The third chapter of life

Where do you want to be in five years?

"When I stopped pursuing things so doggedly, they just came to me." That phrase has stayed in my thinking. It is a quote from an aging actress with little success in cinema as a young woman. She came into her own only when she became older, more gray-headed, and more open to possibilities — less driven.

As a youngster, I heard, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Later it was "Where do you want to be five years from now?" I always had a ready answer.

An 11-year-old recently answered the first question with "I plan to be involved in fish and wildlife." Her 40-year-old father, whose life situation involved no wildlife of any kind (unless you count a rescue puppy), answered the second question with, "I intend to have my boss's job," followed a little wistfully by "unless I figure out how to play Hawaiian songs on the guitar for a living."

When you reach 60-plus, you are definitely grown up, so the first question is unlikely. But that second question becomes more important than ever. Think carefully before you answer.

I have frequent conversations with a thoughtful friend and mentor whom I will refer to simply as "Matt" (although he is not at all simple — very interestingly complicated). Two weeks ago, he gave me a life-changing book titled "The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50." I read it in small doses because it's so relevant —I dare not miss anything. When I'm finished, I will be ready to answer the second question.

Reviewers have repeatedly called "The Third Chapter" an "exquisite book" and "a revelation of a book," which seemed a little over the top to me — until I actually read it. The author is Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a well-regarded sociologist and the first African American woman to hold an endowed professorship at Harvard University. She has her way with words.

She has a way of looking at being "neither young nor old" that stirs my heart. Her well-told stories speak to the individually enlightening observations held by aging men and women who are re-defining their lives in a multitude of unexpected ways.

Are you like me? Do you need reminding to "enjoy the pleasure of wasting time?" Do you need more moments for rest, reflection and gentle self-interrogation? If you have already figured out how to do that — could you find someone like me who is working on it and maybe rub up against them with your ideas "¦ empower them a little? Take their hand?

I tend to be driven, or as one friend put it, "You sure go at full throttle all the time." I don't think it was a compliment. Hence, my interest in the rambling, self-revealing journeys taken by people in "The Third Chapter." The author intimately chronicles individuals on the road to self-discovery. In some cases, it's the first time they've explored choice and ownership — it's mostly beautiful "¦ sometimes painful. It's about self-exploration, risk-taking and the exploration of personal passions. The stories end unexpectedly well.

Which prompts me to ask "¦ "Where do you want to be five years from now?"

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

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