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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

To Engage or Disengage: Embracing The Third Chapter Of Our Lives

"There are sounds which shatter the staleness of lives, transporting the shadows into the dreams." Nikki Giovanni

We were hiking with Wiseones Susan and Maikel in Chiricahua National Monument, way down in the southeastern corner of Arizona, when our path intersected with a kindly looking "older" couple. Susan, naturally, engaged them. 

Allow a brief tangent here, or maybe tantrum would be a better word. I could do an entire blog post about Opportunities Lost from lack of engagement, by not striking up a simple conversation with someone you don't know. Instead, I'll try to weave it into the fabric of this post for the sake of efficiency and food for thought. 

Often we miss little from lack of engagement. But "littles" have a way of adding up over time...some grow up to be cornerstones. Then there are the biggies, those people with whom we engaged that filled holes in our hearts and lives. I'll give you one example: I met my soulmate, Bobbie, at an Athletic Club. 

A simple conversation that barely tweaks one's life-course now, in the present, has the power to shift destiny. Geometry majors understand this well, that a misalignment of even the smallest measurable degree compounds over time/distance. That "tweak" can land one in an entirely different world years down the road. In a way, Life is the summation of innumerable tweaks, and if you believe, as I do, that our objective here on earth is to find missing pieces to the Grand Puzzle, then you realize the futility of going round and round in familiar rutted circles...avoiding change and messengers, isolating and insulating from "potential." At our core, we are wired to be social, and, in the Great Scheme of things, our survival has, and always will, depend upon it. 

So, engagement is Susan's Gift. I have personally observed both the bounty and "bootie" that comes from it...how it enriches her life and even those around her zone of influence. Though I try and try to receive her gift, it doesn't come as "natural" for some as it does for others. And while I can't quantify the "losses" that came as a result of my timidity, I can quantify the gains received from times when I've ventured a word, and watched it blossom into a conversation that enlightened and/or inspired (tweak). 

Opportunities are lost in the voids of silence. We must not let fear, anger, or timidity tie our tongues or promote isolation. Withdrawal, and to some extent, routine, is the beginning of the end.

Trailside, Susan plied her gift of engagement with the stealth of a practiced pickpocket, and purloined a short story from the older couple. Snippets of engagement are like Dominos, they can have a cascading effect when you act on the new information. That this couple was there for our paths to cross, way out on a distant trail in the middle of a plantation of statuesque boulders, was due to a book they had read, one that tweaked the trajectory of their lives post retirement. The book is entitled, The Third Chapter, Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 years After 50, by Harvard Sociologist, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. Like the wallet that gets purloined by a pickpocket, it might contain a fortune, or it might be empty. Bobbie acted on the new information, ordered the book from Amazon. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  

Who among us in this mostly AARP aged BCB audience, wouldn't lift a curious eyebrow at a book with such a title? Who among us is not at least curious, to at most, concerned, about "the third chapter" in our lives? Who doesn't want or need more information? Let me see a show of hands...anybody think they got it all figured out? Of course not. Why? Because we're all a little frightened of the unknown. Why? Because most of us see/saw what happened to our parents. That doesn't mean it has to be the same for us; it could be better, it could be worse. 

Maybe we should be proactive...go on offense instead of relying on defense in our own third chapters. Maybe we can control some of those "chips" that fall in uncharted waters, where there is bound to be a storm or two. Anything resembling a map that might help us navigate could make a difference. Time is of the essence, because what use to be way out in the future, is now standing on our doorstep. 

Here is where I need to tell you that I didn't actually read The Third Chapter. but instead relied on Bobbie's Cliff Notes version. As she read along I would ask what the secret was to making a plan for "adventure, risk and passion" in the third chapters of our lives. "How far off are we?" Well, Bobbie finished the final page last night, and I began probing for answers first thing this morning. "Do we have it right? Are we close? If not, where are we going wrong? I want more 'passion, risk, and adventure!'" Like a typical male, "Answers, Woman. I want answers! I don't want to read the stinking instructions...just tell me what to do!"

I've spent the morning listening to Bobbie recap the highlights of the book. It goes without saying, you need to read the book. There are many examples of what and how seniors took on new challenges that enriched their "third chapters." Often it was going back to something they were passionate about while growing up, either in college or high school, you know, before LIFE's realities laid waste to youthful idealism al'a bull in china closet. 

A few chose magnanimous pursuits, like relief work in third world countries. Certainly risk and adventure there. And a few chose volunteering for a cause they were passionate about, like animal rights/shelters. Most, however, pursued the Arts...music, writing plays or novels, painting, sculpting, and so on. Risk? Yes, I think so. Putting oneself in the role of a "beginner" at a mature age, making mistakes, is not easy. Adventure? Well, that's in the eyes of the "beholder." Certainly there is "adventure" when one undertakes a new direction, indulges a new passion, and risks making a fool in the eyes of others. If you don't believe me, try dangling your participles, watercolors, photography in front of an audience.

