Don’t Forget About the Second Third!

By Mark D. Roberts

March 27, 2023

De Pree Journal

Is the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life course relevant only to those in the third third? Or does it have value for folks in the earlier thirds as well?

In the months since its release, the Third Third Flourishing course has been used by people all over the world. For example, a Christian leader in the Middle East used this course for his team’s annual retreat. He did so even though several members of his team are not in the third third of life (which begins at 52.7 years in the U.S., statistically speaking). One of those “second third” people emailed me with her response to the course. She said it was very helpful to her personally, even though she’s in her 40s. She urged me to think about making the material of this course available to folks who are not yet in the third third of life. “Don’t forget about the second third,” she wrote.

I felt glad to receive her email and was grateful for her encouragement. Though I’m still focusing mainly on helping folks in the third third of life flourish, I’m quite happy to serve those who are younger. Plus, I’m quite aware that if you want to live well as you get older, the earlier you start, the better.

For example, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and Scripture agree that good relationships are essential for living fully and fruitfully in all of life. If you want to flourish in the third third of life, you should nurture close, committed relationships. This truth is relevant to people of all ages. In fact, if you want to flourish in your 80s, the quality of relationships in your 40s and 50s makes a huge difference. This isn’t just my pet theory. It’s one of the discoveries of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an 80-year-plus longitudinal study that underscores the value of relationships for human flourishing.

 So, if you’re not yet in the third third of life, you can still benefit from the things we’re learning in our Third Third Initiative. For example, what I said above about how the importance of relationships can make such a difference in your life both now and in the future. I’m aware that it can be tricky to nurture deep, committed relationships when you’re so busy with other things, especially work and family logistics. But I would encourage you to think about how you can make the time for the relationships that matter most in your life.

For example, when my wife, Linda, was pregnant with our first child, I wondered how I could find time to be a good father. I was super busy at church and didn’t see that changing much. Add in the usual “chores” of life and I worried that I wouldn’t be the kind of father I wanted to be. Then an idea dawned on me. I could significantly curtail my watching of sports on TV. I loved following my local teams (Dodgers, Rams, Lakers, Bruins, Trojans) and spent a good chunk of time viewing their games. Of course, I didn’t want to miss things like March Madness, the Super Bowl, and so on. But I realized that I could reclaim a lot of time if I simply limited how I watched televised sporting events. So I made a decision that, at the time, felt difficult. I decided that I would only watch the last period of any game (fourth quarter, ninth inning, etc.). Usually, that meant recording a game with my trusty VCR and fast-forwarding to the appropriate moment. I made a few exceptions to my rule, like the NCAA men’s basketball final, but for the most part, I followed through on my commitment. So, when my son, Nathan, was born, I had plenty of time to be an involved and attentive dad.

Now, sports fans, please understand that I’m not asking you to follow my example here. You might decide to nurture relationships by regularly watching games with your family members or friendship group. You might cut back on other inessentials in your life, like spending hours and hours on social media. What you choose to do must fit your life, your priorities, and your loves. But, whatever you do, no matter which third of life you’re in, take a page from the third third playbook. Nurture deep, committed, lasting relationships. Not only will this enrich your life today, but also it will help you flourish when you get to the third third.

Banner image by Julia M. Cameron on Pexels.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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