The year I gave up the full-time academic life--in 1990, as I recall--I hadn't a clue what to do next. I was nearing 50, divorced, with an aging cat and dog to support. I also had a recently minted master's degree in English and a few years of teaching writing at the University of Illinois/Chicago and DePaul.
Despite my age, I'd been accepted into a Ph.D. program in the teaching of writing, but could not imagine a professional lifetime of freshmen comp and developmental writing classes. As admirable a job as that is--essentially making up for all the years students had little or no high school writing instruction--it did not have my name written all over it.
What did, it turned out, was teaching writing and journal writing to adults in non-academic settings, starting with my signature journal writing workshop, Composing a Life. Based more on the title than on the specific content of Mary Catherine Bateson's book of the same name, the workshop was designed to help people more consciously "create" their lives using a personal journal.
Among those people I targeted as a market for Composing a Life was myself.
And among the many writing exercises I designed for the workshop was one inspired by people who were doing a bang-up job of it already, those role models--people known to us personally; historical figures (the 19th century French writer George Sand was a personal fave of mine); or those in the public eye--who seemed to be living their lives more intentionally.
I've been thinking of that exercise recently, especially as we Boomers and Beyonders are now living longer and healthier lives than any other generation in human history. Specifically, what are we planning to do with the extra 10 or 20 years we didn't even know we'd have?
I trust I'm not alone in this wondering And so I ask this question of my readers: How are you composing this stage of your life? How are you using--or thinking of using--this "gift" of years? What are your priorities for this third act? And have they changed in any way?
If you're interested, please send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org. At some point, I will do a post dedicated to the responses, using only people's first names, pen names, or simply Anonymous.
Let us create some possible role models for those generations coming up behind us, shall we? A handful of possibilities for how they might think to compose this part of their lives.