Ms Lawrence-Lightfoot says that for some, "It's hard to leave roles (careers) that gave us responsibility and status...influence and power." I can understand that, but "status-seeking" doesn't really apply to me, unless you count finishing mountain footraces like Pike's Peak, Imogene Pass and Kendall Mountain. And as far as the "responsibilities" in my career? I couldn't wait to rid myself of their weight, to "hoist the anchor" and get on with freedom and exploration. 

The way I see it, there are but two ways to experience our third chapters. We can do it with an attitude of reluctance, resignation, and/or burnout, and play "defense" until we are irrelevant and slip quietly into a sea of anonymity. Or, we can do it with an attitude of discovery, a renewed sense of purpose and excitement that has us playing "offense." That is the secret to remaining "relevant," by contributing whatever we have to offer, big or small. 

Which attitude is more likely to bring meaningfulness to our lives? In the end, it's about continuing to learn, we must continue to expand and exercise our minds and bodies. When we cease to do that, the final chapter of our lives is being written, and the book will soon close with an imperceptible thud. All that will be left is our legacy, something that seems to be of more importantance in "Third Chapters."


  1. No need for you to read the book. Your "third chapter" is already full of passion, risk, and adventure. Don't worry about what you perceive to be doing wrong, just enjoy what you are already doing!

  2. Your pictures certainly do make me wish I could get higher in the hills without so much misery. Oh Well doing what my body will allow during my third phase of living.

  3. Once again a thought provoking thought to think on thru the day. I recently rebought the book passages which covered nicely the decades of my past. I had read it in my youth certain that those era's would be different for me.... Mostly they were the same. Responsibility, Family, job, obtaining things. I was looking for wisdom for this next part of my life. You bought me some tidbits this morning. Sounds like the book is just what I was looking for. Karen

  4. Thanks Mark, I will check out the book. Love your pictures tooday. And yuo're right, so far we are enjoying Acadia, even with the lousy weather!

  5. Agreed!!! I thrive on change. I don't understand those that want to just sit around for the next 25+ years. Unexpected things will happen, we just have to work around these problems and not give up. When my mom had a medical problem and could not drive anymore, she gave up and sat in a chair for the last 15 years of her life. She was still mobile back then and could have used public transportation or traveled with friends, etc. My father never had a drivers license, so he could not take over the driving, or maybe I suppose he could have tried to learn at the age of 65. I drove them around way too many times. I remember when the book "Who moved my cheese?" came out. I never read it, but there were several people that I knew that needed to read it.

  6. Good post Mark.
    For years I've read BCB to gain from your learnings and insights on how to navigate the third chapter; equally to enjoy your photo's and travels. You're doing well.
    Thanks. AVL

  7. Excellent post ... I'm ready to move on if I only can convince the Wifen!

  8. Thanks again, Mark. I just copied the name of the book and will be on Amazon (through RV Sue's blog) in a few minutes.
    I missed my Alaska window for this summer. I still have my foster baby that I thought might be gone by now. But that is good and his sweet little 10 month old self is right where he belongs right now--with me. If he leave in July, I will do a 4 to 5 month circumnavigation from Texas through Colorado, up to Montana, over to Maine, down to Key West and back to Texas before Christmas. I can't wait to read the book and learn some more. I have already used up 15 of those years after 50, so hope Amazon is quick (or maybe available on Kindle. :)) Still loving your blog. Hopefully I will be in Ouray in July!!!!

  9. I'm back. "Risk in the Third Chapter" is having several blog posts in various stages saved on a 4 year old laptop with no back-up. ;-(

    I love the "practiced pickpocket" analogy. I selfishly admit to intentionally attaching myself to friends like Susan who enjoy extracting the story, when all I have to do is quietly relax and enjoy the ride. There must be 200 stories in this RV park, and I have not yet heard one of them. I had better get busy asking about "The Fourth Chapter." haha!!

    Splendid photography, as always. Love Bobbie in the shade of the beautiful old tree! (Though some of those trails give me a stomach ache. haha!)

  10. I think you're on the right track. Life is about living to the fullest.

    I'm all about engagement. Love to smile and talk to strangers. Interchanges are quite often enlightening or at least entertaining. Of course, at work that's really part of my job. But I engage all the time. Just has to be sincere.

  11. I would say John and I are all ready living that Third Chapter with selling our home, moving into out MH full time and hitting the open road. Hiking and adventures are our new passion.

    Love your new header!! Also, really enjoyed your "postcards." Thanks!

  12. The picture of all the paintings was very moving to me. I can't explain why except after reading the article, it was such a stunning example of 'the right way' as explained in the text. Way to go guys!

  13. "Practiced Pickpocket" Susan here. Cracking up laughing. Mark, you know me too well. I love hearing peoples' stories: what they've done, what they're doing now, and what they intend for the future. People are interesting. And sometimes, yep just sometimes, not all the time, there's a gold nugget in their story that I can 'pickpocket'. Why do you think we hang out with you? You got gold coming out of your ears; sometimes you just forget.

  14. I've been thinking a lot along these same lines lately, especially in regards to creativity. It's kind of like the "Butterfly Effect". You may not have Susan's gift of gab, but putting yourself out there creatively with this blog accomplishes similar results.

