An exploration of developmental substages for adulthood and beyond.
Thomas, possibly unaware of criticisms of the egocentrism of the baby boomer generation, suggests that the dynamics that gave rise to the cultural shift of baby boomers have also engendered a unique imbalance as their late adulthood sets in. The author, a senior fellow at the AARP’s Life Reimagined Institute and a winner of the Heinz Award for the Human Condition, writes that this imbalance is a result of the self-inflicted mythology that the boomer generation created and embraced—a generation defined as youthful and preoccupied with youth. Rather than railing against the perceived order of the old and celebrating youth, Thomas writes, these boomers now often struggle with the rigidity of that identity. The fervent embrace of youth, coupled with conflict over the “structure, function, and meaning of adulthood,” was a useful iconoclasm when the embracers were young. Thomas suggests that this resulting view of growing old as a “personal failing” needs to be flipped to an embrace of “elderhood” as a time of expanding, not lessening, opportunities. “We’ve been told that old age offers us nothing that the adult does not already possess in abundance,” he writes, “but this is a lie.” As children, we’re allowed to explore our identities and try on different roles, realizing that we’re still a work in progress. As adults, we’re acculturated to winnow down those identities (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”), and adults who experience ambiguity around those identities are labeled as flighty, insecure and immature. Thomas explores possible paradigms that might enable us, as we transition through adulthood and beyond, to expand those ideas of identity.
A mostly nuanced look at the challenges of growing old gracefully for a generation that aches to see youth in the mirror.