling artistic urges until after retirement? 12. How does affluence affect the way someone experiences the Third Chapter? Can it be a time of significant personal growth regardless of economic status? 13. What aspects of education, described in the book's conclusion, would most enhance a spirit of lifelong learning for future generations? How would reinventing the Third Chapter, beginning with the age groups that precede it, benefit society? 14. How did you respond to Erik Erikson's notion of the "penultimate" stage -- a phase of production, not stagnation -- and the impulse to guide the next generation? Which populations would you most want to "give forward" to? Describe your ideal legacy. 15. In uniting new learning with body, voice, and soul, what struggles do you face? What instincts do you possess to help you work through them? In what ways do your internal and external terrains reflect each other?
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 4, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Great for young Boomers.

    This book gives you great hope and insight into what you can accomplish and really do if you want to do it.
    What is usually referred to as the "Golden Years" can be platinum provided that you open your mind and not let anybody dictate what you should be doing in the future.
    The book really makes you rethink what reinvention and self-appreciation is all about.
    You really can be a winner in your life if you live it as opposed to being a survivior.
    This book doesn't advise you to throw caution to the wind but it wants you to enjoy the wind for all it's worth.
    Be worthy of yourself and your soul. Make sure you enjoy to the max!
    Go boldly, passionately,and thoughtfully into your future!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Found the book to be well-written, engaging, and optimistic

    Normally, I don't like books that focus primarily on qualitative research, i.e., individual case stories that illustrate key points; however, I found Lawrence-Lightfoot's description of the individuals she interviewed to be interesting and illuminating. As someone who is entering the Third Chapter (ages 50 - 75), I think that Lawrence-Lightfoot is right that this is a newly identified, distinct stage of life, with much adventure and possibility. She highlights the new freedoms and opportunities that come with this stage, while acknowledging that they are often mixed with loss, anxiety, and sadness. I found her book to be a relatively easy read, and even though she has exceptional scholarly credentials, she writes in a way that is easy for all adult readers to grasp. It is more personal than academic. I recommend it for all those who are entering (or in) the Third Chapter of their life.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2009

    Great title

    the book was interesting, but it read like a PHD dissertation. I would have liked to hear more of her insights than paragraphs from Erik Erickson et al. I feel it would really have had more relevance if the pool
    of stories were larger.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2009

    For the 50+ Group

    A good book for the senior citizen and those on the way to being one. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot explains how one feels in the third chapter of their life and why one feels that way. Helpful and enjoyable. I recommended it to a friend who was having problems with his aging.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 8, 2009

    response to excerpt presented as an introduction to the book

    Having ordered this book after hearing about it on Bill Moyers' show, I was dismayed to read the reviews already posted on this site. As I read the excerpt, I found myself pulling for the author. I want it to be what I am hoping for. I want to participate in the developmental challenge of this life phase. I am giving it one more star than the previous reviewers, based on the excerpt.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2009

    Boomers Beware!

    I found this book to be a great disappointment. My expectation that it would serve as a useful experiential guide to my ongoing age 63 mid-life career vs. retirement transition was wholly unmet. The relevancy of this material is, for my interests and needs, very limited and focused mostly on a semi-well-to-do class of individuals whose "struggles" seem very far removed from that suggested in the book jacket notes. Not relevant, not useful, not worth the money. Just disappointing overall.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    Not worth your time

    It was written before the meltdown. The world has changed.
    Don't bother.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)