Most of you know that I retired a year ago after 32 years with the Army. Let me tell, you, retiring is a life-changing event! Add a global pandemic to the mix and last year was quite a year for me!
I didn’t enter into retirement lightly; it took me over a year to wrap my head around what life, post nine to five, was going to look like. I spent a lot of time thinking, dreaming and planning (and I also hired a coach to help me through it all!)
So, when I talk about finding your purpose later in life, I am recently coming out the other side of that journey!
If you are retired, or even just past the first flush of your career, you might think you’ve missed the boat on finding purpose in your life. The truth is you’re probably in a better position than ever to really work out what matters, and what you want out of life. And even better, you’re likely to have all the skills you need to focus on your life’s purpose and go for it!
I know for me this was true. My career path started with engineering, morphed into tech leadership and ended with teaching leadership skills to engineers and scientists. If I hadn’t had all those experiences under my belt, there is no way I would be where I am today: owning my own leadership development firm.
Here are some of my best high-level tips to get you started from that year I spent preparing for post-retirement life and living my purpose.
The first thing to do is to declutter your mind of all the preconceptions others have put there about what is and isn’t possible. No matter what your age, you can always choose to make your life different.
Julia Child published her first cook book at 49, and then kept publishing and starring in TV shows for the next 40 years! Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House at 65 and the series Little House on the Prairie came years later. And the artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses (better known as Grandma Moses) took up painting at 78. These women had full lives before they found their purpose, and if they can do it, so can you!
Society tends to bundle anyone over a certain age into the beige cardigan, stay-at-home, cautious slot but you certainly don’t have to accept that. Warren Buffett is eighty-eight years old and still one of the most successful business people. Picasso didn’t retire into oblivion but painted until he dropped at age ninety-two. Look around you and see that some of the most energetic, passionate people are older than the conventional retirement age.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be fighting all sorts of stereotypes, but if you channel your inner badass, like Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder, you’ll be fine. By the way, she started that show when she was 49.
Do some work really to find out what you want. Take the money and social expectations out of the equation and dream big. Do you want to sail around the world? Lead art tours of Europe? Branch out into art or writing or wellness? Become a yoga teacher. Learn an instrument or join a choir. Do some brainstorming and work out what makes your heart sing.
Approach this as you have many times before - as a project. That is good advice for anyone of any age, but the advantage of age and experience is that you know what to do. You have a wealth of knowledge to draw upon, so use it! Knowledge is power and “with great power comes great responsibility.” As long as your dream is in the realm of possibility, you CAN create a plan to get there. And most things are in the realm of possibility. I mean, I’ll never be a professional basketball player, but I can build a seven-figure business if I wanted to!
Once you’ve worked out your big goal, sit down and work out what you need to get there.
What skills do you already have? What training or courses might you need? Whether it’s writing that novel or retraining for a new career, take the time to plot out a plan of action and a timeframe. Set some milestones and allocate resources and you’re off!
Write it down. Brainstorm. Google. Ask. The beauty of the internet is that you can find and reach out to millions of people and there is bound to be one who has done what you want to do.
No matter what your age, taking the time to sit back and find your life’s purpose has been shown to have real benefits for people’s mental and physical health. Purposeful adults live longer and healthier lives and deal better with stress, whether it’s a career change, a new passion, or sharing your life skills through volunteering.
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: “Instead of the John, I call my bathroom the Jim! That way it sounds better when I say I go to the Jim first thing every morning!”