top of page

Successful Aging: Searching for purpose in our lives, part 2

Last week, we discussed a virtual meeting of two groups: the Life Transition Group of men and the Renewment group of women. Members of both are mostly retired career folks who are navigating their post-career lives. At this 11th annual gathering, we discussed what it means to live a purposeful life. Here is some of what we have learned from the 16 people who shared their knowledge, thoughts, feelings and aspirations.

A woman described her purpose by quoting Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy and author of “Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder” (Currency, 2018). “The first part of the purpose of your life is to discover your gifts. The work of your life is to develop that gift. And the meaning of your life is to give your gift away.”

“Purpose means being a better partner to my wife,” was another comment. Another indicated he realized he had a purpose and had not been aware of it. His purpose was “being.” “I want to be my best self by being fully present for someone else, be available to them to share my knowledge and insights and to be their advocate. When I am doing that, I am being my best self,” he said.

A woman said she feels like an immigrant in a new country of the “old” and no longer seeks relevance as her purpose but rather pleasure; that’s her post-ambition purpose, valuing time with her husband and having flexibility with opportunities to learn.

Having one’s purpose to please others was noted by another. In her younger years that meant pleasing parents, friends and others. Today, rather than pleasing, her purpose is to be helpful to others, incorporating three behaviors: Don’t lie, don’t be late and live up to your promise.”

The shrinking runways sounded an alarm for another. As time is ticking, he sees part of his purpose is to stay healthy and embrace exercise. As a former rocket scientist, he now is the CFO of his family talent management company, an additional purpose.

A woman who is a full-time academic sees relationships as the core of her purpose that includes several behaviors. That is to appreciate beauty, be grateful, kind and be present.”

“Being free and not obligated to continue what I have previously done” was the approach of another woman. She is appreciative of her economic security that allows her to be “free to pursue, whatever.” Spontaneity is important to her.

A former advertising executive found the concept of purpose amorphous and too narrowly defined by work. He found that purpose is whatever makes you happy. A woman found that her purpose, which was providing mental health services for older adults, has evolved. Having recently attended three memorial services in one month, part of her current purpose is being available to those who have suffered losses while also being present for her grandchildren, adult children and other important people in her life.

A former president and general manager of a television station commented, “I never felt I worked a day in my life.” His work was his purpose. He moved on to assume a significant leadership role in a local nonprofit organization, fulfilling his new purpose. A former corporate advertising executive summarized his purpose succinctly: To have meaning in his life, to be relevant, present, have a sense of fulfillment and give back.”

The question was raised if having a sense of purpose was dependent on one’s economic status. The group responded with an overwhelming no. A Stanford University and research study agreed. For the study, purpose was defined as “a sustained commitment to goals that are meaningful to the self and that also contribute in some way to the common good, to something larger than or beyond the self.” The study concluded that living a purposeful life is an equal-opportunity pursuit that does not vary significantly across age, income, health status or geography. The study also acknowledged a growing body of evidence that purpose is associated with “academic achievement, vocational success, energy, resilience, and psychological and physical health throughout the lifespan. It can be found in family, work, faith, and other important life missions.”

Clearly, the meaning of living a purposeful life is different for everyone, affected by our experiences and aspirations. However, all agreed on one aspect: that purpose is not overrated; rather it is essential and can be a path or a destination.

So, dear readers, consider your purpose, one that is beyond yourself. In today’s environment, all that we can do for the betterment of others and society can translate to a much-needed national purpose. 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


bottom of page