Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon
First phase: education. Starts with, oh yeah gotta breathe!, can continue through graduate school. But those first twenty or so years focus on learning the terrain. Second phase: family and career. In this phase we put that education to work. The hallmark of the second phase is agency. Raising children. Building a career. Becoming who you are. All human generations have had these two phases.
The third phase though. The children are gone. Work is over. Most humans in most generations died either during the second phase or not far into the third. Used to be 18 months after retirement (at 65) for men where I grew up. This chart sums it up.
Average lifespan though is just that. Even when it was thirty or forty-according to this chart not so long ago, 1840-1870-there were always those who lived into their seventies and eighties, even made it to one hundred. The physiologically determined human lifespan, somewhere between 110 and 122 has not changed.
The average person in the U.S. can expect to live to around seventy nine or 80. Obesity, suicide, and drug overdoses have caused a decline in average US life expectancy in this new millennium. Still, most of us can expect to live around 15 years past the old retirement age of 65.
If education defines phase one, agency phase two, what defines the third phase? We’re living into that question right now, us Baby Boomers. There’s a family piece, especially for grandkids. There’s a how to live with ailments and decline piece. A self-awareness, self-acceptance piece. A how to deal with death as a nearby event piece?
There’s a money piece here, too. It makes me wonder if the suicide rate that’s part of life expectancy decline in the US will increase. A friend, Carol, said her father died two months before his money ran out. What will we do if we live longer than whatever savings we’ve managed to accumulate? What if medicare and social security are not enough? Almost certainly the case for most. Will the true death panels be the looming loss of agency occasioned by poverty?
The third phase may be the time when your most authentic self comes to the surface. This is my greatest hope. That release from the demands of career and family might liberate us to live into our best selves. Of course, that demands self-awareness, an examined life. Perhaps leaning into the inscription over Apollo’s temple will be become the essence of the third phase. The unexamined life is not worth living.
Your third phase ikigai will emerge if you let it. You don’t need to push. I’m interested in what you find. Or, if you’ve already found it. What gets you up in the morning?