sponsored links
TEDxWomen 2011

Jane Fonda: Life's third act

December 7, 2011

Within this generation, an extra 30 years have been added to our life expectancy -- and these years aren’t just a footnote or a pathology. In this talk, Jane Fonda asks how we can think about this new phase of our lives. (Filmed at TEDxWomen.)

Jane Fonda - Actor and activist
Jane Fonda has had three extraordinary careers (so far): Oscar-winning actor, fitness guru, impassioned activist. Full bio

sponsored links
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
There have been many revolutions
00:15
over the last century,
00:17
but perhaps none as significant
00:19
as the longevity revolution.
00:21
We are living on average today
00:24
34 years longer than our great-grandparents did.
00:26
Think about that.
00:29
That's an entire second adult lifetime
00:31
that's been added to our lifespan.
00:34
And yet, for the most part,
00:36
our culture has not come to terms with what this means.
00:38
We're still living with the old paradigm
00:41
of age as an arch.
00:44
That's the metaphor, the old metaphor.
00:46
You're born, you peak at midlife
00:48
and decline into decrepitude.
00:50
(Laughter)
00:52
Age as pathology.
00:54
But many people today --
00:56
philosophers, artists, doctors, scientists --
00:58
are taking a new look at what I call the third act,
01:01
the last three decades of life.
01:04
They realize that this is actually a developmental stage of life
01:07
with its own significance --
01:12
as different from midlife
01:14
as adolescence is from childhood.
01:17
And they are asking -- we should all be asking --
01:20
how do we use this time?
01:23
How do we live it successfully?
01:26
What is the appropriate new metaphor
01:28
for aging?
01:30
I've spent the last year researching and writing about this subject.
01:32
And I have come to find
01:35
that a more appropriate metaphor for aging
01:37
is a staircase --
01:41
the upward ascension of the human spirit,
01:43
bringing us into wisdom, wholeness
01:47
and authenticity.
01:49
Age not at all as pathology;
01:51
age as potential.
01:53
And guess what?
01:55
This potential is not for the lucky few.
01:57
It turns out,
01:59
most people over 50
02:01
feel better, are less stressed,
02:03
are less hostile, less anxious.
02:05
We tend to see commonalities
02:07
more than differences.
02:09
Some of the studies even say
02:11
we're happier.
02:13
This is not what I expected, trust me.
02:15
I come from a long line of depressives.
02:17
As I was approaching my late 40s,
02:20
when I would wake up in the morning
02:22
my first six thoughts would all be negative.
02:24
And I got scared.
02:26
I thought, oh my gosh.
02:28
I'm going to become a crotchety old lady.
02:30
But now that I am actually smack-dab in the middle of my own third act,
02:32
I realize I've never been happier.
02:36
I have such a powerful feeling of well-being.
02:39
And I've discovered
02:44
that when you're inside oldness,
02:46
as opposed to looking at it from the outside,
02:48
fear subsides.
02:50
You realize, you're still yourself --
02:52
maybe even more so.
02:54
Picasso once said, "It takes a long time to become young."
02:56
(Laughter)
03:00
I don't want to romanticize aging.
03:02
Obviously, there's no guarantee
03:04
that it can be a time of fruition and growth.
03:06
Some of it is a matter of luck.
03:08
Some of it, obviously, is genetic.
03:10
One third of it, in fact, is genetic.
03:13
And there isn't much we can do about that.
03:15
But that means that two-thirds
03:18
of how well we do in the third act,
03:20
we can do something about.
03:22
We're going to discuss what we can do
03:25
to make these added years really successful
03:28
and use them to make a difference.
03:31
Now let me say something about the staircase,
03:34
which may seem like an odd metaphor for seniors
03:36
given the fact that many seniors are challenged by stairs.
03:40
(Laughter)
03:43
Myself included.
03:45
As you may know,
03:48
the entire world operates on a universal law:
03:50
entropy, the second law of thermodynamics.
03:53
Entropy means that everything in the world, everything,
03:57
is in a state of decline and decay,
04:00
the arch.
04:02
There's only one exception to this universal law,
04:04
and that is the human spirit,
04:07
which can continue to evolve upwards --
04:09
the staircase --
04:12
bringing us into wholeness,
04:14
authenticity and wisdom.
04:16
And here's an example of what I mean.
04:19
This upward ascension
04:21
can happen even in the face of extreme physical challenges.
04:23
About three years ago,
04:27
I read an article in the New York Times.
04:29
It was about a man named Neil Selinger --
04:31
57 years old, a retired lawyer --
04:33
who had joined the writers group at Sarah Lawrence
04:36
where he found his writer's voice.
04:39
Two years later,
04:42
he was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
04:44
It's a terrible disease. It's fatal.
04:47
It wastes the body, but the mind remains intact.
04:50
In this article, Mr. Selinger wrote the following
04:54
to describe what was happening to him.
04:57
And I quote,
05:00
"As my muscles weakened,
05:03
my writing became stronger.
05:05
As I slowly lost my speech,
05:08
I gained my voice.
05:11
As I diminished, I grew.
05:14
As I lost so much,
05:16
I finally started to find myself."
05:18
Neil Selinger, to me,
05:22
is the embodiment of mounting the staircase
05:24
in his third act.
05:27
Now we're all born with spirit, all of us,
05:30
but sometimes it gets tamped down
05:32
beneath the challenges of life,
05:35
violence, abuse, neglect.
05:37
Perhaps our parents suffered from depression.
05:40
Perhaps they weren't able to love us
05:42
beyond how we performed in the world.
05:44
Perhaps we still suffer
05:48
from a psychic pain, a wound.
05:50
Perhaps we feel that many of our relationships have not had closure.
05:52
And so we can feel unfinished.
05:56
Perhaps the task of the third act
06:00
