Images of sitting on the beach or playing golf may seem enticing, but many of us see the leisure-based notion of retirement as empty and unfulfilling. It simply doesn’t fit with the reality that we may live another 30 years after our formal work lives end. Even for those taking a post-retirement sabbatical year, the “meaning” question arises starkly, especially if one is healthy. People ask themselves: What am I going to do for the rest of my life? Might I have an encore career? Can the talents that I cultivated in 40 years of working life be applied to the volunteer sector or in developing a program or idea that will make this a better world? How will I find purpose?
We are on the cusp of a new movement, led by the baby boom generation, that takes on these questions. Our generation will counter the image of “old age” as one of decline and transform it into a stage of opportunity that will connect us with the idealism of the 1960s and ’70s.
At 70 years of age, I see this pattern in my own “encore” life. Anticipating the beginning of a new decade, I remained in academia but decided to give up tenure to pursue new opportunities and passions. I continue my research at USC, but largely from a home office that eliminates a two-hour daily commute. I wake up every morning with a spirit of gratitude rather than pressure, with time to reflect on life, write in my journal, swim daily and spend time with my grandchildren. Like many people my age, I look forward to the next stage of life as an enticing, purposeful possibility.
The essay was published in the report titled The Power of Purpose: Culture Change and the New Demography.