Last week ThirdAge went to the TEDx Women’s Conference produced and curated by the Paley Center for Media and hosted by the Center’s CEO Pat Mitchell. It was a bi-coastal event held in the Paley Center’s New York and Los Angeles’ s offices. There were interesting sessions throughout the day, but ThirdAge was particularly impressed by the one focused on aging. It was hosted by Jane Fonda, who looked great.
Fonda ,74, started it off by discussing her own experiences and saying she was “smack dab in the middle of my third act. And I have never been happier.” She said she has been researching and writing about aging while working on her recently released best seller “Prime Time.” “I have learned that the longevity revolution is the greatest revolution ever and that older women are the largest demographic in the world. ”
She said that traditionally we have thought of life as an arc starting with birth, reaching its highest point with the achievements of midlife and declining to age and infirmity. But that she now thought that a staircase was a much better image for us to consider with those stairs always leading upward to continued growth and learning and greater wisdom and spirituality.
How did she find contentment in her 70’s? “I did a life review,” she said, “I examined myself , my parents, my experiences at the different stages of my life. I was able to stop judging, to stop feeling angry or guilty. I forgave others and I finally forgave myself.” She also recommended a book she found moving and very helpful, Viktor Frankl’s “Man Search for Meaning,” and said we should all keep in mind Picasso quote that “It takes a long time to be young.”
The next speaker was Dr. Laura Carstensen who is the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, which explores innovative ways to solve the problems of people over 50 and improve the well-being of people of all ages. A social scientist, she confirmed through a variety of studies that she and her team has conducted that Fonda is not alone. Many people as they grow older are happier, less stressed and less self-critical. But Dr. Carstensen had some push back from the audience when she declared, “You don’t go on blind dates anymore, now do you?” “Yes, we do.” one woman shouted out and many nodded in agreement.
Suzanne Braun Levine, the first managing editor of Ms Magazine, author of a new book “How We Love Now” and a ThirdAge blogger spoke about “the fertile void,” a period that many women in their fifties experience when they are trying to figure out what they want to do with their rest of their lives. “The solution to being stuck is being still,” she advised.
But she told a story about herself on an Outward Bound trip when she didn’t exactly follow this advice. On the last day of the trip, instead of having a picnic, and celebrating all they had gone through, she and her group were told they had to rappel down a steep cliff. “I had been a tomboy.” Levine said, “but I was absolutely terrified and I wasn’t helped when the group leader said that I was right to be terrified.” She managed to make it down the cliff and collapsed in a heap, she recalls, laughing and crying and totally exhausted. But when the leader said she now had to climb back up the cliff, she screamed out “NO!” “It was the loudest sound I had ever made,” she said. “But I had to say that “no” and, and guess what - nothing happened. I said what I had to say for me and it was incredibly freeing. Part of what you must learn at this time of life is to do unto yourself as you have been doing unto others.”
Gloria Steinem, looking remarkably chic, and yes, sexy, dressed in black jeans, a black sweater and a silver concho belt, confessed she was often startled to realize “I am this 77-year-old person.” but also agreed, she was indeed happy. She said continues working hard for the causes that have always been important to her. “My funeral will be a fundraiser:” she laughed and advised “We all have to liberate ourselves from the stereotypes of aging.”
The concluding speaker, writer and teacher Mary Catherine Bateson, Margaret Mead’s daughter, said she doesn’t mind in the least looking like and being “a little old lady in tennis shoes.” Her advice for dealing with age was practically a battle cry. “We have to return to who we are, do what we care about, and put ourselves, our time and our passions in being advocates for the future.”
Fascinating women, inspiring conversations about.not the challenge, but the opportunity of aging.
Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge.
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