She’s Zooming in on Boomers

The "Coming of Age" program billed as "the Delaware Valley initiative to promote age 50-plus civic engagement and learning" is designed to further volunteering, learning and community leadership while providing an array of resources to and for this population segment.

As a partner in this alliance – consisting of Temple University, the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the American Association of Retired Persons of Pennsylvania – WHYY hosted a three-part lecture and discussion group focusing on how baby-boomers redefine retirement.

The theme, "Boomervision," implies that some of us may be truly visionary in our thinking and planning, while others are simply myopic.

In any case, I attended the second of these discussion groups led by Suzanne Braun Levine, author of Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, who presented a lively discussion picking up where feminists of the 1960s left their bras, placards and Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman."

Although this was held for and about women, men should be aware of this process, as it will ultimately have an impact on their own lives, as well as on relationships with wives and girlfriends.

The New Math
Calm, collected, yet very New York in her demeanor, Levine encourages women to explore their identities. Fifty is the new 30, she insists.

Women in this group, often defined as the "sandwich generation" due to pressures associated with raising children and caring for elderly parents while integrating careers and marriage, may need to take a deep breath when they turn 50. They may need to explore their own growth, care and potential.

Learning to say "no" more often, counsels Levine, may be a good beginning for some women.

It is liberating and empowering, and may be "the first step in breaking free of life's restrictions," she says. "Once you know what you don't want … what you say 'no' to then clears up what you want to say 'yes' to. And it is a process that could take several years."

It's all about becoming stronger and more sure of yourself, the author explains.

She adds that this era is an unprecedented time in history; there is a profound and sweeping drama that women of this age are encountering.

Because there aren't any role models, women must "feel our way." It's a time marked by "flux and change."

Levine says that this period is also marked by a feeling of unsteadiness borne of disassociating oneself from prior attitudes and beliefs. There are also shifting priorities for women, where many become riskier in decision-making, opting to simply "go for it."

While these are changes that may baffle others around you at times, Levine is reassuring. She encourages women to change, despite the obvious effects that might have on intimate relationships.

"Yes, it can be disruptive," she admits, conceding that "ultimately, self-discovery may lead to unsettling conclusions, even divorce."

But, she adds, "not always."

"Usually, a partner is very excited to share these years with someone going through self-discovery and self-exploration.

"As you go through this unprecedented transition, you come to understand that you are not who you were. The big realization is that you can put yourself together in a new way … change your mind … change your relationship to become a new self."

She cites examples in which women she's met who've gone through this process report "less static on the line" when referring to close relationships.

Levine calls this period of time the "fertile void," a "necessary, albeit bewildering, hiatus."

It's a time to answer the question, "What am I going to do for the rest of my life?" followed by a more existential inquiry, "Who am I now?" It's a time to rethink old goals and make new ones.

Lemons Into Lemonade
Clearly, Levine is not exempt from this "free fall."

She lost her own job in a power struggle with her boss, and wound up feeling like a "conductor without an orchestra."

Ultimately, she turned lemons into lemonade by reinventing herself with freelance projects, and befriending change. She even went on an Outward Bound program she had mused about taking for 10 years.

Levine offers several caveats for getting through the "void," including taking your time, getting to the next stage in your life, relying on friends you can trust and turning that "shoulda-woulda-coulda" thinking into real action.

It is, according to Levine, a veritable time for "rebirth."

Carole Felton is president of her own marketing and public-relations firm.



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