The Third Act | CAROL
The Third Act
By Carol Storey
As far as an autobiography goes, mine is fairly unremarkable. I was born in 1957 and shared my mother’s womb with a brother, who could not be more different than me. There were also two older siblings, a mother who desperately did not want to be a housewife, but was one most of her life; a father who proudly served in WWII but would only talk to my brothers about what he saw and did to “protect the girls,” several dogs, a home, a station wagon and annual vacations to Disneyland or camping. Your basic middle-class family.
Except it wasn’t. Brewing underneath the picture perfect family were problems, like every other family, although I didn’t know it at the time. Parents who married each other but had never really overcome the grief each of them had experienced during the war: my mother’s first husband and love of her life getting killed and my father’s sweetheart marrying someone else while he was deployed. They fought fiercely and finally after 20 years, they divorced. Both remarried (my mom two more times), my dad died of cancer when he was 62. Through it all, I and my brothers and sister had our own journeys that included marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, school, jobs, the usual.
I was a shy, introverted but tomboyish kid, and a prolific bookworm. I loved school and remember staring forlornly out my front room window watching kids walk to school when I was sick and had to miss. My best friends were librarians. My favorite day was library day and the librarian always had a new stack of books waiting for me to check out every week. When I wasn’t outside with my brothers playing baseball, basketball, skateboarding, or riding my bike I was happily ensconced under our huge willow tree in the front yard on a blanket with my books, spending hours lost in their worlds of adventure while imagining myself there as well. I dreamed of traveling to exotic faraway lands, which, for me, included any other state other than Utah, Nevada or California. I was entranced with the idea of an Ivy League education, and read everything I could about Harvard University and desperately wanted to go to college there, even though neither of my parents were college-educated. They thought it was so cute, their daughter who had such big dreams, but couldn’t imagine any of it happening in the world they lived in. This was the 1960’s after all, where women were encouraged to go to college mostly to meet a successful husband who could take care of them and their children.
While I never made it to Harvard, except to visit and drool over their iconic and gorgeous 17th century buildings, I did manage to graduate from college and eventually graduate school studying journalism and social work, all along the way marrying, having three children, scrambling like we modern women do while balancing family and professional aspirations. I’ve had a 20 year career as a clinical social worker. I have three grown children, one grandson, a private practice. I’ve traveled to twenty states in the USA, eleven countries, and am about to leave for my first trip to Africa. Sadly, both my parents are gone, my father 36 years ago, my mother only 3-½ years, and I’m about to turn 60 in a few weeks. But overall, Life is Good!
And it is. Except this: what’s a dreamer to do when she still has some of those same yearnings?
The latest research on human development helps explain this curious itchiness that many late mid-life people experience. Sixty used to be the time when working adults began looking forward to retirement. Not any longer, and certainly not me! Meryl Harstein writes in the Huffington Post, “In the past few years we hear how each decade makes us younger. Forty is the new 20, fifty is the new 30 and 60 is the new 40. At this rate, aging sounds exciting! Truthfully, aging can be difficult on all levels, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s how we work these categories that will make the difference between feeling forty or feeling sixty.”
She goes on by saying that we feel physically better at 40 than we ever have before. We feel spiritually better at 60 because of our life experiences: we are more likely to feel grateful for what we know, what we have. We have more of a “half-glass full” perspective than the more cynical “half-glass empty” one, and we “see things in a more colorful light as if our senses have been heightened.” University of California, Berkeley psychology professor Ravenna Helson believes that, “we have to modify our identities as we go through life. Even at 60, people can resolve to make themselves more the people they would like to become.” In fact, studies show that women in particular show “substantial positive change from ages 60-70.”
The key, according to University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Dr. Art Markman,, is to start early with identifying your dreams and goals. “If you don’t have long-term goals,” he warns, “you run the risk of doing lots of little things every day--cleaning the house, sending emails, catching up on TV--without ever making a contribution to your future.”
The consequences then become what many of us fear the most--living the rest of our lives with unfulfilled yearning and restlessness. “It’s the big picture things that give life meanings,” he wisely counsels, “like parenting or becoming an expert at something.” (Psychology Today)
Sounds good, but many of us have difficulty identifying what it is that really floats our boat...
...especially we women who are often particularly more affected by life events such as empty nest syndrome, ageism and ongoing body image dissatisfaction. Dr. Markman has these suggestions:
1. Project yourself deep into the future and ask: What will I regret not having done? Then work backward to avoid that end. Use that as a way of planning your life.
2. To thine own future be true. Before you can reinvent yourself, you have to know who you are right now. This requires willingness to hear the sometimes brutal reality of our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Asking someone you trust who will be honest with you can be very helpful, but ONLY if you are truly willing to listen without defensiveness.
3. Understand and accept that it will be harder than it looks. Some people are just naturally driven, while many of us (myself included) struggle with traits such as procrastination and insecurity. Finding role models and mentors who have achieved some of the same goals as you can help. For example, when I wanted to become a professional photographer, I felt intimidated and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge when I was around other photographers. But my desire outweighed my insecurities so I began by doing alot of reading about photography. I bought a camera and started taking pictures, even though I didn’t really have a solid understanding of the artistic and technical aspects of photography. Finally, I took, what was for me, a big plunge and signed up for a photography workshop in Italy. I was clearly the least experienced photographer in the group, but our instructor could not have been more patient and helpful. It gave me the boost of confidence I needed.
4. Set realistic goals and take real action. Almost two years ago, my Villa partners, Merrilee and Meagan and I, decided we wanted to start a blog. None of us knew how to go about doing it, so we started by clearing one day a week from our busy work schedules to devote to creating The Villa blog. One thing led to another. We talked to a lot of people. We hired our social media guru, Haley. We developed our ideas. A year later, we launched The Villa. It truly was the blind leading the blind. We still have a long way to go, but we’re okay with it. What’s most important to us is that we took the risk, and we love what we are doing.
5. Expect setbacks. Enough said.
6. Reassess as you go along. If you want to run a marathon, it’s okay if after 6 months you decide to run a half marathon instead, for whatever are your reasons. It’s not a failure, it’s being flexible and that is as important as anything else in achievement.
7. Celebrate success! We should feel satisfaction and pride for our achievements, whether they are big ones or the smaller kinds. We at the Villa have learned this one quickly. We are just as thrilled every time someone makes a comment on one of our stories as we are when we are in front of a group of fascinating women teaching them leadership skills. It’s important to recognize it all.
The bottom line is this:
Just like everything else in life that is rewarding to us, we have to be willing to take the risks and do the work, despite our insecurities, self-doubts and misgivings. What we know, though, is this: many women are re-inventing their lives. You can too. I call this period in my life “The Third Act.” Next week I head off to Africa, and I will be there on my 60th birthday, along with my Villa partners, teaching leadership skills to amazing women, and memorializing this experience through my photography and writing. Everything I have dreamed about, all that I have learned from this life of mine, and everything I have done up to this point is a part of this third act of mine, repurposed and repackaged into this new and exciting reinvention of my life. If I can do it, you can too! That is The Villa’s mission: to support, encourage, mentor, and model for all of you who have the passions and dreams to live your own authentic life. As I said earlier, To Thine Own Future Be True. The future is all we have.
Don’t waste it.