OK. You’ve reached 50 now and are reading everywhere that this is a whole new life stage. It’s been referred to as a Second Adulthood or Second Act or the Bonus Decades. What does all this mean and why are we having so much trouble making sense of it?
The simplest answer is that our parents and grandparents really never spent any time thinking about how their lives might be different as they aged. The grew up, got married, had children, maybe retired, had grandchildren, and never thought much about how they felt about all of it. They just were. They just did. The Boomers and the tail end of the pre-boomers are different, though. You’ve spent your whole lives thinking about who you are and about your place in the world. We may need to create new terms – Third Adulthood, maybe – when this group reaches 90, as an increasing number will.
For now, I’ve decided to call this deep re-thinking at somewhere between 40 and 60 adultescence. Why? Because, as you’ll soon see, the similarities to adolescence are so strong.
The two halves of life have different agendas. The first half of life focuses on the development of a personality and building a sense of yourself which is the ego. In other words, as an adolescent, you were focused on being somehow different than the rest of the pack, while somehow still blending in. This might have meant having the shortest skirt or the brightest chartreuse hair or the most ragged jeans. As an adultescent, you want the same thing. This might mean the best cosmetic surgery or the latest trendy car or the best golf clubs.
Adolescence involves differentiation of skills and abilities so you can be all that you can be. You drove everyone crazy with new passions – become a drummer; save the environment; pick the perfect subject as a major; take part in protests; listen to the Stones. The second half of life involves integration or the pulling of all the disparate parts back together to make a unified whole. Actually, nothing has changed. Review the list above. Well, some of the Stones are grayer and the Beatles will never reunite.
Romance is new to adolescents. Countless hours are spent trying to look good. You are trying to figure out how to be a couple. You hang on the phone comparing notes with your friends. Nothing new here for the adultescent either. If you’ve stayed married, you’re trying to figure out how to be as a couple suddenly in the same space at the same time. My aunt used to quote an old truism: I married him for better or for worse, but not for lunch.” If you are suddenly single, you hang on your cell phone or IM, comparing notes with your friends. Countless dollars are spent trying to look good.
An adolescent’s body is changing all the time. Adultescent? Yours is too. Adolescents have blemishes. Adultescents have liver spots. Adolescents have growing pains. Adultescents have joint pain. Both groups are always watching their weight.
Adolescents often are known by their possessions – first car, phone, computer and ipod (alright, so for some of you it was a typewriter and a stereo), trendy clothes. Adultescents are equally busy racking up toys – new sports car or Hummer, cell phone, ipod, Blackberry, laptop.
Adolescents tend to travel in packs. Adolescents think they’ll never grow up. And Adultescents? No need to comment.
So, you see, everything old is new again. You survived adolescence. You’ll survive this too. You already know how to do this. The biggest difference is that you finally can do it all over again knowing what you know now. Have no regrets – move forward bravely. You can become a whole different second adult than the person you were as a first adult, or you can be exactly the same but richer, deeper and happier.
Enjoy the ride!