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HITTING 50 MEANS IT'S TIME TO REASSESS

A revolution is coming, predicts author Suzanne Braun Levine, as American women move into their "second adulthood," a period she defines as roughly between the ages of 50 and 75.

"It is inconceivable that women in this age group will ever be viewed again as the classic grandma sitting by the phone waiting for the call to come baby-sit," said Levine, author of "Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood," (Viking, $24.95).

"We may be under the radar right now, but I feel what we are doing is creating another movement here," Levine said from her home in New York. "It's happening within each of us, but as a group, as we make personal and professional changes, we are poised to be a significant economical and social force."

Levine's book is rich, even visionary -- full of women's personal stories, relevant scientific research and pointed social commentary, all of which support her prediction.

"We are not the women we were, only older," but we are women busy changing our directions, our goals and even our heartfelt philosophies of life, says Levine.

Scientific research backs up Levine's theory. Dr. Francine Benes, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has documented that only teenagers and 50-year-olds experience significant brain growth. Women, Levine says, have the edge when it comes to knowing what to do with that brain growth because "not only have women been socialized earlier -- but, as we well know, we have been socialized differently."

Levine had this to say about the millions of American women turning 50: "We have reached the end of our roles. We are no longer primarily daughters, mothers, sisters or good girls. Many of us are still wives, but research shows that in many cases, our partners are not our top priority. Statistically, when on your 50th birthday you look back to age 25, you will have the same number of years ahead of you for discoveries, adventures and new relationships -- an unexplored new stage still ahead of you."

Are we prepared to forge ahead into this new stage?

Levine says we are. "We have come through the last 30 years in which we have learned by doing or at least become aware what women are capable of," she said. "Individually and collectively, we have challenged the establishment, taken risks and made changes, and along the way we have gained a certain amount of economic authentication and political clout."

Levine wrote her new book for two reasons. She says she believes "with every fiber of my being that what I am feeling as one woman -- and then hearing similar experiences from other women -- is valid confirmation that something is going on." Also, she says, "I couldn't help but notice I was getting quite weird."

Specifically, Levine realized that she had come to enjoy saying what she thinks, even if it angered others. "You have no idea what a smoother-over I have been all my life," she said. "In every instance when there were a lot of strong opinions on every side, I could always find the middle ground, though that was never entirely who I was. Now, I've gotten to the point where my other side has popped out, and I just don't care anymore what people think.

"For a generation that was trained as we have been to play by rules, measure up to standards and get approval from authority, the idea of not caring about all that is sacrilegious."

Levine says that when most of us look at the predicted expanse of years ahead, we first assume that now we will do what we have always wanted to do.

"We get out our old lists, and quickly discover we don't want to do those things. That list doesn't apply any more," she said. "We have to spread a wider net to figure out who we are now. That takes time -- an unwelcome concept in today's rushed, multi-tasking society."

Levine refers to this time of emotional free falling as the "Fertile Void," a term coined by therapist Ilana Rubenfeld. "It's hard not to want to push through it, but you have to sit back, let go and take it as it comes for 10 months or a year or 18 months or whatever it takes," said Levine. "If you rush it, you may make decisions you wouldn't otherwise make."

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