Out walking the other day, I thought about my life and realised that I was entering the ‘last quarter’ of my life.  In sports, you come to the last quarter, knowing what you need to do to win, or else you lose.  But in life the last quarter is not about ‘winning’ or ‘losing’.  What is it about?  And, since we don’t know its length, how do we play the last quarter?  And I felt that I didn’t know how to play this last quarter.  What should I do?As I see it, the quarters of life are around these years:

–          0-18 (perhaps now 0-24).

–          19-35 (perhaps now 25-40).

–          36-60 (perhaps now 41-65).

–          61 to ???

How do we play these quarters?

The First Quarter:  Growing Up; Being Educated

When the game of life begins, we are not even really aware of it for a few years.  The roles of coaches (parents, teachers) are critical.  Where you were born, your family and school upbringing play major roles in your opportunities, your experiences.  You end the first quarter heavily influenced by the input of coaches, supporters and context.  The game can be ‘won’ by the end of the first quarter with the right support.  It can be very hard to get back into the game with poor family upbringing, poor schooling and education experiences, and a poor environment.

The Second Quarter:  Making Your Own Way; Having Fun; Establishing Yourself

You enter the second quarter with a clearly established position (though you may not be aware of it or make take it for granted).  But now it’s up to you.  You make your own decisions, choose what work to do (choices may be limited or unlimited based on the first quarter), choose what fun to have, choose whether to play by the rules or take risks (of all kinds), all the while seeking one or more partners to share your role in your game with (and to share their role in their game).

Coaches have gone.  Mentors (superiors, wise heads, people with experience, people with similar values) and peers are key.  You may zoom ahead on all fronts in this quarter, or be hit with unexpected setbacks (health, accidents, poor experiences) that significantly influence the rest of the game for you.  In this quarter, you believe in yourself, your ability to overcome, but, in reality, observers will tell you where you are really placed (if you ask or listen).

The Third Quarter:  Building on the First Half; Making a Comeback; Being Cut Down

After half-time, you can see the end.  You have or don’t have a good career or set of capabilities.  You have or don’t have the partner(s), the lifestyle, the benefits you want.  Your aspirations get rewarded based on your first half performance – promotions, good life experiences seem the natural way of things for those on top.  You ‘mature’ and become ‘wise’ in the actual ways of the world.  For those who are badly placed at half-time, life can be a grind.  Realising the world wasn’t made for you, but for the privileged few, you adjust to different, lower expectations.

Some make a comeback (single women with children, emerging from economic and emotional hard times; determined individuals; a few with lucky breaks).  Many are cut down – experiencing job loss, major health crises, major family problems, accidents that cut off skills and opportunities, changing world priorities change, technological disruption.

In the third quarter, most of us are just getting by, realising that our dreams, ambitions, aspirations, goals will not be fulfilled.  Realising we are not quite as good as we thought we were, that others are better at manipulating the system than we are.  The reality of life’s outcomes hits.  It’s great for some, good for many, OK for many, poor for some.  But that’s the Bell Curve.  We just didn’t realise exactly where we were on the curve, till now.

The Fourth Quarter:  A New Game?

In sports, the fourth quarter is heavily influenced by your position at the end of the third quarter.  The game may be over, it may be tense, or caution may need caution to be thrown to the wind to get the W.

But in the game of life, the fourth quarter is nothing like the first three!  And that’s what puzzles me.  There may be no fourth quarter.  Death may come shortly after retirement, as used to be the norm.  Or it may last as long as the whole of the rest of the game, if you have dementia and end up in a nursing home…or great health and live to be 100+.

What do I do with the next 30+ years????  And there are no coaches or mentors to advise, because no one can tell you how long you’ve got, or what health issues will befall you (something happens to your health eventually!).

Since almost everyone stops the work, career or family life that was a major part of their life till now, the fourth quarter offers untold time for personal discretion and many opportunities, even if a person is not wealthy.  Who’d have thought all these grey nomads would travel Australia and the world??

For many, a new role of grandchild-minding has emerged, a role of great responsibility (the first quarter for the grandchild), of great joy (for the grandparent), of great responsibility, of great commitment.  For some it is the role for a period.  For others, it’s a short term stint of 2-4 years, 1-2 days a week.

For many, there’s the opportunity to ‘give back’.  To put your time into volunteering, helping the environment, the sick, the needy, the disadvantaged, lobbying for a better society, a better world.

And then there’s the health issue.  Health defines the fourth quarter.  It’s why old people talk about their health issues, because good health is fundamental to opportunities, and good health is no longer a given.   Bad health is the new norm.  Suddenly, everyone has health problems.

Suddenly, in the fourth quarter, the rest of the game has become irrelevant.  At your seniors group, you are known for your attitude, your personality, not for your past life.  You may have been a famous top CEO, but now you are a childminder, or you’ve had a stroke and are partly paralyzed.  You may have been a cleaner, but now you get a pension, time is your own and you can drive your little car around Australia, camping cheaply in great locations, free as a bird (if your health holds up…).

Just Do It!

To me the answer is clear though.  Get out there.  Do all the things you want to do, as soon as you can.  Take advantage of all the opportunities you have.  But please try to leave the world better than you found it.


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