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Annotated captions of Jane Fonda: Life's third act in English

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There have been many revolutions

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over the last century,

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but perhaps none as significant

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as the longevity revolution.

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We are living on average today

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34 years longer than our great-grandparents did.

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Think about that.

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That's an entire second adult lifetime

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that's been added to our lifespan.

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And yet, for the most part,

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our culture has not come to terms with what this means.

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We're still living with the old paradigm

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of age as an arch.

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That's the metaphor, the old metaphor.

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You're born, you peak at midlife

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and decline into decrepitude.

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(Laughter)

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Age as pathology.

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But many people today --

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philosophers, artists, doctors, scientists --

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are taking a new look at what I call the third act,

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the last three decades of life.

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They realize that this is actually a developmental stage of life

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with its own significance --

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as different from midlife

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as adolescence is from childhood.

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And they are asking -- we should all be asking --

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how do we use this time?

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How do we live it successfully?

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What is the appropriate new metaphor

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for aging?

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I've spent the last year researching and writing about this subject.

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And I have come to find

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that a more appropriate metaphor for aging

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is a staircase --

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the upward ascension of the human spirit,

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bringing us into wisdom, wholeness

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and authenticity.

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Age not at all as pathology;

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age as potential.

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And guess what?

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This potential is not for the lucky few.

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It turns out,

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most people over 50

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feel better, are less stressed,

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are less hostile, less anxious.

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We tend to see commonalities

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more than differences.

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Some of the studies even say

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we're happier.

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This is not what I expected, trust me.

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I come from a long line of depressives.

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As I was approaching my late 40s,

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when I would wake up in the morning

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my first six thoughts would all be negative.

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And I got scared.

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I thought, oh my gosh.

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I'm going to become a crotchety old lady.

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But now that I am actually smack-dab in the middle of my own third act,

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I realize I've never been happier.

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I have such a powerful feeling of well-being.

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And I've discovered

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that when you're inside oldness,

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as opposed to looking at it from the outside,

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fear subsides.

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You realize, you're still yourself --

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maybe even more so.

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Picasso once said, "It takes a long time to become young."

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(Laughter)

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I don't want to romanticize aging.

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Obviously, there's no guarantee

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that it can be a time of fruition and growth.

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Some of it is a matter of luck.

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Some of it, obviously, is genetic.

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One third of it, in fact, is genetic.

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And there isn't much we can do about that.

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But that means that two-thirds

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of how well we do in the third act,

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we can do something about.

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We're going to discuss what we can do

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to make these added years really successful

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and use them to make a difference.

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Now let me say something about the staircase,

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which may seem like an odd metaphor for seniors

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given the fact that many seniors are challenged by stairs.

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(Laughter)

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Myself included.

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As you may know,

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the entire world operates on a universal law:

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entropy, the second law of thermodynamics.

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Entropy means that everything in the world, everything,

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is in a state of decline and decay,

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the arch.

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There's only one exception to this universal law,

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and that is the human spirit,

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which can continue to evolve upwards --

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the staircase --

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bringing us into wholeness,

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authenticity and wisdom.

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And here's an example of what I mean.

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This upward ascension

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can happen even in the face of extreme physical challenges.

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About three years ago,

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I read an article in the New York Times.

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It was about a man named Neil Selinger --

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57 years old, a retired lawyer --

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who had joined the writers group at Sarah Lawrence

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where he found his writer's voice.

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Two years later,

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he was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

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It's a terrible disease. It's fatal.

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It wastes the body, but the mind remains intact.

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In this article, Mr. Selinger wrote the following

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to describe what was happening to him.

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And I quote,

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"As my muscles weakened,

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my writing became stronger.

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As I slowly lost my speech,

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I gained my voice.

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As I diminished, I grew.

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As I lost so much,

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I finally started to find myself."

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Neil Selinger, to me,

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is the embodiment of mounting the staircase

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in his third act.

