The Defy Aging Newsletter

Anti-aging psychology, holistic health, and wellness

a biweekly e-mail newsletter for helping you think, feel, look, and be more youthful and live with purpose.

August 6, 2009 Number 213

This issue:

Boomer and Senior Aging: A Time for Passion, Renewal, Risk, and Adventure

Action to take

Off the top of your head, tell the story of your third chapter in your life if you just go with the flow. Keep is short-just two or three minutes. Then tell the third chapter story if you truly pursue your passions. Even just imaging the possibility puts your antenna up, looking for information, role models, and mentors you might seek if you pursue the passion.


In 1950, Erik Erikson posited his eight stages of development. Baby Boomers fit in his seventh stage—generativity vs. stagnation. Stage eight, the challenge for very old seniors, is integrity vs. despair.

Harvard developmental sociologist Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has elaborated on Erikson’s theory in her new book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50. Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot interviewed dozens of Boomers who were making majorchanges in their lives. She found that the generativity vs. stagnation stage starts at around age 50.

I’m amused at theorists that come up with principles that are so simplistic as to be useless tautologies like Freud’s conflict between our life and death drives, theologians who see life as a conflict between good and evil, and anti-aging products that have the one single key to health and youthfulness. Stage theories can be simplistic and rigid. What I like about Erik Erickson’s eight stages and Dr. Lawrence Lightfoot’s third chapter is that they are flexible and accommodate individual differences.

Thus some third chapter Boomers and seniors focus on career walls, some go back to previous passions, some deal with unresolved traumas, and some go yet another direction. For some it is a shift from career achievement to making the world better or leaving a legacy. Earlier stages of development may be revisited briefly, in great depth, or not at all.

Self-help books and gurus tend to focus on building motivation, visualizing outcomes, and following principles. Dr. Lawrence Lightfoot focuses on studying role models and their pain and struggles. As her book title indicates, it’s adventure and it’s also risk. However, whether it is starting a business or creating a new chapter in your life, naively following your bliss can be disastrous.

The more you learn about and prepare for what you are getting into, the more likely you are to be successful. For example, when considering a new career, learn as much as you can about it. Role models and mentors can be enormously helpful in reducing trial and error learning. The Third Chapter is a wonderful source for role models on dealing with the personal and emotional anxieties and roller coaster ride that often goes with making big life changes. So why do it? As Erickson put it in his seventh stage, it’s about generativity vs. stagnation.

Humans love stories and this is about making sense of your life story and choosing your next chapter as opposed to just going with the flow and letting things happen. Thinking of your future as a story can help. Telling it to others is very helpful. The Third Chapter makes an excellent group discussion book and the web site has a free discussion guide. Perhaps writing your story can help as well. If you have ever taught a course, you know that you learn the material much better when you teach it to others. Likewise, you become much clearer about your story when you tell it to others or put your story in writing.

As people live longer and longer (and I predict we will see 50,000 American Baby Boomers live to 150 and still be sharp mentally and physically), it will be interesting to see if Erickson’s theory needs a ninth stage, or whether the eighth stage will just be the last decade or two of long lives. If that is the case, we will probably see stage seven broken into more stages, just as developmental psychologists like Stanley Hall invented adolescence at the beginning of the twentieth century.

You can hear the free 50 minute podcast of my interview with Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot at Ageless Lifestyles® LLC.


In times of change the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

~Philosopher and longshoreman Eric Hoffer

One of the many things nobody ever tells you about middle age is that it's such a nice change from being young.

~Dorothy Canfield Fisher


Now, at long last, some NEW Millennium Barbie dolls to coincide with her aging gracefully. These are a few:

  • Bifocals Barbie. Comes with her own set of blended-lens fashion frames in six wild colors (half-frames, too!), neck chain, and large-print editions of Vogue and Martha Stewart Living.
  • Mid-Life Crisis Barbie. It's time to ditch Ken. Barbie needs a change, and Fred (her personal trainer) is just what the doctor ordered, along with Prozac. They're hopping into her new red Miata and heading for the Napa Valley to open a B&B. Comes with an MP3 of "Breaking Up is Hard to Do."
  • Divorced Barbie. Sells for $199.99. Comes with Ken's house, Ken's car and Ken's boat.
  • Recovery Barbie. Too many parties have finally caught up with the ultimate party girl. Now she does twelve steps instead of dance steps! Clean and sober, she's going to meetings religiously. Comes with little copy of The Big Book and a six pack of Caffeine Free Diet Coke.

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