Written by Panorama staff. June 2016
This Embracing Life session was a combination of TED talk, Life’s Third Act, and an audience discussion. The TED Talk, given by Jane Fonda, re-examined the old metaphor for aging and people’s new life expectancy. People today are living on average 34 years longer than their great-grandparents. This extra time is what Fonda calls “the third act.” Before, age was seen as an arch: you’re born, you peak at midlife and then you die. However, with these extra three decades, Fonda suggests a new metaphor for aging. Instead of a peak-decline arch, she states that aging is like a staircase. Aging, in her words, is “the upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness, and authenticity.” This additional act gives us extra time to ascend upward, to reflect and free ourselves from the past, review our life, and better our quality of life.
After the short TED talk, the audience was broken into small groups and asked to discuss a number of questions. The first question was regarding the old metaphor of age being like an arch. The groups were asked the following questions:
- What were your role models for “old age”?
- Who were the old people in your youth?
- What were they doing with their time?
- What was “retirement” for them?
After several minutes of discussing, there was a large consensus among the audience. Many in their youth saw old people working hard and never experiencing retirement. Old people had to live with their children or grandchildren as they were unable to live on their own comfortably. Nobody retired and working until the day you died was accepted.
The next questions discussed the extra 30 years that have been added to our life expectancy. The questions were:
- How can we re-imagine this new phase of our lives from a decline into a developmental stage of life with its own significance?
- How do we use this time?
- How do we live it successfully?
There were a large variety of answers from the audience. Some wanted to use the time for self care, especially since there are more options and resources that offer self care nowadays. Some wanted to use the time to help others and contribute to the world. Others wanted to use it for self reflection, strive to make their third act successful, and develop wisdom around reflection. The groups discussed what was important for them to embrace in their third act. Whether that is staying in touch with friends, enjoying the things you love, furthering relationships or enriching the world, this new additional act allows more time to embrace our lives.
Jane Fonda quoted a German psychiatrist in her talk, Viktor Frankl, who spent five years in a Nazi concentration camp. He wrote this while he was in the camp: “Everything you have in life can be taken from you except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. This is what determines the quality of life we’ve lived – not whether we’ve been rich or poor, famous or unknown, healthy or suffering. What determines our quality of life is how we relate to those realities, what kind of meaning we assign them, what kind of attitude we cling to about them, what state of mind we allow them to trigger.” As we become older and gain more time, we gain the ability and chance to learn more about ourselves. We learn to embrace ourselves, our freedom, our spirit, and our bodies. By reflecting on our life experiences, we can become wiser and become whole. With this extra time, we gain the chance to enjoy the things and people we love, gain wisdom, embrace our new additional time and continue to ascend with into our age potential.