What’s the “Third Quarter” of Life?

Purpose provides activation energy for living.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about how people in the Third Quarter of Life are handling this stage of their lives — that time of retirement, transition to retirement, or something else that’s not quite a career.

These are folks in their early 60s to mid-70s. Regardless of how they describe their status, they all look for meaning and fulfillment that transcend what they experienced in their careers.

In discussions about this stage of life, the question keeps popping up: “why the ‘Third Quarter’ of life?” 

This whole concept in my mind is still very formative and personalized, based on observations and conversations with several folks at this stage of life. If you have a better idea of how to describe this time, I’m happy to hear it.

Here’s how I’m thinking about this issue:

Quarter Lives

Our lives, especially our careers, seem to be staged in quarters, which span about 25 years each, and look something like this:

1st Quarter: Apprenticeship: In this phase, we’re primarily in a learning mode. We’re learning how to be in life, in society, in school, in the workforce. We’re learning to specialize in certain areas — smart, pretty, athletic, etc. This is a phase of satisfying others’ expectations — parents, teachers, coaches.

2nd Quarter: Journeyman: In this phase, we put into practice lessons from our first quarter. We learn to meet societal and cultural expectations with options on how to pursue them (careers). We’re building a life, but with the obligations of adulthood — career, family (mortgage, finances, kids), etc.

The first and second quarters are future-oriented: “when I grow up…when the kids are grown…when I retire…” They are also externally driven by others’ expectations — parents, teachers, bosses, spouses — we work to meet their expectations.

3rd Quarter: Mastery and Wisdom: The future is here. What do we do with it? 

“The kids are gone, the mortgage is paid off (or close to it), the career/job is over (or close to it), and we have a LOT of time on our hands. What in heaven’s name do we do now?”

We’ve learned (or should have learned) about the value we bring. We know (or should know) what we’re good at (mastery) and how to use it to help others (wisdom).

If we’re retired, we may progress through the four phases of retirement: vacation phase, loss/lost, trial and error, reinvention and rewire. (See this TEDx Talk). 

We may experience some spiritual development. We’re more self-focused — we need to establish our own expectations. We have more — and new — options, which still have consequences, but may not be as severe. And, we’re challenged to find purpose, meaning, and fulfillment in the absence of our careers.

Of course, the unasked question is “what about the fourth quarter?” I can only talk about those quarter life experiences I’ve had. I figure I’m firmly within that third quarter. I have no idea how I’ll go through the final quarer of life. 

What Do You Think?

Are you, or anyone you know, in this Third Quarter of Life? Are you on the cusp of your Third Quarter?

How do these ideas resonate with you? 

What can you add? 

Or am I way off base?

Talk to me; send me an email at scott@scottwoodardcoaching.com. I want to hear what you’ve got to say.

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