It was this W H Auden poem “Leap Before You Look” that first caught my attention.
The sense of danger must not disappear: The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here; Look if you like, but you will have to leap.
. . .
Much can be said for savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.
. . .
Our dream of safety has to disappear.
In my lexicon, Second Adulthood is the unprecedented and productive time that our generation is encountering as we pass that dreaded landmark of a fiftieth birthday. If you think of your first adulthood as, roughly, the twenty-five years in which you built your life and set your style, the next twenty-five years can be a second chance—to do it better, to do it differently, to do it wiser. I say can be because a lot depends on luck—good health, good fortune, good friends. But a lot also depends on determination—taking risks, making change, weighing new options.
To seize that second chance requires recalibrating many of the primary forces in our lives and shifting gears. As anyone in our age group knows, to shift gears you first have to disengage the clutch and literally give up control for a moment. In the context of the Second Adulthood transition, letting go—of worn-out demands, of old news, of empty promises—is like stepping backward off a cliff. It is terrifying, especially for women who have spent a lifetime holding on, keeping things together, planning, coordinating, and prioritizing. It is hard to surrender to serendipity and to risk and change. It is distressing to find oneself having to renegotiate the most intimate relationships. But whether we see it as an adventure or not, we are at an age when circumstances force us to let go—of our children, of our looks, of some of our life goals—and feel ourselves fall apart, to ease off doing what we know how to do, to look into the abyss. For those who take the leap, letting go is also an opportunity to consolidate, to cherish, and to soar out over new terrain.