Excerpt from Women, We're Only Old Once (Cooper): Exploring the Dark Side of the Moon
Exploring the Dark Side of the Moon
Erik Erikson, well-known
psychologist (1902-1994), proposed eight stages of human personality
development (1993), each having a significant development task to complete in
order to successfully go on to the next stage. The eighth and last stage he
called maturity and identified it as beginning at age 65. The conflict experienced
in maturity he described as ego integrity versus despair and the task as
reflection on and acceptance of one’s life. Success, he suggested, is measured
by feeling a true sense of oneself and having a fulfilled or fulfilling life.
Reflection is a way to strengthen
our confidence in transitioning to an aging woman with a sense of self and
purpose. Some of the past is occurring in the moment. One of the women I
interviewed would be 70 that year and is just now giving up working. “I haven’t
had a summer off since I was 14 years old,” she said in a way that caused me to
believe that she was astonished by this fact. That’s over 55 years of working.
This woman had just entered the
first stage of deep numbness to the reality that she doesn’t have to do it
anymore. I was just a few steps ahead of her in the process and knew that I,
too, was experimenting with adjusting to life without my long-held work
identity and importance.
Fortunate enough not to have to
struggle to make ends meet on Social Security, I thought that I could put into
motion all those retirement plans that felt so good to think about from the
vantage point of a long day at work, work politics, and family pressure.
At least, I thought as much until I
retired from a long career. I planned on using retirement time to write a book
of management wisdom for women based on nearly 40 years of experience during a
time of tremendous change in social values, technology, and wealth (in one
direction or the other).
Instead, although I woke in the
morning with good intentions, I had yet to find the rhythm of my life, let
alone a voice to pass along wisdom. I thought I was going about this right
though I had no prior experience having the luxury of time. Others told me that
they were busier than at any other time of their lives and didn’t know where
the time was going. I suspected they were maintaining the same rhythm they had
before they retired, something I decidedly didn’t want to do because I was
tired of the pressure and pace.
There I was an incredible 65 years
beyond my first successful effort to stand on my own two feet and deliberately,
if not desperately, trying to gear down after a career of long days of pressure
and responsibility. I liked being able to sleep in. I liked exercising or
walking with friends in the morning. I liked reading the newspaper—that would
be the kind you hold in your hands while you sit with your feet up with a cup
of coffee nearby. I loved being with my husband, chatting about family, our latest
ache, our travel plans, or world events in the evening while enjoying a glass
It was the time between the morning
exercise and evening wind downs that my rhythm acted like a bad heart without
medication: mindless staring coupled with bursts of activity which may or may
not have been productive depending on the definition. For example, I felt
little sense of accomplishment when I cleared my emails, and yet I felt
slightly lonely when my only emails were from my Internet service telling me I
had junk mail accumulating.
I could and did plan times for
writing or painting watercolors. When the time came, I was uninspired or,
perhaps, simply not up to the challenge. There were the times tuning out kicked
in. There were times I fell asleep. Time clicked by. I became increasingly and
acutely aware that time moved quickly, and I was entering the dark side of the
moon of my life for which I had no concept, no vision, no plan and no rhythm. I
spent far too much time ruminating about daily changes that startled me and
couldn’t seem to apply my previous well-developed natural planning ability.
It isn’t a huge surprise given my
background that I would have some difficulty in adjusting to a life without a
career. When I looked around, I realized that I could not see a place for me
anymore. All that work, all that drive, all those first experiences, all that
struggle, all that learning to become better, and all the spontaneity that led
to being able to say I survived, I made it, we made it—mission accomplished,
vision realized, and pressure lifted.
Suddenly, there was time to think
about something else. Those pressures of success and failure were over. I
breathed a sigh of relief, yet knew I was entering a deep period of grieving
for the relevant person I had been. I reached out for the woman who had brought
me here and began the search for the one I would become.
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