According to adult development researchers, the epiphanies that followed a taste of their mortality for people like Frederic Hudson, Rollie Larson, and Cal Wick happened right on schedule. In the second half of life, this awareness of mortality shifts our perspective and opens our eyes to the deep and vulnerable wonders of the sacred. Whether this awareness will be a negative or a positive force, one that undermines life's purpose or enriches it, is up to each of us. It's our choice whether we will draw strength from life's challenges or be defeated by them.
Or is it?
Are we truly free to live the second half of our lives on purpose?
In every situation we find ourselves in, we have the freedom of deciding for or against the influence of our surroundings. Viktor Frankl, in a moving description of inmates of the concentration camps during World War II describes examples of men and women who, under the most adverse circumstances, were able to "do differently," to choose to care for others, in a situation in which every other external human freedom was denied.
Frankl describes this in Man's Search for Meaning: "Probably in every concentration camp," he reports, "there were individuals who were able to overcome their apathy and suppress their irritability. These were the ones who were examples of renunciation and self-sacrifice. Asking nothing for themselves, they went about in the grounds and in the barracks of the camp offering a kind word here, a crust of bread there."
From them we learn that freedom is not something we "have," and therefore can lose, it is what we "are." It is our deepest potential, only needing to be embraced.
The notion of reclaiming our purpose is not new—the essential questions facing us have not really changed over time. What is new, at least to some extent, is the degree of freedom we now have in the second half of life to develop our own answers.
Virtually everyone we interviewed for this book referred to some event that heightened awareness of their mortality. During the second half of life, purpose is on our minds, and it should be.
Dr. Jeffrey Life
Growing older is a fact of life; if we're not growing older, then we're not living. How we feel about the process of aging profoundly influences our experience in the second half of life. Is getting older a blessing or a curse? Do we see it as a decline or an ascent? Do we resist it at every turn or welcome it into our life? Our answers to these questions are critical because in the second half of life, they shape our destiny.
For Jeffrey Life, M.D., at age 58, aging was a curse. Going through a traumatic divorce left him emotionally and physically exhausted, and his relationship with his daughter seemed ruined. He recalls, "My self-esteem had never been lower, my waist never bigger, and my cholesterol never higher. It was time to get my life under control."
Jeff started exercising and setting goals. His patients asked him what he was doing to look so healthy. His friends couldn't get over his transformation. More importantly, his relationship with his teenage daughter began to flourish.They even exercised together!
Jeff signed up for the "Body for Life" program—and won it at age 60! Through this 12-week personal transformation program, he became fascinated with exercise, nutrition, and longevit. He began to incorporate "age-management" principles, along with his own experience, into his medical practice.
Today, he says,"I look at myself and I feel a sense of pride. I really like what I see. I'm reminded of the Bob Seger song: 'Lean and Solid Everywhere—Like a Rock.' Only I'm not 18 years old as he was—I'm over 65!"
Behind Jeff's story of mid-life transformation—ending addictions, losing weight, building strength—is a common pattern. He was fed up with the way he had lived in the first half of life and wanted to make changes in the second. He was seeking deeper grounding in himself—a new purpose."Deep self-renewal," writes Roger Gould in Transformations, "is not just a mental goal. It is so deep that we cannot grasp its origins with the mind alone."
Dr.Alex Comfort once reflected that only 25 percent of what we call "aging" is rooted in the actual biology of being older. The other 75 percent of aging he called "sociogenic"—that is, caused by stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions that society and culture impose on older adults.
As Jeff faced the second half of his life, he confronted a critical choice about his purpose. What, he wondered, was his life all about? What was the legacy he was leaving? The answers to those questions helped him structure his choices.
Five years ago, he attended an "anti-aging" medical meeting. He heard from a company called Cenegenics Medical Institute about three other aspects of the antiaging program: nutrition, exercise, and hormone modulation. Coming fresh on the heels of his victory in the "Body for Life" contest, this information launched him on a new direction in his medical practice for the second half of his life.
Today, in addition to his M.D. in Internal Medicine, he has a Ph.D. in Nutrition and a black belt in karate. Certified in Age-Management Medicine, he works as Institute Physician for Cenegenics Medical Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada, helping to keep people at the highest levels of wellness possible for as long as possible. He even writes a Performance Nutrition column for Muscle Magazine's 500,000 readers.
Jeff's purpose in the second half of life is helping people sustain youthfulness as they age."My goal," he relates, "is to die young at a very old age!" To achieve this, he heads to the gym at five AM five days a week. He works out with training partners half his age. He says, "It energizes me for the whole day. It helps me to stay fit for the stressful life of a physician in this day and age. By not being encumbered by ill health, I'm physically free to do what I want to do!"
Traditional medicine doesn't pay a lot of attention to age management, Jeff claims."How we see aging, and how our society sees it, is a question that goes to the very heart of claiming your place at the fire. New elders will face the choice of not just whether or when, but HOW to search for that elusive fountain of youth."