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THE THIRD CHAPTER by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot


Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the Twenty-five Years after 50

by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-374-27549-5
Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Insightful vignettes of people navigating the squirrelly years between 50 and 75.

Lawrence-Lightfoot (Education/Harvard Univ.; The Essential Conversation, 2003, etc.) profiles 40 individuals who had, by one measure or another, successful working lives and then took a new tack after age 50—voluntarily or not. They may be educated and financially secure, but they are also fragile and assailable in ways they haven’t experienced for many years as they make their way over foreign ground. They frequently find it discomfiting to be scrutinizing their identities and seeking to align their values with their actions, notes the author: “Something in us feels we are being irresponsible, or inappropriate, or maybe even unseemly, when we admit our lust for new learning,” especially when society assumes it’s time for them to be put out to pasture. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s investigation is anything but a dry, academic study. Her voice is by turns thoughtful, soothing and plaintive, as well as hungry for understanding what does and doesn’t work for these pilgrims. Standardized educational formats aren’t much help, she discovers; “school values and practices may distort organic learning across the life span, compromising and masking the impulses that might make us productive and creative learners.” It’s eye-opening to witness all the heavy lifting involved in these skirmishes with the new, including a lot of inefficiency and circling. (Happily, readers also learn that “old burdens become lighter.”) Tension, strangely enough, may prove crucial—not the kind of tension that leads to stress, but the kind that demands reconciliation between opposing forces or the charting of new scenarios by confronting ancient traumas. Other qualities worth having in your quiver: “openness, fearlessness, humility, and [the] capacity to look foolish.” It helps to be surrounded by a caring society—which is either the good news or the bad news, depending on your reservoir of another helpful virtue: hope.

Heady, fruitful explorations of ill-charted terrain destined for a population explosion.