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How to stay open to new experiences and passions as you age

Q. I recently retired as a missionary and hospice leader. My work was my passion. Grandchildren have filled part of that void, but now they are busy with friends and activities, meaning my grandma role has changed. At this point, I feel something is missing. And I think it is that feeling of being passionate about something. Not sure how to go about this. Any suggestions? P.P.

Few of us have been coached on how to find this elusive entity called passion, that strong compelling feeling that excites us and is a source of energy. In our younger days, the term rarely was used particularly in relation to choices of jobs, careers, colleges or what to do with extra time. Role models often were limited. Many parents did not have jobs that reflected their passions; their goal was to make a living. Feeling passionate about one’s work might have been considered a luxury for them. Even today, less emotionally driven terms are used in regards to work, careers or even the retirement experience. We more readily talk about what brings us pleasure, joy, satisfaction or gratification.

In finding one’s passion, attitude plays a role. Studies have identified two different mindsets. The first is a fixed mindset that suggests we are born with passions and interests; they are innate. The other is a growth mindset, the belief that passion and interests are developed. Those who have a fixed approach are less likely to explore something new. Those who take the growth mindset are more likely to explore and grow.

Now for the journey. Here are a few suggestions to get started, according to the Second Wind Movement, a life coaching resource for older adults.

Be open to new experiences. This means having a growth mindset. Finding one’s passion takes intention and allocating time to experiment and reflect. Step out of your comfort zone and be open to possibilities. And note you have to try the activity before it becomes your new passion. And that first new activity may not be the one.

Experiment. Here is a success story. After 50 years, Arthur C. Bartner recently retired as director of the USC marching band. No question, he was passionate about music. Having visited most of the key museums in Europe and been an ardent art observer he shifted his passion from music to art. Rather than only learning about art and observing works of the great masters, he took a deep dive and began taking painting classes. His passion for music remains. Bartner paints daily and intensely which brings him great joy and satisfaction. He says, “Instead of dealing with sound, I now deal with color.”

Expand your circle of friends. Be intentional in expanding that circle. Think about those people who are engaged in some endeavor that might appeal to you. Use the informational interview format in speaking to those who are excited about what they are doing. Note, frequent social interaction does more than help you find your passion. Studies indicate that people who socially interact with others have 70 percent less cognitive decline than those who don’t.

Think about your childhood. What made you happy? Revisit those activities and passions that might be a clue about passions you could pursue in late life. Were you involved in theater or choir in high school or college? Did you work on certain badges you loved when you were in scouting? Did you love the outdoors while at camp? And then there were crafts including woodworking, knitting as well as puzzles and Lego. These loves may be indicators of a passion that can be rekindled.

Be inspired by others. This might come from reading books or listening to podcasts. Consider studying the men and women featured in these mediums. Retirement provides the time for observation, reflection and learning from others on their journey of self-discovery.

Fred Rogers, author, creator and host of the preschool television series Mr. Rogers said it well, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

P.P., you are at the beginning of that something else. Thank you for your good question and best wishes on the journey. It is worth it. Stay well and know kindness is everything.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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