A Life Unfinished: Joan Anderson

Joan Anderson, author of The Second Journey, talks about finding your true self at midlife.

By Wendy Rodewald
Joan Anderson (Photo: Sarah Fantom)

It’s such an exciting thing to realize that you’re supposed to do certain things at certain times, and then as you grow into the next stage — like a molting lobster which is growing larger and larger as it goes — you can become that completely new individual that you were always meant to be.

MORE.com: It’s interesting that your journey of self has turned you into such a public figure. Your writing has inspired thousands of readers, and you lead regular retreats for women seeking their own inner selves. What role does community play in this process of finding self-awareness?

Anderson: I think for women, what really drives us is generativity — I learned that from my mentor Joan Erikson [the human development theorist who, with psychologist husband Erik Erikson, popularized a model of eight life cycles]. Nothing means a damn if we don’t pass it on. All of my books I write to the women I don’t know but I do know. We have to cheer each other on toward the stages we’re meant to go through and toward gravitating to a new stage.

I think one of the things in this culture that’s so sad is that people are lonely because we’re so isolated. And the great loneliness is that people don’t know who they are. So my whole campaign is: My goodness, before you crawl into that casket, you’ve got to know you!

MORE.com: As you describe leaving Iona in the last pages of the book, you write, "All such journeys end with arrival somewhere." Where have you arrived at this point in your life’s cycle?

Anderson: I’ve arrived at a place where I know that, in order to stay healthy and to stay healed, I need to be patient. As change is thrust upon me and I feel a crisis of feelings, I know now that I will hear the answer, that it will become clear. And I’m ready to share what I’ve found. For so many of my friends, the change that was thrust upon them was a betrayal or a death of a spouse or a health issue. To see them go through it, embrace it and know that the challenge is going to make them stronger is really quite wonderful.

MORE.com: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?

Anderson: That the way we are is not the way we were. And love you for now — we don’t want to go backward; we want to go forward. There are 8,700 hours in a year, and if we can’t find 24 for ourselves, it’s pitiful. No one’s going to push you to change; you’ve got to take it for yourself.

In the end, I was finally able to define myself, and I encourage other women to do the same. Many people take a sabbatical and they study something. Well, I’m studying me.

Join MORE and Voice books for "Getting Better All the Time," a workshop series featuring Joan Anderson and more authors. See dates and interact with fellow readers at voice.gather.com.

For more information on Joan Anderson and The Second Journey, visit her Web site:

Originally published on MORE.com, May 2008.

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