By Suzanne E. Harrill
Years ago when a middle school student called me Mrs. Harrill, it caught me off guard. My first response was to look around for my husband’s mother. I surely didn’t feel like an adult, even though I was married, had just finished college, and was in a classroom. It took a while, maybe seven or eight more years, to feel like an adult.
Let’s divide a person’s life into three segments and emphasize getting the most out of the last third of life. Each cycle has its pluses and minuses and we can look at each with a positive or negative spin. I call the last cycle two thirds full, to accentuate the richness and grace of all that has been gained through time from experience, knowledge, and consequences of choices both good and bad. We may wish we were younger, or older, at any stage, however, we benefit the most when we accept the current reality as it is, today and every day we are alive. Who we are and the wisdom we hold depended on going through our life experiences. Let’s look at the three cycles of life with this in mind.
The first cycle is growing up and roughly from birth to age 30. This time has a great learning curve. Next is being an adult between the ages of 30 to 60. This is an active and full time for most. It is the stage of taking on responsibilities and achieving the things important to us, working, raising a family, volunteering, developing interests and hobbies, and learning to live the life we want to create.
The third segment I call, “Two Thirds Full,” because we have lived through many experiences both positive and negative, have had many relationships, and have solved problems paying the consequences, all of which made us the person we are today. This last third of life catches many off guard, however, as it deals with the opposite of stage two, and we don’t talk much about it ahead of time. We have to learn that a new course has been added to the curriculum in the school of life. To be fully human does not have to be about achieving and expanding, but more about moving from an outer locus of control to an inner locus of control, where our power and fulfillment comes from within ourselves and is not based on what is going on in the outer world, including our bodies. It is a time to learn how to let go and just Be. It is worth taking the time to find ways to appreciate, accept, and enjoy this stage of life. As we broaden our horizons we can learn things to help overcome the challenges and disappointments that do find their way on our path. If you’re alive and over 60 you are in for the whole experience of being human – the yin and the yang of experiencing the full spectrum of life. Good on you.
The Golden Years, for me, was always sometime in the future and I never thought much about the time beyond being a grown up. Retirement and old age were not real, that is until I arrived here, two thirds full. Whether you have moved past age 60 or not, let us consider ways to get the most out of it.
Sadly for some, the last third of life is a negative, depressing time. Some get into the negativity of the aging experience and spend much of their time complaining about a body that is tired and wearing out, or about not being needed at work, or about having an independent family that no longer needs them as in olden times. It can be a loss to give up participating in competitive sports or living in the nuclear family. It does not have to be a negative time, however. There are many ways to get the most out of the last third of your life. Some you may want to explore.
It is true that in the last third of life we no longer are at the peak of physical prowess or beauty; aging could be called the great equalizer where we are all equal, no winners or losers in the game of life. It acts in our favor when we use our sadness and fear of death and dying to get in touch with who we really are, rather than shying away from such deep aspects of life. A spiritual connection to something bigger helps us make peace with the letting go process. It is very comforting for me to know I am much more than my physical body – I am the eternal being that lives in this body for a time with many opportunities for growth and discovery.
In the last third of life there is a need to find meaning in new ways, to turn in new directions. Consider living your life focused on the present moment and day. Today is all there really is. Why not wake up each day and set a positive intention for the day; think about what you want to get out of your day and to acknowledge what you do have with gratitude, as well as what you want to discover that is new. To live mindfully, keep bringing yourself back to the present moment. Be genuine and authentic with others as often as possible. Add to this living with gratitude for each new day, and moving beyond the tendency to judge things as good or bad. Rather than resisting what your current reality is, it is helpful, at least for me, to continually make peace with the aging process and learn to create pleasure in new directions, such as giving back to make the world a better place with the things I’ve learned along the way, smiling at others, noticing when another does a good job at something and giving a compliment. For example, whenever I notice a grocery checker who is extra cheerful or a waitress who goes the extra mile to make my meal a good one, I give them positive feedback.
Let’s go a little deeper for a moment and talk about a subject most do not like to think about – grieving. We all experience loss. Whether it is the loss of our body’s full functionality, the loss of a partner or pet, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a career, we benefit by recognizing our feelings and reactions when loss occurs in our lives and not minimizing or ignoring them. When we do not complete the grieving process we get stuck emotionally in our depression or anger and do not move on. All of us, young and old, benefit from understanding and putting into practice the grieving process (google the stages of grief for a review). As we allow ourselves to grieve the losses as they come, and there may be many if we live a long life, we can get through to the other side, the place of acceptance and deep peace.
If you find you are stuck, in your grief, have crippling fear of the unknown, or feel anxious, unhappy, and stuck, consider psychotherapy. If you never took the time to examine your life, now may be the time for added support to heal insecurities or issues ignored. It’s never too late to change habits, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, relationships, to move past hurts and betrayals, or handle loss. You can learn to really forgive people and events that have hurt you in the past which frees you emotionally. Emotional healing goes a long way in lightening the journey of the last third.
What are some of the benefits of the last third of life? Certainly it feels good to have gained the wisdom that comes from living life, being in relationships with others, and making choices, the positive ones as well as the mistakes taught us a lot. Wisdom is one of the greatest gifts of being older. All the mistakes, trials and errors built a storehouse of information. This wisdom can be felt and enjoyed and it can be passed on to others in moments of need.
This period of life can also be used to pursue an interest that has been held at bay, such as painting, playing the guitar, cooking, writing, enjoying nature, or giving back to society. There is time now to reflect, ponder, wonder, connect, and enjoy a slower pace with less drive to achieve and get “there.” The journey is the destination, is better understood.
What can we further do to help ourselves create a life with new satisfactions moving us in new directions? It is important to spend quality time with self to reach for something hidden. Consider asking yourself some important questions when you feel at a loss or out of sorts with yourself. Who am I today? What do I value? What are the things or experiences that give my life meaning? Do I acknowledge my wisdom and what it took to get to this place in my life? What have I learned about myself, my relationships? How might I help another with my insights and knowledge? How do I go beyond the mundane to experience a connection to my own soul or Spirit?
Are you feeling two thirds full? If not, may you find the courage to get out of your own way, in order to live your life with gratitude, deep peace, and joy, no matter the outer challenges and setbacks. Imagine you are sitting up on a hill looking back at all it took to arrive at this place of awareness and wisdom, the good, the bad, the challenges, the ups and the downs. May you stay present, find new ways to expand your awareness, and get the most out of each of your days. Appreciate yourself and the privilege to be human, in for the full experience.
Below is a summary of ways to get the most out of the last third of life.
Tips for Living Your Best after Age 60
1. Start your day with gratitude and with a positive intention.
2. Practice mindfulness and stay in the present moment.
3. Practice Self-Care.
4. Meet yourself at a deeper level, rediscover yourself, learn what makes you happy and gives your life meaning.
5. Give back by having a positive attitude or doing acts of kindness.
6. Spend time developing your interests and with others that bring out your best.
7. Grieve your losses.
8. Get professional help if you are stuck in the past, experience crippling fear or anxiety. Resolve issues and make peace with the past.
9. Practice forgiveness.
10. Shift from an outer locus of control to an inner locus of control to help tune into your true essence. The true essence is the real Self, an eternal, non-physical being.
*I honor the place of love and light and truth and beauty in you. And when you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.
Readers: Let me hear your stories about any of the ideas presented in the above article. Thank you.