In what turned out to be a serendipitous spinoff from my post last week – A 100-Year Life in a Blue Zone – I elected to take a day to clean out my office. I refiled my library of articles, reports and books related to a multitude of topics under the theme of aging and longevity, while preserving a history of material on career and talent development. This culling exercise may seem like a reminder that we are still on a slow march towards the paperless society that we know is coming.
Yet this activity had its merits, both therapeutic in the clear out, keeping the paper shredding business alive, and finding hidden treasures of knowledge, insights and remainders from courses and conferences in the layers of accumulated paper. And so it goes that I found the slide deck from a presentation by William Bridges that I attended in Chicago in 2004; the title as it happens was Finding Your Own Way.
Referencing William Bridges, as I did last week, came before this discovery and it surprised me that I had somehow forgotten about that session in Chicago. But in a flip through the pages it all came back to me, not just through reading the text in the slides but in my hand written notes of some of the notable verbal comments Bridges shared in his discussion, at the end of which in his slow reflective wording, you could hear a pin drop.
William Bridges, best known for his life model as outlined in Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (1980), presented a wonderful clear process of transition, which still holds up today – where we experience endings, move through a neutral zone and into new beginnings. This process occurs repeatedly throughout our life course and in the 2016 context of The 100-Year Life that Gratton and Scott discuss, there is a fourth dimension of “re-creation.”
Later life, what happens when you ripen?
Back to the buried treasure, what was Bridges saying in Chicago some twenty-five years after his book was published? He was 71 at the time, and I now reflect upon reading my notes, that he was remarking a fair amount about life’s journey from his vantage point in later life, with what I will now call approaching transitions with a thoughtful fortuity.
Paraphrasing his words, at one point Bridges said that – the way the world works, for people in later life who don’t find the meaningful place for loss, they are up a creek. He was on the topic of Tao philosophy at the time and then musingly said that the second half of life is about ripening, but some forces that contribute to ripening also contribute to rotting. Oh, what can happen in the neutral zones in later life? Flying the trapeze between the past and uncertainty.
Of the many things the neutral zone does for us, said Bridges: it provides a fallow time (ripen or rot) to enable a new season of growth; it shows the back of our life fabric, like the messy threads on the back of a tapestry. Bridges spoke about being ‘on the thread” of your life, which presupposes you have a keen sense of what your thread is, or as I often use the metaphor of “the river that runs through your life’.
We have been for a decade and longer, in a time when so many people have been transfixed on the question of how we are going to, individually and collectively, manage the prospects and uncertainty of aging and a longevity society. My refiled library proves it. The uplift from William Bridges, who passed away in 2013 by the way, is his insight that “uncertainty is a fluid state that allows for openings”.
This was the thing as I moved though the slides; this masterful presentation had ripened more today after twelve years in the vault. The promise of longevity is an opening. It was meant to be that I elected to take a day to clean out my office.