Aging in Place: Live Within Each Age

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

Every age can be enchanting, provided you live within it.

~ Brigitte Bardot


Aging in Place


The late famed boxer, Muhammad Ali once noted: The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. This sentiment was echoed by my mentor in gerontology (study of aging) Dr. Harry Rick Moody, who once described to me the process of “ageless aging” as soul-eroding–and warned that dragging middle-aged values into old age could spell disaster.

To live fully within one’s age sounds metaphysically slippery, woo-wooish, and difficult to quantify. So, allow me to unpack elements of meaning–at least what it means to me, to clarify.

A good framework for meaning-making here is Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s Four Stages of One’s Life:

The Athlete, The Warrior, The Statement, The Spirit

The stages are not necessarily age-related but do represent important eras/milestones that we move through and can revisit. Jung once said, “Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” These are the 4 stages of life, according to Carl Jung:


The athlete is the phase in our lives when we are at our most self-absorbed. There are people in our lives that have never made it out of this phase, or often revert back to it. Of the 4 stages, it tends to be the least mature. It is characterized by being obsessed with our physical bodies and appearance. For an example of the athlete phase, watch teenagers walk past a mirror. The athlete phase can be narcissistic, critical, or even both.


Moving forward in our lives, we reach the warrior phase. This is where we begin to take on responsibilities and get the desire to conquer the world. Well, maybe not the world for some of us, but this is when we become more goal oriented. All of the sudden we can see objectives that we want to accomplish, and the vanity of the athlete phase begins to fade. The warrior phase is really characterized by the struggles in our lives that early adulthood can throw at us. The warrior phase is also the most common phase that people revert back to throughout their lives as they “re-invent” themselves.


When the warrior phase in our lives is coming to an end, we find ourselves asking: “what have I done for others?” Your focuses shift from your personal achievements to accomplishing goals based on forwarding other people’s lives. This stage is often correlated to parenting, because your focus becomes providing a better life for your children, and what it is you need to do that. The statement phase for many people is much more than a correlation to parenting, and more about leaving a legacy or a footprint in life. The statement phase is a time to reflect on what you have accomplished, and how you can continue moving forward – not just for you, but for the other people in your life. As far as maturity goes, the statement phase is a huge step forward from even the warrior phase.


The final stage of life is the spirit stage. In this stage, we realize that we are more than what we have accumulated – be it money, friends, possessions, good deeds, or milestones in life. We are spiritual beings. We realize that we are divine beings in a journey of life that has no real beginning and no end. The spirit phase is characterized by a sense of “getting out of your own mind” and focusing on what is waiting for us beyond our physical beings. The philosopher Lao Tzu proposed a question over 2500 years ago that perfectly describes the spirit phase: “”Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things? Giving birth and nourishing, having without possessing, acting with no expectations, leading, and not trying to control this is the supreme virtue.”


These phases many of you will have lived through and are recognizable. Pathology comes into play when you are stuck in a stage and fail to fully realize or move onto others (note: Jung may not have appreciated female perspectives in his stages).

Another scaffolding framework might be the U-Shape Happiness Curve. There are critics of the U-Shaped Happiness Curve, but it goes something like this (in theory): As one gets older gaining wisdom and acceptance with age occurs. We develop an ability to appreciate what we have, rather than ruminating over what we lack. Age supposedly blunts the sharp edge of ambition and frustrations that often are associated with younger ages. Again, one size doesn’t fit all, I know older adults who are indeed happier–but I also know some who are more miserable due to age-related losses in health and social status. But the idea is each stage has lessons not to be missed.

As for myself, living a blend of each stage in fluctuating percentages (even on the same day) is how I’m experiencing it. For example, at work, I’m more THE WARRIOR, in the gym THE ATHLETE, at home THE STATEMENT, caregiving for older loved ones THE SPIRIT. However, I don’t feel stagnant in that I move with alacrity between states–and mindfully motivated to live greater percentages in the latter two stages. It’s a maturation of the soul if you will.

Living fully within each stage (or age) means not staying forever young (sorry Bob) but rather finding meaning/lessons in all the ages you will inhabit. Time and experience are there to teach and influence who you are becoming–soul-forming if you will. Maybe life is designed this way for a reason(smile).



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