What is Third Age?

Third Age is an emerging life stage running roughly from ages 50 to 75 and made possible by longer life expectancy. Rich in possibilities and potential, it involves the questioning of one's old identity, a search for new or greater meaning and purpose in work and life and profound change. It is a time of renewal if we address both its challenge and opportunity.

What's Third Age?
What's Third Age?

Third Age can be a time of renewal and transformation if we regard it as an opportunity as well as a challenge.

  • Its opportunity lies in seeing our life as full of possibility, as a process of continual and surprising unfolding, and in knowing that we can make decisions geared to regeneration and fulfillment. 
  • Its challenge lies in our "response-ability" to give back, to find the best way for us to contribute our gifts, talents, experience and wisdom to address the needs of our communities and our world. 

Third Age requires us to make those daily choices which help us to co-create, along with the people and circumstances of our life situation, the kind of living we want to claim for ourselves in the second half of life.

First of all, it’s important to get a brief rundown on what we mean by the Four Ages of Life.  Each of these "ages" is roughly about 20-25 years in a given life span and has the particular focus outlined here.  For those with less longevity the Ages may be greatly compressed but usually each stage is included in some fashion.

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Walkway to the beach.I am what's known as a "clam digger"
- a person born and raised at the New Jersey Shore in the town of Point Pleasant. While I live now in Vermont, I'm a Jersey Shore girl at heart. What most refer to as "the Shore" - a place they go "down to" - is to me simply "the beach", part of my neighborhood.

My point is that this place is rooted within me as Home with a capital H, the place where I found my footing, learned to handle freedom, developed my identity, and discovered myself. Fifty six years later I still go there, have family and friends there, have a home there, and while Point Pleasant is much different than in my youth, it remains the backdrop for who I am.

Aftermath of Hurrican SandyNow that place has suffered unimaginable destruction due to Superstorm Sandy and many of the places that constitute that backdrop are gone. So many people are struggling with incalculable loss and suffering. All of which leads me to these questions that I have, and which I suspect many in Superstorm Sandy's path may at some point have as well: "Who am I when the places that define me are gone? And how do I move forward and live fully now that I have lost these anchors of home and identity?"

The key lies in learning to let go of what is in order to make room for what else can be - a task that is much easier said than done.

Individuals seeking to thrive in their Third Age must surrender to a similar - although hopefully less dramatic - letting go as part of their own process of transformation. Such transformative change isn't easy as it challenges us to respond creatively to our changing external environment and internal desires. Furthermore, it calls upon us to deepen and expand our sense of ourselves - to broaden our identities.

All of this letting go happens in the second phase of the four phase process or Journey of Transformation known as "Unforming", which is the most grievous and challenging phase. Unforming is all about letting go of what is and was, in order to make space for what can and will be. It feels like a time of loss, much like autumn. Some of the loss in Unforming happens by choice, but sometimes it happens because of external circumstances. We may experience a change in professional interests or suffer the loss of a job. Our family roles and responsibilities shift. Our personal interests, motivators and success markers change. Frequently we find ourselves rethinking the elements that give shape to our lives. At the same time, we are also letting go of beliefs and assumptions about what is possible that no longer serve us. Ultimately we realize that the identity which has served us for so long is changing and may no longer sustain us.

unformingphaseThe hallmark question of the Unforming phase, therefore, is this: "who am I when the things that have defined me for so long begin to slip away?" And as we look this question in the eye we feel unsettled, even apprehensive, because we're losing an identity we've known well without necessarily knowing where we are going. Yet we recognize that we need to let it go in order for a new direction and an expanded and transformed sense of self to emerge.

So, in the face of life's storms, how do we move through Unforming? How do we find hope when we don't know what's ahead? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Surrender to the process and the unknown;
  • Recognize that once we let go of what was, a new vision for what can be has the time and space to emerge;
  • Savor and celebrate what has been and honor the place it holds for you in your life;
  • Appreciate the natural cycles of life - the leaves of autumn must give way in order for the new growth of spring to ultimately emerge; and
  • Realize that a little faith and trust can go a long way.

I know I will always be a Jersey girl and clam digger despite beach realignments and the loss of familiar haunts. I will savor and remember all that has defined me so far. Yet I also realize that I am much more than that one place, and so with faith and trust I will surrender to the wonderful possibilities that await me in my personal journey of transformation. And meanwhile I will keep praying for all of those dealing with personal losses and challenges due to Superstorm Sandy as they travel their individual and collective paths of transformation.

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Melita A. DeBellis

Melita A. DeBellis, JD, CPCC, is a life coach, entrepreneur and trainer based in beautiful Shelburne, Vermont. Her business is Midlife Unlimited. She is a former attorney and human resources executive who has made her own personal journey beyond the corporate world to a deeply satisfying vocation supporting individuals as they navigate their journey through their Third Age. She is a former board member of The Center for Third Age Leadership and the co-author/facilitator of its "Coaching for Third Age Fulfillment" program. She is also a trainer with Associates for Training and Development based in St. Albans, Vermont. Melita received her B.A. from The University of Vermont, her J.D. from The National Law Center, George Washington University, and has been trained and certified as a professional co-active coach by The Coaches Training Institute of San Rafael, California. Melita knows the fulfillment that comes from journeying through personal transformation and finding one’s passion. She finds that passion enjoying the natural world of Vermont with her husband Mike and their dog Chloe.

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Are You Ready?

If you want to assess your readiness for renewal in Third Age take a few minutes to complete The Third Age Quotient

Message from Richard Leider

The desire to grow is nothing less than the love of existence--a purpose for being here and a deep desire to fully explore life. Growth is at the root of everything that makes us feel vital. Yet, sometimes we do stop growing. Few coaches are as clear and profound in their guidance as Nancy and Melita. They are master gardeners of the growth soil. If you want to feel vital in your third age, study.... It is a must read for anyone who is willing to ask the question, 'Where do I grow from here?"

- Richard Leider - Best selling author of "The Power of Purpose" & "Repacking Your Bags" and founder of The Inventure Group