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Now we're all born with spirit, all of us,

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but sometimes it gets tamped down

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beneath the challenges of life,

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violence, abuse, neglect.

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Perhaps our parents suffered from depression.

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Perhaps they weren't able to love us

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beyond how we performed in the world.

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Perhaps we still suffer

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from a psychic pain, a wound.

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Perhaps we feel that many of our relationships have not had closure.

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And so we can feel unfinished.

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Perhaps the task of the third act

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is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves.

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For me, it began as I was approaching my third act,

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my 60th birthday.

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How was I supposed to live it?

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What was I supposed to accomplish in this final act?

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And I realized that, in order to know where I was going,

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I had to know where I'd been.

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And so I went back

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and I studied my first two acts,

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trying to see who I was then,

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who I really was --

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not who my parents or other people told me I was,

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or treated me like I was.

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But who was I? Who were my parents --

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not as parents, but as people?

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Who were my grandparents?

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How did they treat my parents?

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These kinds of things.

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I discovered a couple of years later

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that this process that I had gone through

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is called by psychologists

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"doing a life review."

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And they say it can give new significance

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and clarity and meaning

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to a person's life.

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You may discover, as I did,

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that a lot of things that you used to think were your fault,

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a lot of things you used to think about yourself,

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really had nothing to do with you.

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It wasn't your fault; you're just fine.

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And you're able to go back

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and forgive them

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and forgive yourself.

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You're able to free yourself

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from your past.

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You can work to change

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your relationship to your past.

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Now while I was writing about this,

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I came upon a book called "Man's Search for Meaning"

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by Viktor Frankl.

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Viktor Frankl was a German psychiatrist

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who'd spent five years in a Nazi concentration camp.

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And he wrote that, while he was in the camp,

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he could tell, should they ever be released,

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which of the people would be okay

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and which would not.

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And he wrote this:

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"Everything you have in life can be taken from you

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except one thing,

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your freedom to choose

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how you will respond

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to the situation.

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This is what determines

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the quality of the life we've lived --

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not whether we've been rich or poor,

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famous or unknown,

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healthy or suffering.

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What determines our quality of life

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is how we relate to these realities,

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what kind of meaning we assign them,

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what kind of attitude we cling to about them,

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what state of mind we allow them to trigger."

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Perhaps the central purpose of the third act

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is to go back and to try, if appropriate,

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to change our relationship

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to the past.

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It turns out that cognitive research shows

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when we are able to do this,

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it manifests neurologically --

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neural pathways are created in the brain.

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You see, if you have, over time,

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reacted negatively to past events and people,

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neural pathways are laid down

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by chemical and electrical signals that are sent through the brain.

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And over time, these neural pathways become hardwired,

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they become the norm --

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even if it's bad for us

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because it causes us stress and anxiety.

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If however,

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we can go back and alter our relationship,

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re-vision our relationship

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to past people and events,

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neural pathways can change.

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And if we can maintain

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the more positive feelings about the past,

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that becomes the new norm.

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It's like resetting a thermostat.

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It's not having experiences

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that make us wise,

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it's reflecting on the experiences that we've had

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that makes us wise --

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and that helps us become whole,

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brings wisdom and authenticity.

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It helps us become what we might have been.

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Women start off whole, don't we?

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I mean, as girls, we start off feisty -- "Yeah, who says?"

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We have agency.

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We are the subjects of our own lives.

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But very often,

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many, if not most of us, when we hit puberty,

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we start worrying about fitting in and being popular.

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And we become the subjects and objects of other people's lives.

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But now, in our third acts,

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it may be possible

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for us to circle back to where we started

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and know it for the first time.

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And if we can do that,

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it will not just be for ourselves.

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Older women

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are the largest demographic in the world.

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If we can go back and redefine ourselves

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and become whole,

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this will create a cultural shift in the world,

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and it will give an example to younger generations

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so that they can reconceive their own lifespan.

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Thank you very much.

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(Applause)