Friday Book Club | The Third Chapter.

July 24, 2020

Friday Book Club | The Third Chapter.

May 29, 2023

I love the humanity of this author. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is a MacArthur Prize-winning sociologist and Harvard professor. In this book titled “The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50,” she writes, “We must develop a compelling vision of later life, one that does not assume a trajectory of decline after fifty but recognizes this as a time of potential change, growth and new learning, a time when our courage gives us hope.”

While this book is nearly a dozen years old, it captures some of the vulnerability and bewilderment that people over fifty felt during the Great Recession that might be even further amplified by these pandemic times. As a bit of a geek, I appreciated that she gave some sociological context for the times we’re living in. She quotes a couple authors here giving a nod to Erik Erikson’s notion of generativity,

“Generative adults are teachers, leaders, mentors, and what George Vaillant has called the ‘keepers of meaning.’ They seek to pass on the most valued traditions of a culture, to teach the most valued skills and outlooks, to impart wisdom, and to foster the realization of human potential in future generations. As adults move into and through their midlife years, they may become increasingly concerned with giving something back to the world, perhaps in gratitude for the care and good fortune they have received.”

Based upon my experience at Airbnb being twice the age of the average employee, I resonated with Sara’s anthropological perspective on what it means to get older and become “the other.” She suggests that our curiosity and openness to new experiences and cultures is what keeps us engaged in life plus our holistic thinking, a quality of learning that gets better with age, allows us to see things that the indigenous culture (in my case, the Millennials at Airbnb) might not have seen on their own.

She continues this theme by suggesting that we adopt the assumption that “things are not what they seem to be,” which pushes us to examine the layers underneath the surface, the face underneath the mask. “They discover that the uncovering of each layer transforms their understanding of the whole.”

At the end of the book, she offers an enlightening interview Bill Moyers did with her on PBS when this book came out. As a 65-year-old (at that time) woman of color, she says, “My favorite thing about this period, my own revelation, is restraint. How wonderful it is to know a little bit more about when not to talk. When not to move forward. When it’s best to listen and sit back, to just witness and observe. And that slowness of pace offers us the opportunity to see things new. To discover things that we hadn’t seen before; to see the small, incremental steps, rather than expect the large leaps forward.”

Reading this book helped me to see the value of discernment, a word we don’t hear all that often. It helped me to see why I chose to move my pinball from the Bay Area machine and relocate to this quiet, foreign, beachside oasis. I didn’t want to be a pinball wizard any more. Instead, I wanted to understand a little more about why we created the human pinball machine in the first place and how we can escape its trap.

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