Creating Community for a Lifetime



Between Middle Age and Old Age:
“My Time” is Good News for Individuals and Society

The big story in the advancement of medicine and society isn’t stem cell research. It’s not organ transplants nor cloning nor test tube babies. The really big story that isn’t being told, according to health and aging expert Abigail Trafford, has to do with the impact of more people living longer and staying healthy longer.

“Americans have gained on average ten biological years in their life spans, scrambling the biological calendar,” Trafford says. “We either cover this longevity revolution as a disaster – the ‘crisis’ in Medicare or the Social Security ‘debacle’ – or coverage focuses on denial. Every day, we see articles telling us, ‘ If you do these exercises, take this pill, have these procedures… you’ll never grow older than 35!’”

While the doomsayers raise alarms, Trafford envisions a renaissance, the emergence of a new stage in human development that can transform individuals and communities. Trafford offered her view of this social revolution in her keynote address for “My Time: Finding Purpose and Pleasure in the Bonus Decades,” an October 7 community forum in Grand Rapids attended by more than 200 people.

For years, Trafford has been chronicling the lives of people in their “bonus years.” This new stage in the life cycle is so uncharted it remains unnamed, she says. She calls it “my time,” the period between middle age and old age when people shed the duties of parenting, jobs, and the expectations and roles of traditional adulthood and begin to focus on reaching out to others, on leaving something behind, creating a legacy.

“My time years are growth years, development years and change years,” Trafford says. “It’s a time of gearing up, of regeneration – not decline and retirement.” And that’s the big story she wants to tell.

Getting from the traditional adult stage of life to “my time” isn’t for the faint of heart. Trafford describes the “jolts to the system” people experience in these years: physical changes, from creaking knees to major illnesses; loss of status in the workplace and society; burnout; changes in relationships; and the deaths of family members and friends.

“My Time”: Breaking Away, Creating a Legacy

In some ways, the transition to “my time” mirrors the dynamics of adolescence, Trafford says. Just as teens are breaking away from their childhood and entering adulthood, people in their “bonus years” need to break away from their roles in traditional adulthood to experience the potential of this new stage. Both teens and my-timers experience dramatic changes in their bodies, emotions, and social status. They also share common issues like the search for identity and an exploration of intimacy.

“Teens arrive at physical empowerment, while my-timers arrive at life empowerment,” Trafford says. Both need to take time to dream about what they might become, to try on different possibilities, take risks and change their minds. Education plays a key role in this stage for both groups.

Galvanized by their losses, “my-timers can find a kind of liberation in these huge changes, moving into the future without fear, with new energy and an urgent sense of purpose. “There’s a paradox here,” Trafford says. “Though the odds are you will live for decades, it could all end tomorrow. You make peace with mortality, but postponement is no longer an option. There’s a sense of urgency…if not now, when?”

My-timers evolve in many different directions, but share two common themes: they have a strong sense of purpose to their lives and a drive to leave a legacy. They move from a middle-age identity based on what they do – in their jobs, professions, and social roles – to an identity based on what legacy they will leave to their families and communities.

Ten Tips for Responding to A Social Revolution

Based on her research and interviews with people who have regenerated during their 50s, 60s, and 70s, Trafford offers a few suggestions:

To fulfill the potential of the “my time” generation, Trafford concludes, it’s time to fight ageism and shift from focusing on mortality to a bonus years mentality. “We are all pioneers and revolutionaries; we’ll set the stage for generations to follow. We need to give people something to look forward to. That’s my message.”

Abigail Trafford can be reached at .

The 2005 Community Forum was sponsored by the Advocates for Senior Issues, the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation on behalf of the Creating Community for a Lifetime initiative.