Meaning and Purpose

I wish I could tell you, “Here are the five things you need to know in order to age dynamically.” But, it’s not that simple. In fact, you are going to have to do some work. Finding what gratifies you in the last third of your life will take serious self-examination, which should lead you to self-awareness. Be honest with yourself and you should find the answers.

As I’ve chronicled in this blog and, as most of you surely must know, most people who have a career and retire, usually have identity problems. According to what I’ve researched, most people also think they are going to continue with the same hobbies, pastimes and activities they enjoyed while working. That is, until the loss of identity and boredom set in, which is the moment in time for introspection. Retirement for many of us will last fifteen, twenty, even thirty years. If you retire at 70 and live to be 90, which with today’s medicine and health care is entirely within the realm of possibilities, that is a very long time. While self-examination can be done at any time in life, all the stars and planets are more apt to be perfectly aligned during our last third of life when our basic needs are met, the career is over, the kids are raised and we finally (finally!) have time for ourselves.

While making personal development a priority may appear selfish on the surface, if we are to reach our full potential as human beings, which puts us in a position to truly give our best to the world, then personal development must be a priority. If we are to age dynamically, enjoying a higher quality of life where new meaning and purpose emerge, we must continue to expand our personal capabilities. Another benefit for taking this less traveled path is greater self-esteem as we discover our unique potential.

The difficult part in all of this is taking responsibility for your personal evolution, especially in the face of societal norms, which tell us we need to wind down instead of gearing up. Choosing to take action means you will not be one of the flock. You will most certainly encounter people making comments about how you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or how these are your golden years…relaxation is what you’re supposed to be doing. You earned it. Right? Wrong. What you’ve earned is the right to reach your unique potential.

Stability is not an option. We live in a rapidly changing world. That world will continue spinning at light speed. And, it belongs to the people who are ready to change and grow with it, including those of us in the last third of life. Recently, more than one longtime friend has told me how they are old and can’t do this or that. One told me that I am acting like the young people. To that, I’d say I’m in step with the world, embracing everything it has to offer. It has nothing to do with whether you are young or old; it has to do with wether you are present, open and willing to try new things.

Clearly, as we age, our bodies will decline, health issues will arise, the parts will wear out. However, cognitive decline is not a given. Continued dynamic interaction with other people will keep neural pathways open, fending off cognitive decline. So, another benefit of working toward finding our true potential is maintaining our cognitive function. Rather than crossword puzzles, which apparently only open new neural pathways to a point, the best option by far is continued meaningful engagement with other human beings.

What is meaningful engagement, you ask? Well, again, in order to answer that question, you have to take responsibility for your personal evolution. That’s the part requiring introspection, thought and self-awareness. It’s work. And, working toward something meaningful, especially when you don’t know what that something may turn out to be, takes a leap of faith. The first step is identifying your self-imposed barriers to your personal growth. Our barriers often show up in negative self-talk such as, “I was never any good at doing that kind of thing.” or “I never liked doing __________.” You fill in the blank. It could be painting, flying a plane, strength training, competing in a sport, volunteering at a local hospital or food bank, learning a foreign language, yoga, gardening, biking or hiking or a thousand other possibilities. Try it anyway. We are not the same people we were 30 years ago or even when we were kids. Although what you liked doing as a child is a good place to start looking for what you’d like to do in retirement.

The key to overcoming any self-imposed limitations is having:

(1) an open mind;
(2) a willingness to recognize your personal barriers as self-imposed limitations;
(3) an openness to trying new activities; and
(4) a readiness for change.

You don’t have to go jumping out of an airplane or off of a bridge with a bungee cord but you do have to be willing to ask yourself, “If I could do anything, what would it be?” And, give yourself an honest answer. Remember it’s up to you to identify any self-imposed barriers to your self-actualization. If you are having trouble identifying, ask your spouse or a close friend to listen to you. Warn them not and I mean NOT to listen to your ‘yeah buts’ or any other excuses as they are — you guessed it — self-imposed limitations!

There’s a lot of self, self, self here but aging dynamically is all about yourself. You are much more than your ego, your work identity, your family, your community. What could be more fun in life than seeking your true potential as a human being and actualizing that potential? What could be better than giving your family and community your full potential as a human being? The work I have done in this area has left me more open to new experiences, more aware of living in the present moment and more willing to trust my own feelings and instincts. It is absolutely empowering. As I think about what I want to be when I grow up, I feel more alive than I have in years. There’s more contained within my other posts. In the meantime, try taking a leap of faith. No bungee cord needed.

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