is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves.
06:03
For me, it began as I was approaching my third act,
06:08
my 60th birthday.
06:12
How was I supposed to live it?
06:14
What was I supposed to accomplish in this final act?
06:16
And I realized that, in order to know where I was going,
06:19
I had to know where I'd been.
06:23
And so I went back
06:25
and I studied my first two acts,
06:27
trying to see who I was then,
06:29
who I really was --
06:32
not who my parents or other people told me I was,
06:34
or treated me like I was.
06:37
But who was I? Who were my parents --
06:39
not as parents, but as people?
06:41
Who were my grandparents?
06:44
How did they treat my parents?
06:46
These kinds of things.
06:48
I discovered a couple of years later
06:51
that this process that I had gone through
06:54
is called by psychologists
06:57
"doing a life review."
06:59
And they say it can give new significance
07:01
and clarity and meaning
07:03
to a person's life.
07:05
You may discover, as I did,
07:07
that a lot of things that you used to think were your fault,
07:10
a lot of things you used to think about yourself,
07:13
really had nothing to do with you.
07:16
It wasn't your fault; you're just fine.
07:19
And you're able to go back
07:22
and forgive them
07:24
and forgive yourself.
07:26
You're able to free yourself
07:28
from your past.
07:31
You can work to change
07:33
your relationship to your past.
07:35
Now while I was writing about this,
07:37
I came upon a book called "Man's Search for Meaning"
07:39
by Viktor Frankl.
07:42
Viktor Frankl was a German psychiatrist
07:44
who'd spent five years in a Nazi concentration camp.
07:47
And he wrote that, while he was in the camp,
07:50
he could tell, should they ever be released,
07:53
which of the people would be okay
07:57
and which would not.
07:59
And he wrote this:
08:01
"Everything you have in life can be taken from you
08:06
except one thing,
08:09
your freedom to choose
08:11
how you will respond
08:13
to the situation.
08:15
This is what determines
08:17
the quality of the life we've lived --
08:19
not whether we've been rich or poor,
08:21
famous or unknown,
08:23
healthy or suffering.
08:25
What determines our quality of life
08:27
is how we relate to these realities,
08:30
what kind of meaning we assign them,
08:33
what kind of attitude we cling to about them,
08:35
what state of mind we allow them to trigger."
08:38
Perhaps the central purpose of the third act
08:42
is to go back and to try, if appropriate,
08:45
to change our relationship
08:49
to the past.
08:51
It turns out that cognitive research shows
08:53
when we are able to do this,
08:56
it manifests neurologically --
08:58
neural pathways are created in the brain.
09:01
You see, if you have, over time,
09:04
reacted negatively to past events and people,
09:06
neural pathways are laid down
09:09
by chemical and electrical signals that are sent through the brain.
09:12
And over time, these neural pathways become hardwired,
09:15
they become the norm --
09:18
even if it's bad for us
09:20
because it causes us stress and anxiety.
09:22
If however,
09:25
we can go back and alter our relationship,
09:27
re-vision our relationship
09:31
to past people and events,
09:33
neural pathways can change.
09:35
And if we can maintain
09:37
the more positive feelings about the past,
09:39
that becomes the new norm.
09:42
It's like resetting a thermostat.
09:44
It's not having experiences
09:47
that make us wise,
09:50
it's reflecting on the experiences that we've had
09:53
that makes us wise --
09:57
and that helps us become whole,
09:59
brings wisdom and authenticity.
10:01
It helps us become what we might have been.
10:03
Women start off whole, don't we?
10:07
I mean, as girls, we start off feisty -- "Yeah, who says?"
10:09
We have agency.
10:12
We are the subjects of our own lives.
10:14
But very often,
10:16
many, if not most of us, when we hit puberty,
10:18
we start worrying about fitting in and being popular.
10:21
And we become the subjects and objects of other people's lives.
10:24
But now, in our third acts,
10:28
it may be possible
10:31
for us to circle back to where we started
10:33
and know it for the first time.
10:36
And if we can do that,
10:38
it will not just be for ourselves.
10:41
Older women
10:44
are the largest demographic in the world.
10:46
If we can go back and redefine ourselves
10:48
and become whole,
10:51
this will create a cultural shift in the world,
10:53
and it will give an example to younger generations
10:58
so that they can reconceive their own lifespan.
11:01
Thank you very much.
11:04
(Applause)
11:06

sponsored links

Jane Fonda - Actor and activist
Jane Fonda has had three extraordinary careers (so far): Oscar-winning actor, fitness guru, impassioned activist.

Why you should listen

Jane Fonda is an actor, author, producer and activist supporting environmental issues, peace and female empowerment. She founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, and established the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at  Emory. She cofounded the Women’s Media Center, and sits on the board of V-Day, a global effort to stop violence against women and girls.

Fonda's remarkable screen and stage career includes two Best Actress Oscars, an Emmy, a Tony Award nomination and an Honorary Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival. Offstage, she revolutionized the fitness industry in the 1980s with Jane Fonda’s Workout — the all-time top-grossing home video. She has written a best-selling memoir, My Life So Far, and Prime Time, a comprehensive guide to living life to the fullest.

The original video is available on TED.com
sponsored links

If you need translations, you can install "Google Translate" extension into your Chrome Browser.
Furthermore, you can change playback rate by installing "Video Speed Controller" extension.

Data provided by TED.

This website is owned and operated by Tokyo English Network.
The developer's blog is here.