Abigail Trafford - Author, Journalist and Public Speaker

speeches

What is My Time all about?


By Abigail Trafford


At last—It’s My Time! You’ve paid your dues: The children are grown. Your resume is filled out. Marriages are made. . . and remade. Now what? What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

You’re not so young and restless. There’s a drumbeat of anxiety across the land: How will you live? With whom? Where will you find meaning?

Your have a gift—the gift of longevity—the gift of vitality. You may live another 20 or 30 or more years, a whole lifetime in generations past. You are also biologically younger than your grandparents at the same age. A 65 year-old is roughly the same age as a 55 year old half a century ago. An extra ten!

But what are you doing with this gift?

As a country, we are squandering it! Researchers talk about the “structural lag”—the fact that we have not woken up to the longevity revolution. There is little infrastructure across the country to help people realize their potential—and their responsibility—as the first generation to enjoy significantly longer, healthier lives.

In fact, we are against aging. . . even though we’re an aging population. From company boardrooms to family bedrooms, there is confusion and crisis as we grapple with New Normal of longer life spans.

I call this gift my time because it’s up to each of us to chart our own course. It’s a new road with no rules. Finally you have time to focus on your own agenda. I remember a classmate at our tenth college reunion. We were in the superwoman phase and were trying to do it all—starting marriages, careers, families—and we were all pretty exhausted. A classmate stood up and wailed: When is it going to be my time?

The answer is: when you have completed the tasks of adulthood—raising a family, making your way in the workplace, settling into the community. That was ‘their time’ when you were busy meeting the expectations of others—your boss, your spouse, your colleagues and neighbors.

Now you’re free. You’re been looking forward to this—all those glossy brochures on having fun in retirement.

But My Time is not a “me time.” Just the opposite. It’s a time when you reach out to others and leave something precious for future generations.


Getting there is not easy. You may go through a transition period, a kind of Second Adolescence, or “middlessence.” Just as teenagers are saying good bye to childhood and going on to starter adulthood, you are saying good bye to traditional adulthood and going on to . . . what? You don’t know. My Time is a whole new stage in the life cycle. No wonder you’re edgy.

Not that you regress and become a teenager. We’re smarter, more stable . . . and a lot nicer. But we are loosening up and going through tremendous changes, and we have some similarities with adolescents.

Identity questions: who am I? Who am I if I don’t have a job title? If I’m not a soccer mom/dad anymore?

And intimacy questions: who do I love? Who loves me? Who is my friend? For teenagers, intimacy is a future challenge. For us it is a rich past. What is my marriage like, now that it’s down to two of us? What about new love if I’m single? Research says you need an “intimate circle” to thrive in My Time. That’s a network of about ten people you can’t imagine your life without: a partner, friends, adult children, grandchildren.

In this transition period, we also have similar empowerment issues. Teenagers have physical empowerment—they are finally as big and strong as their parents. That opens the door to adulthood. We have life empowerment—we are finally the most experienced people around. You can’t get to this stage without knowing a lot about life. And that opens doors to finding new purpose in My Time.

And we share another important feature: dreaming. Teenagers do this naturally—one day they want to be an astronaut, the next day a banker, next they want to go fishing all day or play the drums. Dreaming is what we have to do to imagine a new future—we take courses in art, we join a community theater, we get training to be a social worker or a medical technician. One woman, 62, went to Rome to pursue a degree in medical ethics. “Don’t worry, mom,” said her grown son when he sent her off on the plane from Chicago, “if it doesn’t work out, you can always come home.”


Meanwhile, we are hit by life-changing jolts.

We encounter jolts at work. We see limits to our advancement. We may experience age discrimination. We may be burned out. We experience the bitter-sweet jolt of retirement.

We also encounter jolts in health. Big jolts with the diagnosis of a major illness such as cancer or heart disease. Little jolts as our knees creak and our eyesight dims. By age 50, almost every one has something. Regular checkups with PSA screening and mammograms remind us that we are approaching the mortality zone.

Most severe are the jolts of loss, the deaths of those we love: our parents and older members of the family. And then it begins. We go to more funerals now. . . friends, colleagues. We may confront the loss of a spouse to death or disease.

Then, too, there are wondrous jolts—the birth of grandchildren and the opportunity to love a whole new generation again.

Jolts are signs that one stage of life is ending, another stage is beginning. A woman, 55, tells me: “It’s New Stage—Not Old Age!” My Time is about gearing up—not winding down. About not retiring—but regenerating.

We get another chance at life: And there’s urgency. Unlike teenagers, we know that postponement is not an option.


The challenge is to craft a legacy by what we do and how we love. We want to leave traces of ourselves for future generations. That may be writing a memoir, nurturing a grandchild, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, mentoring in a school, building houses for habitat for humanity, serving the church. Studies show we become more generous and creative. And bolder. What have we got to lose? If not now, when?

Yet as a society we hate to grow old! We treat aging as a disaster—or greet it with denial. The culture is trapped in the prejudice of ageism.

We are at a turning point. By 2010, there will be more than 80 million Americans between the ages of 50 and 80. If we do nothing and drift along in aging stereotypes, many people will lose their way and a whole generation will be lost. But if we get busy to change the culture of aging—if we create jobs and training programs for older men and women, tap their talents to address community needs, and identify role models and leaders who are making the most of this gift of years—we will leave a better country for our grandchildren.

The My Time bonus is in healthier lives, stronger families, closer communities, a richer economy and finer nation.



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other speeches


What is My Time

Ten Tips for Making the Most of My Time

Community Needs for Aging Well

To Be a Woman in the 21st Century.



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