As another semester is coming to a close, I started thinking about life seems to be going by faster and faster. It seemed like yesterday that I first stopped on Bucknell’s campus and it will only be a matter of weeks before I become a senior. Before I know it, our class will start getting married and possibly have children of their own.
Jane Fonda, actress, author, producer, activist and exercise guru, gave a TED lecture on life’s third act. In the beginning, Fonda points out that we living on average today 34 years longer than our great-grandparents—an entire second adult life time has been added to our lifespan. Unfortunately, our culture still considers aging as an arch: we peak until midlife and everything goes downhill. The point of her lecture is to describe how we can live those last three decades of our lives to the fullest.
While Fonda points out that aging is not necessarily a time of happiness for all (genetics unfortunately plays a role), she claims that two-thirds of how “well we do in the third act” can be determined by us. She provides an example: Neil Selinger, a 57 year old retired lawyer, joined a writers group to establish his writer’s voice. Two years later, he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, but his spirit never withered: “As my muscles weakened, my writing became stronger. As I slowly lost my speech, I gained voice. As I diminished, I grew. As I lost so much, I finally started to find myself” (www.ted.com).
According to Fonda, we were all born with this “spirit,” but it became suppressed underneath all of life’s challenges, such as depression or abuse. The point of this “third act” is “finish up the task of finishing ourselves” (www.ted.com). What does that mean? It requires us to look back on the first two-thirds of our lives and figure who we truly were, or as psychologists call it: “do a life review.” People then have the opportunity to make discoveries about themselves, such as learning that some things which you thought were your fault had nothing to do with you.
On a scientific note, if people react negatively to past events or people, neural pathways are laid down by chemical and electrical signals that are sent through the brain and can become “hardwired” (www.ted.com). Fonda claims, however, if people reflect on the past establish more positive feelings about it, you can change the neural pathways in your brain. This “third act” essentially allow us to circle back to where we started before we became the “subjects and objects of other peoples’ lives” (www.ted.com). These last few decades give us one final chance to have closure with everything in our lives before we depart. Rather than seeing it as the final decline, we should seize this opportunity to discover our true selves.
- Jane Fonda’s inspiring speech about “Life’s Third Act” (silverevolution.wordpress.com)
- Jane Fonda To Play Nancy Reagan In New Film ‘The Butler’ (inquisitr.com)
- Life’s Third Act – This Jane Fonda TED Talk Explores the Benefits of Aging (TrendHunter.com) (trendhunter.com)