by Lucinda Jackson
Four of us sit on stools around a high table in our favorite craft beer café. Theresa says, “Terri, how is the dental clinic in Mexico coming along? And your Spanish classes?”
“Well, the town really needs a dentist, so I’m glad I can help a few people. I still speak toddler Spanish, but as long as I can say, ‘Open your mouth, please,’ and ‘Spit,’ I can manage. How about you? How is your new teaching job going?”
“First, you’re amazing. And, yes, I love it. I’m teaching environmental studies. My students are high school seniors, they are really opinionated and forceful—I’m having so much fun with them.”
“Wow,” Andrea weighs in. “I’m awed by all of you. Isn’t this the best time of life ever? I’ve never had this much energy and zest. My big news is I just dusted off my tap shoes and started taking lessons again.”
We lift our frosted mugs, toast each other, and marvel. We’re not a bunch of millennials busting out into the world. We’re all over 60 and fresh from life-long, demanding professions and raising children to be productive citizens of the planet. We’re in our Third Act, in new positions and adventures, and we have never been so free.
Since I left the hard-hitting career scene three years ago and the last child moved out, I’ve come to four conclusions about why this juncture is so exhilarating for women.
One, we don’t care as much anymore. After considering everyone else for too long, women are wildly happy during this time because we’ve reached what many call the “fuck it” stage. This may be our first time absolved from worrying about what men think of us or trying to attract a man. We can be who we are after years of catering to others.
Two, I also see women reveling in the new-found female comradery of post-career life. We never really had what men had in the workplace. In the corporate world where I come from, I was often alone, the only woman in the room, while the men had a built-in social life of chatting around the coffee pot and company fishing trips. We finally have time now for women friends: to linger over deeper conversations and deliciously suck up the strength we draw from each other.
Three, we can finally stroke our egos a tad. We gained some self-esteem boosts from our jobs but nothing like what the men I saw had who were surrounded by minion men and women fawning over them. We women had little power at work. We pushed when we could, but were often relegated to the background and our voices were rarely heard. We buttoned-up to protect ourselves but, as a result, didn’t get to realize our true drive or full leadership potential. And for those of us, like me, who faced years of sexism, the particular gift of this stage is that I can live without any of the harassment that I had to put up with just to survive. Now I don’t have to swallow it, wash it down, and feel it roiling in my stomach all day in order to keep my job or safeguard myself from retaliation. It’s over now and the relief is intoxicating. Leaving the work world is not as much a shock to our sense of self as it might be to a man since we never got puffed up very much anyway. But we have egos, too, and now we’re getting to feed them just a little so we feel better about ourselves than we ever have.
Four, finally, most of the women of my demographic were the primary caregivers of the home and children. We bolted from work to daycare pickup to homework help to vacuuming to dinner prep to lunch packing without a breath. Now that the kids are on their own and we don’t have to give a damn about the house, we have never had this much spare time. We love the kids and still strive to keep dust balls out of most of the corners, but are we not all heaving one giant sigh of relief?
For me, the end of my formal working marathon is not the finale but the beginning. I believe that we are not only in our Third Act, but that there’s actually a Fourth and a Fifth Act and we are just getting started. But to fully experience the joy of these life stages, we need to make an effort and take action. I recommend three key steps:
STEP ONE: Find emotional freedom. This is a very important first undertaking. You may need to sort out your issues. Do you know what might be holding you back from a full feeling of contentment and love of life? What is your hidden lesion inside? If you’re angry, sad, regretful, attached to your pain and your past unhealthy reality, this is the time to shove that aside. You may need to engage a therapist or write it all down or confide in a close friend. I turned my writing into a book. You may find, like I did, that it’s somehow easier at this age to face secrets you’ve kept hidden for a long time. At this stage of life, it doesn’t cut into your heart as much as when you were younger—your emotional baggage is more bearable, and therefore, resolvable.
STEP TWO: Leave your comfort zone. I suggest doing something a little crazy. Mix it up. Make a bold move. Our current lives can be warm and snug, but that’s part of the problem. This is a time to try something out of the ordinary to show yourself that you still have it in you. How about a rock concert? Have you checked out Burning Man? Trekked the Appalachian Trail? What this step does is shake up your foundation and open you up to new possibilities. If you don’t try this step, you may stay stuck forever. I joined the Peace Corps at age 65 and went to Palau. That rattled my staid life.
STEP THREE: Repeat Step Two. Continue to leave your comfort zone. If that first step didn’t work out, try something else. The Peace Corps was a bust for me, so I designed my own volunteer work in Mexico. You can try smaller things, but make them active and if they help others, all the better. Teach kids to jump rope, tutor math, build a chicken coop and raise eggs, get a surf instructor, try Stand Up Paddleboard, enroll in a new yoga class, train for a marathon. Keep going, it will keep you stimulated and healthy for the rest of your life. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. When is the last time you camped in the forest? Wrote a poem? Try something you didn’t think you could still do. You can modify along the way if what you chose was too strenuous—but keep pushing the envelope and keep your mind rolling wide open.
Sometimes I’m so happy these days I can hardly stand it. I’m a bit dizzy. All I can say is, my wonderful women comrades: enjoy the euphoria. It’s like nothing else, it’s the best time to be a woman. We are empowered in our own lives to take risks and speak up. We are in recovery from repressed lives in the workplace and overwork at home. We are transforming from our former structured lives of jobs, children, and housework to our post-children, post-career lives of self-actualization. We’ve paid our price over many years. It’s time for us to savor the freedom years.
Lucinda Jackson is a PhD scientist and former corporate executive who worked for four Fortune 500 companies for over forty years. Find out how she took care of Step #1 in her book Just a Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious. She is writing a book series covering Steps #2 and #3 about breaking old patterns and finding freedom later in life.Feat