My Midlife Atrium

My Midlife Atrium

Over the last century, our life expectancy has grown by over two and a half years per decade, which means that we have ‘inherited’ around thirty extra years of life. But instead of integrating those years across the length of our lifespans, most of us have just tacked them on to the end like an epilogue or an afterthought. It’s like mankind has won the longevity lotto; we just haven’t worked out what to do with our winnings. The roadmap for life we’ve been referencing runs out around midlife, because one hundred years ago, that was as long as we were reasonably expected to live. We had to tick everything off before fifty or risk dying before we did it. Nowadays however, it’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

Anthropologist and author, Mary Catherine Bateson likens our improved longevity to adding an extension to your home. She says; “Adding a room to a house is likely to change the way all the rooms are used. Rather than building something on at the back, we are moving the walls and creating an atrium in the centre. The atrium is filled with fresh air and sunlight, and it presents an opportunity for reflection on all the rooms that open off it.” To really make the most of the extra years of life we’ve inherited we need to create a new architectural blueprint for life that apportions our ‘bonus’ years across the length of our lives and doesn’t just add them on to the end. It’s not about extending our retirement or the third third of life. Our improved longevity demands a rethinking of all stages of life.

Those of us who are at the forefront of this longevity and aging wave of change (and who are surfing it without instructions), must reshape the social narrative by experimenting with and pioneering new ways of aging creatively and intentionally (not conventionally), all while weathering the inevitable storm of ageism from people and institutions who feel threatened by change or who aren’t switched on to the incredible opportunity that our improved longevity affords us all. An opportunity that Marc Freedman, a leading expert on the longevity revolution, believes we are at risk of squandering. But reinforcements it seems are on the way. Over the last decade, there’s been a groundswell of attention on the aging space and the myriad of issues, inadequacies and disparity that prevail within it. One such example is Stanford University’s Centre on Longevity, headed by Laura Carstensen, which has launched an initiative called “The New Map Of Life” to envision what vibrant century-long lives might look like and begin the remapping process. Another is the Modern Elder Academy, the world’s first midlife wisdom school that is exploring and modelling a new roadmap for midlife and beyond and providing people with the tools to navigate it successfully.

These tools have come in handy as I have contemplated how I might retrofit an atrium into the middle years of life that makes the most of my longevity ‘life lotto’ winnings. A new room, filled with purpose and stories that will become integral (not ancillary) to the narrative of my life, which is far from over. In a perfect world, I would have started construction on my midlife atrium much earlier. Had I done so, perhaps I would not have been so quick to try to ‘squish’ all of life’s ‘best bits’ into the first half of my story, only to find myself staring down the barrel of a four decade ‘retirement’ (which to be honest seems entirely unappealing). I do not aspire to retire and life, as it turns out, is not a single lane, one-way race between checkpoints. He who arrives at the finish line first, most certainly does not win!


Ang Galloway is an Australian-based writer, MEA alum, and midlife explorer. You can read more of her stories on her blog at