One way to start figuring out what to do in your bonus decades is to ask yourself what made you happiest in the past.
You may pick up an interest that had been put aside in the busy years of making your way in the workplace and raising a family. You start painting again, or join a community theater. You remember the summer you and some friends headed for Mexico -- and you sign up for a month-long trip with Elder Hostel. For many people, going "back" to school is a way to capture the person you were and do things that you always wanted to do -- whether that's studying Plato or becoming a nurse.
This is the dreaming period of second adolescence. Like a teen-ager, you experiment. You loosen up. You may try something outlandish. You don't know where the new scenario will take you. It may lead to a new career. Or not.
You take the risk. For Bogart, being a student in France is her Big Dream. After her marriage breaks up, she turns the dream into reality. If not now, when? She is single, free. Her two daughters are grown. "Fulfilling what I started 40 years ago has significance for me," she says.
She goes back to the University of Oklahoma to complete her bachelor's degree and enrolls in the university's international program. Then she signs up for a semester at the Universite Blaise Pascal in Clermont, about 250 miles from Paris. "I'm thrilled," she says just before she leaves. "What is going to happen to me when I get there?"
In adolescence, experimentation is part of growing up, of breaking away from childhood and preparing for adulthood.
It's the same with My Timers. Experimentation is part of growing out and expanding horizons, of breaking away from your carefully built adult life.
And sometimes the experiment is a disaster.
Bogart's adventure lasts three days.
The French idyll she remembered -- sitting in cafes, sipping coffee, talking about art, politics, passion -- has morphed into a cold, rude nightmare.
For starters, the university authorities think Jill is "Gilles," a boy's name, and they put her on the male corridor in the dormitory. When she complains, the bureaucrats balk: You are registered as a male, you are a male. "They called me monsieur," she recalls.
The bathroom next to her room has urinals and when she runs into a young man in the shower, she says, "he was as stunned as I was." The dorm provides sheets but no towels. "I was drying myself on the curtain." The windows are kept open to keep down the smell. But it's winter and the air is frigid. "I slept in my jeans, wrapped in my coat, under the blanket."
Everything goes wrong. The airline has lost her luggage. She has a hard time finding her way to classes. Her schoolgirl French with an Oklahoma accent is not a hit with the bureaucrats. As she explains: "The French aren't helpful. To them it's an insult to be too friendly. That's part of their culture."
She goes into cafes to get warm. Instead of talking passionately about Baudelaire, she wrestles silently with Gallic bureaucracy. The office is closed until Monday. You cannot change your registration. You cannot use computers until you have a registration identity....
"I kept saying to myself, 'I can do this. I can do this,"' she recalls. But when her two bags finally arrive from the airlines wrapped in cellophane and she thinks about lugging them up four flights to her cold room next to the urinals, she lets the dream go.
She decides to leave her luggage downstairs. The next morning, she takes her bags, bids the French adieu and heads for home.
"They looked at me like someone from another planet," she says. "When I landed in Dallas, I wanted to kiss the ground. I was so appreciative to be here."
Bogart learns an important lesson: It's okay to fail. Teen-agers do this all the time. When something doesn't work out, it goes into the memory bank as a learning experience.
The same is true in second adolescence. Looking back, Bogart says she could have gotten an apartment and stuck it out. But her three-day adventure was long enough to learn some important lessons about herself, about starting over.
"It was about facing my age. It was about coming to terms with my limitations," she says. "What it did about my dream is to make me realize it was an unrealistic expectation. There's some relief in knowing this -- and being able to admit to yourself: I can't do this."
There is liberation in loss. As neuropsychologist Margery H. Silver at the Boston Medical Center explains, "It's letting go of something. It's freeing." Letting go of old expectations is part of the maturing process of second adolescence. "With any change, there is a saying goodbye. You are mourning certain things you can't do anymore," continues Silver, co-author of "Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age" (Basic Books). "In a way, that's a relief."
Bogart's French adventure helped her break away from the past. "Focusing on doing this helped me not focus on the end of my marriage," she says. In France, "I was on survival mode. ... I got in over my head. I'm glad I did this. I have no regrets. I spent very little money."
And she's gained a sense of gratitude -- for her country, her family, herself. "I'm so appreciative," she says. "What this is all about is Jill getting to know Jill." She may finish her degree in Tulsa. She's started working again as a financial adviser. She lives near her grandchildren. Her daughter said to her: "Oh, Mother, we're so glad to have you back."
Bogart doesn't know how her life will unfold in the bonus decades, but she has made an important transition, reflecting the philosophic nugget found in Sheryl Crow's popular song "Soak up the Sun": It's not having what you want./It's wanting what you've got.
That's a key part of the mind-set for My Time.
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