Five Ways to
Find Your Purpose after 50
By David Corbett
Most people can now
expect to live longer. Those extra years are a great
gift. But they can be an albatross if people don’t
know what to do with them. A minority of people
like to stay the course, whatever it is.
But most people find they need to dig down to their
core selves and find new goals and purposes that
touch something deep inside — the kind that
get them out of bed in the morning.
But how does one find a new mission at age 50 or
60 or 80? A growing array of books, courses, programs
and now websites exist to provide suggestions, and
many of them offer valuable detailed guidance, worksheets
and resources. Working your way through them all
can be a chore. But identifying your new purpose
doesn’t have to be so major an undertaking
that you never do it. There are core ideas and principles
you can use to find your purpose after fifty. Here
are five tools.
1. Get into neutral. This is crucial when you leave
a career. Resist
the temptation to leap into the next phase of your
life. Sit still. Take a timeout. Give yourself permission
to decompress. The neutral zone is kind of a moratorium
on old habits and thoughts. Experiencing such a
“white space” can be scary. If we submit
to it, however, new thoughts and fresh possibilities
will emerge. It will help you redefine who you are
now, not what you were. Neutral also helps give
you closure on the end of your primary career, and
the purposes and relationships they held for you.
2. Retell your life story. Stories reveal things
your rational minds
(and resumes) can miss. If writing is hard for you,
writing a letter to a friend or speak into a recording
device. Recap in brief, or in outline style, the
story of your life. As you organize the “facts”
of your life, hundreds of images, thoughts, recollections
and memories will begin to cross your mind. Sift
and distill these for central themes, interests,
activities and relationships that matter most and
express who you are. Use old photos or letters.
Pull out your report cards. Read what your teacher
wrote about you, and not just your grades. Don’t
judge. Generate data. There are clues in your past.
3. Use your verbs. This technique works throughout
process. The pressures of social status make you
think about yourself in nouns -- the titles, labels,
roles and affiliations, usually of your career.
But nouns close doors. They peg people. Strip them
away and get to your verbs. The challenge now is
to dream not about what you want to be but what
you want to do. Verbs are active and dynamic. What
were you doing when you felt excited or fulfilled?
Find several examples and then look for patterns
in your skills and experience. That will help you
redefine what you want to do now.
4. Write a personal “mission statement.”
Companies and organizations have these. Why not
individuals? Consider writing a statement reflecting
your life vision or mission. Skip tangible goals
or specific projects and make a list of the values,
beliefs, and interests you care about the most —
the motivators that guide you, fire you up and draw
out your best contribution. Only when you have a
strong interior sense of these broader life goals
can you find the real-time contexts, life opportunities
and markets in which to apply them.
5. Involve others. A trusted circle of advisors
can be of immense help as you seek new paths. Put
friends, present or former work colleagues and family
members on these personal sounding boards. Those
who know you well and who are stakeholders in your
success can hold up mirrors to reflect back things
about you that you can’t see yourself. Such
groups know collectively of more possibilities than
any one person could summon.
It can be a formal or highly informal group. To
get a sense of how a personal board can help, gather
three to four friends for personal
brainstorming sessions. Open the floor to insights
and possibilities with no judgments allowed. The
goal is simply to turn up opportunities and use
the feedback to improve your exploration of new
directions in your life.
These steps are only a beginning. But they may put
you on a path to a post-career life purpose that
can dramatically reduce the chance of being bored
(David Corbett is the founder of New Directions,
Inc., in Boston, and author of ‘Portfolio
Life: the New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion
After 50,’ published by Jossey Bass. Visit
him online at
www.portfoliolifebook.com and www.newdirections.com)