Looking at Life Through Growth Tinted Glasses

Purpose fueled work gives meaning to life, regardless of age.  As we consider second, or even third acts in our careers, Encore.org, offers the tools we need to combine "passion, purpose and a paycheck."

My mother-in-law has an amazing spirit and a generous heart.  One of the things I love about her is how she is always looking after the “old people” in her neighborhood.  She drops in on them for a visit, invites them over to her home for a meal, drives them to the grocery store or doctor’s appointments.

What makes all this so remarkable is that she’s 90 years old!  Many of the “old people” that she looks after are decades younger than her.

I was reminded of this while reading Marc Freedman’s excellent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Why John Gardner Is My Retirement Role Model”.  The article details how Gardner’s innovative ideas about retirement have changed how we think about work and life in the 21st century.

Gardner’s own ground-breaking contributions continued well past the conventional idea of retirement.  Into his 60’s, 70’s & even 80’s, he continued to work for social change in both the public and private sectors.  During those years he led the creation of Medicare as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, founded Common Cause and wrote several books.  One of the things about the article I found so moving were the comments from many of the readers who talked about how Gardner’s work and life touched them and then rippled out into the world through their own life choices. 

We can’t all have that kind of profound impact on the world around us.  But whether its the quieter work of everyday private life, as my mother-in-law seeks out, or the public stage that John Gardner possessed, the bottom line is that a growth mindset is at the heart of this kind of lifelong influence in the world.  It’s what adds meaning and purpose to life no matter what decade you happen to be in. 

We desperately need these role models to counteract the more pervasive (and insidious) idea in our society that a certain age equals stasis and irrelevance. 

Marc Freedman quotes John Gardner offering this thought regarding the challenges and opportunities of renewal in the second half of life:  “All my feelings about the release of human possibilities, all of my convictions about renewal,” he stated, “are offended by the widely shared cultural assumption that life levels off in one’s 40s and 50s and heads downhill, so that by 65 you are scrap heap material.”

He made those remarks in 2001.  More than a decade later, it seems that in some ways, we as a society are becoming even more entrenched in our age-driven prejudices.  Depending upon what industry one works in, the idea of age-related obsolescence can now be openly suggested as beginning in one’s forties, or even thirties.

Encore.org & The Purpose Prize

Enter Encore.org, a small but influential think tank and non-profit founded by Marc Freedman, that is quietly revolutionizing the way we live and work during our "retirement years".  Encore is "building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world." They provide an array of tools and resources to individuals who want to make that shift into purpose-fueled work. 

One of those tools is The Purpose Prize, an annual award of $100,000 to six people over 60 who are leading in work that is changing the world.  The 2014 Purpose Prize winners and 38 Purpose Fellows were just announced.  

Battling Ageism with Stories, Strategies & Solutions

In the coming weeks, we'll be featuring more stories of the accomplishments  of these extraordinary Purpose Prize winners, as well as more information on the wide range of other tools and resources that Encore.org offers to anyone else considering a similar mid-career shift.

Here at WHAT NOW WHAT NEXT, we’re not just anti-ageist, we’re pro-growth.  That concept of lifelong youthfulness of spirit is at the heart of our mission and the work that we do.

Another quote of Gardner’s that Freedman cites in his WSJ article hits the nail on the head. “What I want for those youngsters in their 40s and 50s is several more decades of vital learning and growth.  And I want something even broader and deeper.  I don’t know whether I can even put it into words.  What I want…is a long youthfulness of spirit. It doesn’t seem much to ask—but it is everything.”

My mother-in-law, clowning for the camera. She may be 90, but she has a "youngsters mindset."

My mother-in-law, clowning for the camera. She may be 90, but she has a "youngsters mindset."

Our mission is to create a community for and by those ‘youngsters’ John Gardner hoped to inspire.  We ask, ‘what now, what next’, from the knowledge and a deep understanding that life is really about constant growth and self-renewal.  In our 20s and 30s, we tend to get fixated on the end goal of achievement in work and life.  If we’re lucky, by the time we reach our 40s we realize that, in reality, it's all about the journey, forging a path that is without a roadmap because that meaningful journey is different for each of us. 

We’ve learned that continually asking ‘what now and what next’ is really what adds meaning, purpose - and joy and fun - to our lives.  And doing so in a community of other, like-minded women who may choose different answers but share a passion for asking the questions, for ongoing growth and self-renewal, is one of the best ways to do that. 

Hopefully we’ll be on this path not just in our 40s, 50s and 60s, but also well into our 80s and 90s, just like my mother-in-law.  Just like John Gardner.  Otherwise we risk becoming one of those “old people." 

Join the Conversation

What about you?  Do you want to retire, but not stop contributing? Or maybe you're years away from retirement, but find yourself seriously rethinking the kind of work you want to do now. What kinds of questions and considerations are part of the process of evaluating 'what's next' for you?

What is your definition of purpose-fueled work?  What growth experiences are part of your life right now?  And what is on your wish list for the future?