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Finding Purpose

Tips for Aging Well

While listening to Moody Radio the other day, I heard a most disturbing story. An author was discussing his book about the meaning of life, and talked about a man who had worked hard for forty years and was now facing mandatory retirement. Since working gave him his purpose for living, he suddenly realized he didn’t know what he would do in retirement and was seriously considering suicide. He had no hobbies or interests and no desire to develop any.

I knew an individual like that in the Pentagon who told me, “I’ll work until I drop because I don’t know what else to do.” I found his declaration utterly incomprehensible. For the three years before I walked out of that five-sided building for the last time, I maintained a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in retirement. Working and commuting twelve-hour days left me little time to do the creative projects that gave my life a deeper meaning.

Contrast the Moody Radio story with another account from “Life Below Zero,” a reality TV show produced by BBC Worldwide and aired on National Geographic channels. After an unsuccessful day of subsistence hunting, Ricko DeWilde beached his boat on a small patch of sand along the river bank and tried his luck with fishing. Almost immediately, he caught a nice trout. In the next scene, he is sitting alongside a hastily built fire and eating the fish. Between bites, he says, “This is what’s it’s all about. Catching this fish gives me purpose.” I understand that to mean, the fish keeps him alive and staying alive is his purpose.

The man in the first story needs professional counselling to dissuade him from taking his life and to help him discover that there is so much more to life than simply working. What would you tell him?

Since we all have different passions, skills, capabilities, limitations, and interests, there is no one answer. I’ve found that some are happy simply reading, pursuing a hobby, traveling, writing, visiting children and grandchildren, or doing projects around the house. There is no right or wrong, but whatever we do should accomplish a few basic goals. We need to be confident that we have done something good for ourselves or someone else. We need to learn, create, and build while staying as healthy as possible through exercise and diet. Who wants to turn off the light at night feeling as if they’ve wasted the day.

My retirement dreams are becoming reality, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Here’s a few of the projects that fill me with satisfaction. I’ve traced my father’s genealogy back to 1750, my mother’s to 1390, and recorded it in an eighty-one page booklet for future generations. (You can find most of what you need on the web.) Concurrently, I began putting together booklets to memorialize my parents, including as many old pictures as I could find. My father’s booklet runs one hundred and one pages. Similarly, I recently gathered all my father’s WWII militaria and my Vietnam gear, took pictures, identified the items, and recorded it on paper. We hear a lot about volunteerism, so for two years I delivered Meals-on-Wheels until my Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs) got the better of me. Another reason I stopped is that many of my clients were older and a particularly nice gentleman with whom I had developed a relationship died. I knew others wouldn’t be far behind.

Now that we are retired or are approaching retirement, we have to make an effort to fill the days with activities that give us a sense of purpose and are meaningful to us, or to others. For some that comes easily while others have to discover their passion and purpose through trial and error. Life should be an exciting, challenging, and meaningful journey.


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