The Third Act

Jane Fonda is profiled. So are Robert Redford, Gloria Steinem, Norman Lear and other celebrities. But the people who inspire me the most in a new book about older Americans doing unconventional things are those with less familiar names.

Andrea Peterson became a firefighter at 62.

Paula Lopez Crespin followed in her daughter’s footsteps to join Teach for America.

Donzella Washington graduated college magna cum laude at age 80.

Art Schill was even older when he became a stand-up comedian.

The Third Act: Reinventing Your Next Chapter also profiles a North Carolina couple who joined the Peace Corps in their sixties and returned home to serve as community volunteers. We were surprised to be included in the book but pleased to be among those illustrating how older Americans are redefining this stage of life in diverse ways.

“For some, this third act can be more engaging and satisfying than the work that came before while also having a tangible positive impact,” author Josh Sapan writes in the preface. “Others are realizing dreams that they never thought possible. … Each person in this book — some famous, all uniquely powerful — is a picture of another kind of retirement: one that’s generative, reflective, and rewarding.”

In the book’s foreword, retirement expert Ken Dychtwald says “for the first time in history, large numbers of older individuals are not interested in ‘acting their age’ and retreating to the sidelines. They would rather rebel against stereotypes and be productive and involved — even late blooming — in their maturity. They see longevity as an opportunity for new dreams, interests, relationships, and ways of living.”

Sapan calls this transition a “third act.” I’ve called it “not exactly retired.” However you describe it, so many people are pursuing it that they’re now part of the mainstream, even if the rest of American society doesn’t always recognize it.

I’ll give the last word to another woman profiled in the book, Cynthia Barnett, a long-time teacher who “refired” her life by establishing a successful STEM program for girls. “Each of us comes into this world with a purpose,” she says. “When I leave this earth, I want to be all used up, but I’m not done yet!”

The Third Act: Reinventing Your Next Chapter, by Josh Sapan, will be published on Nov. 15 by Princeton Architectural Press. You can pre-order it from independent bookshops, Amazon and elsewhere.

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