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 of wine.

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.

For information about this book, click HERE.

For more posts and about Bertha Cooper and her books, click HERE.

For more posts about MSI Press's books on aging, click HERE.


Popular posts from this blog

In Memoriam: Carl Don Leaver

A Publisher's Conversation with Authors: Book Marketing vs Book Promotion

Author in the news: Gregg Bagdade participates in podcast, "Chicago FireWives: Married to the Job