I’m loving the conversation brewing around my post Dangerous Myth of Reinvention. A couple readers resonated with my and Marc Freedman’s argument that the myth of dramatic and life altering transformation late in life can potentially be disempowering.
First, reader “peregrinator” writes:
The article presents a well stated beginning in addressing the multiple mythologies surrounding the aging process, “reinvention” being one of the most fascinating, if not infrequently pernicious. There is so much ‘top-down’ culture concerning when ‘aging’ occurs, and the notion that one must press ever backwards (twenty is the new newborn?) is at its very best awkward, and at its worst would seem to want to take an eraser to life experience, as if it were all less than worth while when compared with youth. Time does not run backwards and the sooner that is acknowledged, the better. That said, I have no argument with people who want to start businesses or do as they please with their lives while that doing is possible. Yet all these transformations and reinventions and rebirths appear undignified. Who decides who needs reinvention, transformation and rebirth? Who defines the terms?
And reader John Robinson takes personal issue with reinvention:
I certainly agree with Marc, to a point. We seem to have two dominant cultural aging myths in America – the heroic boomer elder climbing Mt Everest or saving the world with a new enterprise, and the decrepit failing elder stumbling downhill to the end. Marc’s criticism of the reinvention version of the heroic elder is right on. I’m personally tired of the expectation that I should to learn how to surf or start a nonprofit. But the possibility of genuine personal growth and renewal in aging is real. It includes integration along with a whole host of other gifts, many of which involve the continuing evolution of the self, opening the heart, healing old wounds, and transcending the limitation of beliefs in a movement into a transpersonal realm of understanding. I list these kinds of growth opportunities in The Three Secrets of Aging. Because of the profundity of the issues we must address in aging, the pace of psychological and spiritual growth accelerates if we take the “work” of aging seriously.
I’d really love to hear more thoughts from readers on this — please join the conversation here.
Lorraine Banfield says
Reinvention is a Powerful Metaphor Not a Dangerous Myth
The gift of time – that’s what the baby boomer generation has been given via science, medicine, technology and new knowledge about exercise, diet and not smoking. Some estimate that this gift of time is up to thirty years longer than their parents’ generation lived. What we do with all this time is of utmost importance to both our own lives and the lives of those we know and interact with and, of course with those who come after us. Will we spend it on the sidelines of life simply graying and playing or will we continue to impact the world in an evolving and profound way, a way some of us call reinvention.
Personally, I vote for impact via reinvention of this time of life. But we need a way to do this and what I know is that words and metaphors can have a powerful inspirational affect or they can have the opposite affect and push us toward a limited view of ourselves and our lives. We need a powerful, positive and inspiring metaphor to encourage us to continue to evolve as human beings and therefore impact the world in a positive way. I see reinvention as the perfect word and the perfect metaphor for doing this. I call it the baby boomer legacy. The idea that we have thirty years to reinvent this time of life and make a profound impact on the world conjures up images of people continuing to contribute their gifts and talents in whatever way they are called to do and in the process living vital lives of meaning, purpose and possibilities.
I know we are up to this challenge – we are the generation that has been questioning the status quo since the sixties so why would we stop now? But not everyone agrees with me on this. Recently I read a disturbing article on the Harvard Business Review site by Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org in which he disputes the idea of reinvention. His article, The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention says that the baby boomers’ best bet is to study the idea of encore careers and to prepare for them with his books and programs. His idea is that we use our skills and talents to continue on with what we have always done but now, particularly if we are unemployed or retired, to go for a job in one of the five areas he has designated as encore career possibilities; non profit, government, education, health care and green jobs Well, all that sounds great and for a long time I supported his writing and his organization. But then he wrote this article.
He says to try and reinvent our lives is dangerous and even pernicious. I had to look up that last word. Well, it’s worse than dangerous – it means highly destructive and or injurious but in a gradual way. He calls his idea reintegration and says we should not attempt to reinvent ourselves because it is simply too dangerous. But he does not say exactly what this danger is and how he sees it playing out.
These three words are loaded with power – dangerous, pernicious and a myth. Dangerous is, of course, something that will hurt you. It’s dangerous to drink and drive, it’s dangerous to ski down a black run if you’re really only a bunny hill skier. It’s dangerous to walk out in front of a truck barreling down the mountain on a snowy day. But it’s not dangerous to reinvent yourself and your life. Saying this is dangerous and pernicious is treating grown men and women as if they are children. It implies that the baby boomers are in need of protection and can’t make a decision on their own without people like him protecting them.
And yes, reinventing yourself can be and probably will be, challenging and have some risks attached to it. It will be daunting at times and require you to go outside your comfort zone but this will enliven and enrich your life, not endanger it. Nor is reinventing your life some gradual threat that will cause injury and great harm to you later on. To say this is to deny the wisdom and maturity of the very people Freedman says he serves. It’s also a dismissal of the good work of the people who are the visionaries of the reinvention movement – as if we are uninformed, uneducated or worse, that we are selling a perilous idea to unsuspecting people like some scam, or televangelist ripping off people who are too feeble to know an inspiring idea from an unsafe one. The idea that reinvention is pernicious and dangerous is simply an outrageous claim with no proof.
As for it being a myth – maybe it is – but myths have empowered us by the very truth of their story. Think of David and Goliath, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Star Wars. These are myths but they are powerful ones, not dangerous ones. They may not be factual stories, but not all truth is factual. Some things we know, in our hearts and souls, to be sacred truths. Joseph Campbell, in his book, The Power of Myth says,
“All cultures … have grown out of myths. They are founded on myths. What these myths have given has been inspiration for aspiration.”
Even if, the idea of reinvention at midlife and beyond is a myth, it is a powerful one and we need myths like it to inspire us to aspire. I think every one of us needs to look at reinventing our lives beginning at midlife. Reinvention then is both a powerful metaphor and a possible myth but it has the potential to inspire us to live evolving, passionate and meaningful lives – what can be better than that?
Lorraine Banfield is the author of Second Act Soul Calls–Your Guide to the Re-Invention of Your Life at Midlife and Beyond With Passion, Purpose and Possibilities. You may check out her website at http://www.lorrainebanfield.com