Purposeful Aging: Running Toward Not Running Away

I am running away. I have always been running away. Yet I believe that running enthusiastically towards something is so much better than fearfully running away and, although still unconsciously running away from dark places, I now more consciously practice running towards the light. What is your experience of running away? How often do you consciously practice running towards your goals. To what extent are you living your life on purpose?

While attending a spiritual retreat, I experienced one of those rare moments of real awakening. Despite being intensely goal-driven at times, my awareness of a long-practiced habit of running away from situations was heightened dramatically during one of the meditative exercises. I suddenly realized the number of significant situations I had run away from: I ran away from home; I ran away from the church that was an anchor during my formative years; I ran away from a failing marriage; I ran away from numerous jobs that had become unexciting. It was not always easy to leave and, in leaving somewhere, I was always heading towards another place but, all too often, without a purpose other than getting away from a bad situation.

Our lives are full of transitions. In these tough economic times, many people have lost not only their jobs but their careers. You may have experienced losing your job, or your spouse, or someone or something that was a really important part of you. These losses often mean a loss of identity. When someone asks, “What do you do?” how do you answer: a former teacher, or a former executive, or a former something else? These are times when new identities can emerge. Identities can emerge accidentally as circumstances force us to make decisions to generate income or find new friends. But wait. Who do you really want to be? What do you really want to do? This may be a perfect opportunity to discover and follow your true purpose.

I define purpose as the ‘Big Why’ – why you are here, your reason for being alive. My friend and guide Richard Leider, in his book The Power of Purpose, writes: “Purpose is fundamental to human life. Purpose gives us the will to live or to persevere. It gives us the reason to get up in the morning. Purpose gives us courage.” We all have a purpose whether we know it or not. Have you discovered your purpose? Can you describe your purpose in ten words or less?

Discovering our purpose is important at any time in our lives but, as we progress through the second half of our lives, knowing our purpose becomes increasingly important. During the first half of our lives we are mostly focused on building a career, providing for our family, and accumulating assets. Then there comes a period where our families become more independent, where our careers become less meaningful, and where some of our accumulated assets become liabilities. Our attics and garages become jammed full of things kept because it is easier to keep them just in case we might need them rather than consciously decide to let them go. If we discovered our true purpose we would know what to keep and what to let go.

During the second half of life we become increasingly conscious of our age. People in mid-life rarely volunteer their age but, as people progress through the second half and into the last, they become proud of their age and share it like a badge of honor. During recent research interviews with people in the second half of life, where I always leave the demographics to the end, it is rare that my interviewees fail to proudly let me know their age long before we get to the end of the interview. A business leader in transition from full-time employment said to me the other day, “I am so busy. I don’t know how I ever had the time to go to work!” This former business leader is already living life on purpose. We can’t halt the passing of the years but we can age purposefully.

We are not all like that former business leader. Many of us struggle to find our way when these huge disruptions occur in our lives. We feel too young to retire but uncertain about where to look for new employment or volunteer opportunities. We feel the loss of identity and the loss of direction. Exploring these disruptions and reflecting on other turning points in our lives provides a place from which to discover our purpose and to begin to live the second half of life on purpose. Purposeful aging is so much more fun than just getting older. Running towards our goals is so much better than constantly running away.

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