Ageing with attitude: What are you going to be in your third act of life?

A new movement aims to support people as they make the transition into older age. Margaret Jennings talks to its founder.

Ageing with attitude: What are you going to be in your third act of life?

IT’S wonderful news that a growing number of us are living 30 years longer than our great-grandparents did, with life expectancy increasing by about 2½ years per decade — or is it?

Actually, society is playing catch-up with this unprecedented ‘bulge’ in the older demographic and individuals themselves are left confused by what to do next, once they retire.

That’s the perspective of Dublin-based adult development expert and former entrepreneur Dr Edward Kelly, aged 57, who is spearheading a movement called The Third Act, which aims to support people psychologically transition into their Third Age.

While society is fully behind us in our first and second acts we are left on our own after that, he argues: “What happens when you come to the end of the second act? Nothing!

"It’s a cliff — people talk about the fall-out. You’re discarded — thrown on the heap — and on a personal level this is extraordinary because you still feel ‘I want to go on...’ but society has this idea that you’re old.

“People themselves are now just beginning to realise that this new period of life is actually real — that it’s happening.

"And the fact is that they can passively live it out as a recipient of an improvement in life conditions, or they can choose to actively take part in it and grab this fabulous opportunity of extra time,” he says.

“I deliberately call it the Third Act, as opposed to the Third Age, so that the emphasis is from age to act. If you say Third Act instead of Third Age you feel quite differently about it; Wow!

"I’ve a third act — another 25 years of life — what am I going to do, what am I going to be, in this third act of my life?”

The question is really down to each individual, he stresses.

“Not to diminish the collective issues that arise due to longevity — the political, social and economic issues are important and have to be dealt with — but the third act is about you, your responsibility, what are you going to do with your third act in life?

“Most of the narrative in society is about physical ageing and decline but there’s the whole thing going on of psychological expansion. Part of the transition is the creation of a new identity, a new sense of self and that involves asking ‘who am I now?’

"There’s a lot of rewiring and restructuring and it’s quite scary because you’re going from the known to the unknown and it’s full of discomfort and unease with yourself, letting go of that which has defined you up to now.”

The Third Act invites individuals grappling with these issues into the fold, to face the reality of this major change.

So far there have been conferences, seminars and retreats and he has developed training programmes in coaching, around the personal transition process.

With four teenage children himself, Kelly is probably only on the brink of his own third act, but he identifies with the ‘big questions’ of identity, having done a PhD in adult development and having moved on from being a successful businessman when he questioned if that was all life had to offer him.

In setting up The Third Act, was he also preparing himself personally for the potential of another 25 years of living and adapting?

“Very much — yes, in a sense I’m using the Third Act to explore my own third act, so this is what I find myself drawn to, because obviously I need to learn something about this for myself.

"You always have to have that personal motivation that brings you in a particular direction.

"I suppose for me it started earlier, in that I had my own business and then I came to that question ‘is this all there is?’

"So that began my movement away from the illusion of independence that is so prevalent in the Second Act — you know, that notion that you have to compete and be independent, so I began that broader search and I have been on that for some time now.

“I don’t claim to have any solutions, but by creating through the Third Act programme and through the network, frameworks of enquiry and sets of questions, there’s a philosophical basis to it and there’s a mapping of that typical transitional journey, but the questions have to be answered by people individually in terms of where they’re at and what this means for them.”

There is also a bonding through participation: “It’s connecting me into a whole new bunch of people, which is very interesting — a complete mix of people.

"The only requirement for entry really is a curious mind and a willingness to explore; mostly explore yourself, develop your own self-knowledge and self-awareness.

"I’m not as interested in changing all of society.

"If I can develop myself and change myself in some ways that are useful and allow me to live a happier life and help others to do that, it will be a wonderful accomplishment.”

Coast for cancer

A retired university lecturer, 65, formerly of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, is set to embark on a solo 4,000km walk around the coastline of Ireland to raise money for the Irish Cancer Society.

Marty Holland is relying on the goodwill of the public to provide him with a place to stay after he leaves his home in Cratloe on May 24 to start the trek on the Clare–Galway border, going in an anticlockwise direction along the Munster and Leinster coasts.

He was inspired to take up the fundraising challenge after witnessing two friends battle cancer, and will walk until the end of September, recommencing his challenge in April 2017 when he will walk the Ulster and Connacht coasts.

Those wishing to offer support of any kind can contact Marty directly at his email address,

Shine the way

One of his songs was a big influence on X-factor presenter Dermot O’Leary who claimed in his memoir that ‘Catch Me If You Can’ was top of his playlist.

But those of us older than 42-year-old O’Leary matured in tandem with country singer Brendan Shine, who is now in his late 60s and whose hits from 50 albums were constantly on radio.

The indomitable Shine is performing from June 9 – 28 in The Lobby Tour which, in keeping with one of his more memorable hits, is a celebration of him “washing his ould lobby down”.

Tickets are on sale from the venues at Cork Opera House; Hawks Well Theatre, Sligo; Galway Town Hall; National Concert Hall, Dublin; Theatre Royal, Waterford ; Tullamore Court Hotel and Glor, Ennis, Co Clare.

Ageing quote

“Ageing’s a difficult thing, but it’s OK I’ve had a good time living, so I’m gonna have a good time dying."

— Nick Nolte

Silver surfer

What if we lived for 150 years

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