Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife

by Marc Freedman
Reviewed by David Bradshaw, June 2013

The Big Shift is a must-read for Boomers in search of a sweeping panoramic view that comprehends the massive cultural shift now unfolding before our eyes - and the role we Boomers can choose to play in it.

Author and founder of Marc Freedman makes an impassioned call to us to accept the longevity decades now opening up between midlife and old age as an entirely new stage of life, which he dubs the "encore" years.

This book is written for the tens of millions of Boomers about to reach the intersection of midlife and this new "encore" stage. More than half of today's Boomers seek continuing income, deeper meaning from life, and increased social impact.

Freedman leads readers on an exciting guided tour of the growth of "Third Stage of Life" thinking over the last century - marking the end of the "retirement" era popularized over the last 60 years - and the birth of a new "reinspirement" era.

Growing economic uncertainty has helped to kick the slats out from under Boomers, exposing a major "purpose gap." Freedman feels we are entering the aftermath of "The Great Bloating" of America that lasted from the 1980s-late 2000s. This era's "McMansion lifestyles were both unsustainable and unattainable for most."

"Baby boomers are killing themselves at an alarming rate," reports the Washington Post. But why?

"Psychologists and academics say it likely stems from a complex matrix of issues particular to a generation that vowed not to trust anyone older than 30 and who rocked out to lyrics such as, 'I hope I die before I get old.'" writes Freedman. "Bob Knight, Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at University of Southern California says, 'We've been a pretty youth-oriented generation. We haven't idealized growing up and getting mature in the same way that other cohorts have.'"

In light of the longevity revolution, Freeman argues that we must forge a new road map both individually and as a society. "The future is already here, it's just distributed unequally." He sees this emerging encore stage as a win-win situation for all ages, announcing that it's "a windfall of talent, a new crown of life - a second chance at fulfillment and contribution - a time to grow up."

Intergenerational motivations can be clearly discerned in this book.

"A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit." Rather than bemoaning what Harvard Review calls "career menopause," Freedman correctly explains that morality stands at the core of midlife crisis, which he calls "midlife chasm."

What Freedman does bemoan is a society extraordinarily wedded to the idea of endless youth, which Richard Rohr's Falling Upward calls "first half of life identity building." The result is a confusing, chaotic new second stage of life void of individual identity, coherent institutions or policies - and a lack of understanding in society.

Despite strong headwinds he offers scores of examples of how to make this transition successfully away from an "infantocracy" to more of a "gerantocracy" - a nation led by elders rather than by juniors.

In Chapter four, "New Stage Thinking," he underlines the emergence of a new stage of life with the publishing of the monumental work Adolescence by Grandville Stanley Hall in 1904. This groundbreaking book described a new stage of life between childhood and the adult world of work, a stage we now call "teenagers." Amazingly, this stage did not exist prior to the 20th Century (and some may wish it did not exist today, LOL!).

Freedman brings to light Hall's final work, completed at age 78, entitled, Senescense: The Last Half of Life and refers to it as a lost masterpiece. Hall was convinced that modern man is meant to do his best work after age forty.

"Grown up brains are good at connecting the dots because they see more dots," quoting Sara Lawrence Lightfoot's important book, The Third Chapter.

"At age 60 we have about 25 years to do what counts most ... and this realization will produce a boomer-led elevation of purpose greater and more enduring than our self," writes Freedman, quoting Daniel Pink's Drive. This compression of time during our Encore years gives us the possibility to create a positive "generativity" in the culture.

Freedman offers "10 Steps Toward a New Stage" in which he presents his recommendations for a smoother transition. He urges us to finally put the notion of a second childhood behind us. Instead of trying to be young, we should invest in the truly young; rather than trying to be them, we ought to be there for them.

"Millions are already in the midst of inventing a new stage of life and work - the encore years - between the end of midlife and anything resembling old-fashioned retirement," Freedman concludes. "We're envisioning this chapter as a time when we make some of our most important contributions, for ourselves, for our world, for the well-being of future generations. Each generation has its task, its opportunity, its moment of truth. Let us be remembered for what survives of us, for living our legacy."

I cannot recommend The Big Shift strongly enough to those seeking to comprehend what is going on right now in the Boomers' external world and Western culture.

To better understand what is going on inside the heart, mind and soul of Boomers, I recommend Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Reading Freedman and Rohr together doubles their impact!

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Disclaimer: All of the information herein is believed to be true, however errors are possible.