  15. "Emptied Pocket" Maikel here. My wife is so great at meeting folks on the trail and chatting. She is wonderful at finding the special places most folks simply drive by and never see. Her laugh lights up the room. We miss you guys. -Maikel

  16. Good post Mark, I agree with Susan that you are a weath of information on your blog and in person. Your not afraid to share anything from the death of a parent to the best trails to hike for adventure. Always look forward to yours and Bobbie's creativity in paintings, pictures and stories.
    John Q

  17. What Gayle said: No need for you to read that book! Your third chapter has been inspiring to many. You and BJ ROCK!
    BTW love that quote by Nikki Giovanni (what an amazing woman!)

  18. Thank you for your "review" of the book and comments on the "third chapter." I'm "almost" to begin my summer sojourn!

  19. Like Teri I thrive on change and will have no problem reaching for adventure as the years go on. Since I was 18 I've worked for different temp agencies, ran a daycare business, was a landlord and worked various part time jobs in addition to volunteer work and being a mom. We moved 4 times in the last 5 years and I loved it every time. Looking forward to the ultimate move to that home on wheels, down to 7 years or less now! Your blog is a great inspiration to people looking to make changes of their own, and today's message about keeping your eyes open for inspiration from others is a good one.

  20. Gayle,
    You are correct to some extent, I suppose. But sometimes, ya know, I want more...something different, purposeful, and edgy all rolled into one. I'll keep looking; that's half the fun. The Clock Ticks...
    thanks, and good luck with the cool cats that have out grown your Lazy Daze and patience :))

    You get around...Colorado isn't that much higher than New Mexico :)) Enjoy your third chapter... is seems like you are doing ok in that regard. thanks

    You are heading into a new phase, getting rid of "stuff" so you can be less burdened and free in your third chapter. We are anxious to hear of your travels and experiences. thanks

    Al and Karen,
    Summer gets to some places later than others...I feel your rain pain. The coast is rugged there, and fall is tops. I hope you can experience the colors. thanks

    And I agree with you! My granddad sat on the porch after he retired and died a couple of years later. We must stay engaged, keep moving. Life is more than a beating heart. You learned that from your parents. thanks

    Thanks... Perhaps Wife needs a compromise :)) Good luck and thanks for commenting.

    Thanks. All in due time, Beth. Your trip sounds fantastic...a big loop for 4 or 5 months, tho. Sounds like you are making up for lost time. Ten years left in your third chapter, more or less, Go for it!

    You crack me up...there is "risk," and there is "just asking for it." Get off the "ledge" and go get an external drive so you can sleep at night :))
    Now go knock on some neighbors door and "engage" them :)) thanks

    Your summer job is perfect for engaging...maybe too much so :)) I can imagine you get tired of the same questions. thanks

    John and Pam,
    Thanks, I love that header photo too...taken from a climb up Mount Abrams, looking back to the south at Red Mountain. I think you need to hike Abrams ! You are not sitting around, that's for sure. Keep it going. thanks

    Thank you..."Finding one's Art" is a great way to spend some of the time we have in our third chapters. Certainly your music has done that for you...and now writing stories. Thanks
    BTW readers, check out Hymnserve.com for old and new hymns.

    You came out of hiding (or should I say "Hiking.)
    You find the "nuggets" girl... I'm trying to learn from the "master." I'm running out of "nuggets," so I need to get out more :)) thanks dear one.

    Brother John,
    Love the name, Matt, and your songs as well as your distinct voice and style. Music can complete our sentences...keep it going. and thanks.

    I do miss Susan's laugh most of all... thanks for reminding me.

    John Q,
    Thank you. You must be excited by now...getting ready to join us on some hikes around Lovely Ouray. We'll try some new ones on you...hope you have a safe trip.

    We "Rock?" You've been hitting the IPA again, eh?
    Seriously, I hope to rock in my old age...as much as ever. Maybe even run into the elusive Scamps again before I die :)) thanks

    Desert Diva,
    Or is it "Dancing Diva? Both, maybe :))
    Happy travels on your summer sojourn. thanks

    Pam and Wayne,
    Thanks you... I hope the BCB does inspire a few people, as you say. That would be a nice return on my investment, for sure. You certainly don't have to worry about settling in from what your comment indicated. Some people just don't have it in them to sit still. Good for you guys...and I hope the next years go by quickly on your march toward freedom.

  21. Hi Mark, Thank you for your BCB. I love the timing of my "finding" your blog during my early morning routine of making coffee and toast. While standing alone in the kitchen I found myself thinking about the differences in engaging or disengaging. For some reason I flashed back in time and thought about all the times I disengaged because it was just easier to let someone else do the engaging. I noticed how many times I rode someone elses coat tails instead of creating my own adventure. When my coffee was ready I got online and googled "engage or disengage" and came across your blog from May, 2013. I appreciate your encouragement and thoughts. With ten years into my "next 25" I have some adventures to continue and others to engage in. Thanks!


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