As March springs forward, I’m heartened by the thawing of winter. Even with occasional gray days and cold rain, I welcome the crocuses and daffodils awakening, eagerly poking out of the soil.

Spring also enlivens me inside. I feel my spirit renewing as the days lengthen; the added light of early morning walks with my dog seems to widen my vision, offering moments of reflection and a broader perspective on things.

What am I thinking about? Mostly, who am I at this stage of my life?

As I’ve crossed over into my 70s, I’m no longer a youngish baby boomer, but I haven’t arrived in late elderhood either. Like a lot of mid-generation boomers, I believe the cliché, that 70 is the new 50, because, well, many of us do feel 20 years younger than our biological age. And yet, it seems that with the election season heating up, most of the political diatribes these days (besides the “immigration invasion”) are about our presidential candidates being just “too old” to be effective. Wait. What? These guys are just a few years older than I am. As many of you probably know, I have strong opinions about ageism, how pervasive and damaging this bias toward older people is—for all of us. (You can read my previous article, “How Old is Too Old?” in the Roel Resources website archive, https://roelresources.com/how-old-is-too-old/.)

But it’s time to move beyond age rage and explore more deeply what it means to be an older person these days. With the dramatic increase in human longevity, I know there have been hundreds of books published on aging and retirement. (A lot of them are on my bookshelf.) They cover a wide range of topics, like health and wellness, financial and estate planning, senior lifestyles. Good, basic stuff. But what’s largely missing in these times is a deeper and much-needed exploration of aging from a psychosocial perspective.

In a society where there will soon be more people over age 65 than under 18, just who are we as elders in the 21st Century?

That’s why I was so gratified—delighted—when I met Scott Fisher and Ben Green, co-authors of the forthcoming book, The Aging Wisely Project, in late spring of last year. I met Scott and Ben at my 50th Yale reunion, where they gave a presentation outlining the book’s basic themes–which, not surprisingly, resonated with a group of aging, but still intellectually precocious, Yalies.

Since that time, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing conversation with these two men, which resulted in their first appearance on 45 Forward last October (https://roelresources.com/45-forward-episode-144/). They will be on my podcast again on March 18th as part of an ongoing series this year exploring their work in greater depth.

Scott and Ben, who have enjoyed a 50-year friendship, bring considerable expertise to this subject matter. Scott spent four decades as an organizational psychologist, corporate leader, and executive coach. Ben spent those same 40 years, first as a psychiatrist, and then as a psychoanalyst. When you speak with them, you can tell that they have honed the skills (and art) of listening, discerning the underlying feelings, as well as with the hopes, insecurities, and fears, of a wide variety of individuals—including older folks, who often believe they’re overlooked, undervalued and largely invisible.

What I really appreciate is the authenticity of these two men. Like me, they’re in their 70s, but they remain deeply curious about life, thoughtful, searching, and learning. They’re hopeful about our potential to experience happiness, fulfillment and personal growth in our last years. At the same time, they acknowledge the vulnerabilities and the humbling realities of aging. It’s a brave exploration. As Bette Davis famously said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Neither is aging wisely.

What I’ve discovered from Ben and Scott is a powerful, systematic and immensely useful approach to help propel our understanding of aging forward—especially at a time when public perceptions about “old people” and their mental competence are often badly misinformed. The book proposes an important premise: Because of longer and healthier lifespans today, and because there are many more choices available to elders today, a new, distinct developmental stage of elderhood has emerged. The co-authors call this final stage “Elder Identity Revision.” It’s a reworking of our identity as it evolves in our elder years, with an interesting parallel: These are the same issues we faced in adolescence. Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we really want out of life?

During this stage we’re forced to cope with changes in our bodies and minds, changes in how and where we live our daily lives. In the first part of their book, Scott and Ben identify five critical psychological tasks we face during this period, such as dealing with the loss of control and competence in our lives, and especially the loss of connection to intimate partners, family, friends and community groups. In Part Two, the authors provide an extensive compendium of skills and attitudes (they call them “Healthy Habits”) to address these challenges. They’re represented by the acronym, GRASP: Gratitude, Resilience, Active Practices, Self-Integrity and Purpose. By strengthening these healthy habits, they explain, we can make a substantial difference in how we experience this stage of life.

Interspersed in the book are Scott and Ben’s personal stories, as well as the in-depth life stories of several dozen aging wisely elders. Together, these elements comprise a compelling journey into old age, where understanding the psychological tasks that await us in elderhood can bolster our hopes and expectations for improved health and happiness—a meaningful journey, a life well-lived, despite the inevitable setbacks.

This, of course, brings me back to the recurring theme of 45 Forward: To help all of us age successfully, making the second half of life even better than the first.

Like Scott and Ben, I believe that knowledge and intention are the keys to fulfillment in life’s ultimate stage. And as the world continues to age, The Aging Wisely Project will become an invaluable guide to elderhood—one that requires an understanding of our essential humanity.

Interspersed in the book are Scott and Ben’s personal stories, as well as the in-depth life stories of several dozen aging wisely elders. Together, these elements comprise a compelling journey into old age, where understanding the psychological tasks that await us in elderhood can bolster our hopes and expectations for improved health and happiness—a meaningful journey, a life well-lived, despite the inevitable setbacks. (The book is set for publication in the next few months, but meanwhile, you can find out more at the website, https://theagingwiselyproject.com/.)

Not just being smart. Wiser.

—Ron Roel

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