Join us at 1 p.m. ET Thursday for a live Q&A on frequently asked coronavirus questions. Learn more.
by Mary Catherine Bateson, AARP Bulletin, September 16, 2010
[An] extended life span suggests a number of adaptations, all of which are occurring simultaneously. For some people, every stage is stretched: longer years of education, longer experimentation before marriage, late childbearing, and often deferred retirement. For others, life is started up again at midstream as if it could be repeated, a fairly common pattern for men with second families. For a third group, often women who have had a first career as homemakers, a new start on an autonomous career is involved. Some want to use an undeveloped talent, perhaps benefiting from emerging capacities to combine right- and left-brain functions by studying painting or dance or learning to play a musical instrument. Some want to build a legacy. Some go on to teach what they formerly practiced. Some want to focus their energies and passions on an area that received only a fraction of their attention in the past. For some there is a discovery of freedom. For others there is a chance for new or renewed dedication. And because we have not yet become fully aware of the possibilities, there will be for many an era of boredom and futility as the open doorways remain unexplored or are prematurely closed. These different approaches should not be contrasted so much as examined for common values and overlapping themes as we move into the new space opened up in our lives.
I like to think of men and women as artists of their own lives, working with what comes to hand through accident or talent to compose and re-compose a pattern in time that expresses who they are and what they believe in—making meaning even as they are studying and working and raising children, creating and re-creating themselves. Just as the use of a new room in a house depends on what is already there in the lives and relationships and possessions of the owners, the use of a new stage in the life cycle is related to what came before, ideally related in a way that is more than a sum of parts but rather an inclusive composition of grace and truth. It is often only in its final pages that a story reveals its meaning, so the choices made in later decades may reflect light back on earlier years.
Excerpted from Composing a Further Life by Mary Catherine Bateson. Copyright © 2010 by Mary Catherine Bateson. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Read an interview with Mary Catherine Bateson.
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
AARP Members get $2 off Audible’s monthly membership
In-depth interviews with guest experts
Members can save 20% on purchases of meats, sides, and desserts.
AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
Manage your email preferences and tell us which topics interest you so that we can prioritize the information you receive.
Explore all that AARP has to offer.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at