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Successful Aging: What are the challenges related to getting older, and how do we deal with them?

This is the eighth year I have had the pleasure of participating in a special conversation with eight men and eight women to discuss retirement and life transitions relevant to our life stage.

Most attendees were between 60 and 80 years: Some were retired, others were working part-time or engaged in full-time careers. All were highly accomplished in their respective fields, including medicine, advertising, business, higher education, global management, strategic consulting, aging and nonprofit leadership. Most described their priority of being engaged in meaningful giving-back activities; some were still searching.

The men came from the Life Transition Group; the women from Renewment (which combines the words retirement and renewal.) Neither group is satisfied with the status quo for themselves or their communities. All embrace learning, growing and giving back with an emphasis on purpose, passion as well as pleasure. And all know that transition is a process.

Here is some background.

Several years ago, Ron Dresher and Brian Harris, both long-time successful marketing professionals, went for a bike ride along the beach and began to talk about their next chapter in life – commonly referred to as retirement. Both felt passionate about their work. They questioned what they would do with their energy and commitment when no longer working. They felt motivated to become more knowledgeable and were ready to share experiences with others. Subsequently, they formed a group of like-minded men and called themselves the Life Transition Group and have been meeting for 11 years in El Segundo with monthly speakers. The group has grown to 30 members with two additional groups recently formed.

The women are from Renewment, a forum and movement started by my co-founder Bernice Bratter and me in 1999. Renewment women are like-minded with successful careers, wanting to create the next chapter of life to be equal to or even more satisfying than the previous ones. We also meet monthly and proceed to discuss subjects relevant to the retirement transition and changes throughout life. We have about 40 Renewment conversation groups across the country that have grown virally.

Our topic for our joint discussion had to do with challenges.

What are the challenges facing you at this life stage? Many found the challenge of remaining healthy. Some faced family changes that required reversing roles with aging parents. Others focused on financial security, health-care costs and acknowledging the loss of friends and family. Seeking employment opportunities, becoming a caregiver, having adult children move in with you and working on life skills were all considered challenges in this life stage.

What are the lessons? Be kind and capture the kindness moments. If the person in line behind you at the grocery store is buying one item as you have 42 items in your cart, let that person go ahead of you. Have friends and relationships with people of all ages and be the initiator to forge new ones. Make eye contact with others and smile. That person is likely to smile back. Laugh more. These shared lessons had nothing to do with money, housing, careers or leisure. They have to do with humanity. Perhaps it’s a timely commentary on what we need as a society.

Each was asked to share a one-line takeaway statement as a result of our conversation. Here are some:

Listening is extremely important in learning.

Seize the kindness moment.

Appreciate wisdom and happiness.

We all have the same issues; we all want to be warriors.

Giving back adds value to our lives.

Compared to men, women have many more years to plan for their lives that often include more challenges.

Make things happen.

Don’t take what we have for granted.

How can I make this day the best day?

There’s got to be more to life than riding bikes.

Have hope; without hope, there is no future.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, noted psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” wrote, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” According to Frankl, “The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life.”

These two groups find meaning by addressing challenges and doing good deeds through caring and kindness – a good message for us all.

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