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Live With Purpose – Going From Success to Significance

By Karma Kitaj, PhD

"Live life with urgency as if time is running out," wrote Ken Dychtwald in With Purpose: Going From Success to Significance. Are you feeling this sense of urgency as you get into your 50s and 60s? I must be feeling that, as I'm going full steam ahead on all kinds of fronts. Publishing my next book: Women Riders Who Could -- and Did. Expanding my coaching practice. Speaking in public forums about retiring retirement. Getting comfortable with spirituality. Moving ahead in learning new things on my horse. Started my own TV show and have interviewed a dozen wonderful encore careerists. Becoming social networking- savvy. I'm having the time of my life.

Dychtwald sees the convergence of 3 trends that change the landscape of the traditional retirement:

  • Boomers are maturing
  • People want to balance leisure and leaving a legacy
  • Giving has a new face - philanthropists are younger, entrepreneurial, and socially conscious. They want solutions and measurable results and want to give back their skills and talents and see the impact they've made.

“To live with purpose or without is a choice. And the choice is ours,” is Dychtwald’s mantra. He believes that to make life truly worth living, one must have a sense of purpose. That doesn’t have to be saving the world in a big sense; rather it can be finding how to bring meaning and purpose to everyday activities – eating, reading, traveling, decorating, tipping.

Can we make choices about what we eat based on our values – values about sustainability, e.g., by eating local foods, by growing our own? Or tipping well at restaurants and hotels to reward human encounters by servers? Or renovating our homes with green materials? Or planning our travels to coincide with volunteering? There are many acts of simple kindness that can make us feel significant and that don’t take huge commitments.

Peak moments, the author declares, involve:

  • Rich personal relationships
  • Activities that transcend self-indulgence and have meaning
  • Accomplishment through personal growth

Each of us can allow ourselves to experience these 3 things in our own way. They will lead to a sense of purpose and significance, according to Dychtwald. Many of us are disappointed in our lives that seem to be on “auto-pilot,” just doing what’s expected, being in ruts, bad habits. Bringing consciousness to daily experience can change that, can make us question our daily habits.

The author questions Maslow (the famous psychologist) and his hierarchy of needs. Maslow offers “self-actualization” as the height of his pyramid. No, Dychtwald insists, there’s been too much me-ness going around; time for “legacy” as the top rung of development. Many boomers and older are going for legacy, for meaning as being the state they aspire to in the third age.

There are many paths to “legacy,” to fulfillment in the arena of giving back. Here are a few mentioned in the book:

  • Becoming a “vacateer,” a vacation where you volunteer your services for a few weeks to months (see Brian Kurth’s Test-Drive Your Dream Job) to Peace Corps and Americorps.
  • Mentoring (see Tuesdays With Morrie and Maggie Kuhn’s Grey Panthers) where you pass on your wisdom to younger people
  • Join Habitat for Humanity and similar programs
  • Philanthropy from very small scale where you give micro-loans to aspiring communities across the world to much larger feats (that most of us can’t afford, but many new entrepreneurs are doing now)

What do people get when they give? Here’s Dychtwald’s ideas:

  • Doing the right thing just feels good
  • Making a difference brings meaning – think about what you’ve been exposed to that you care a lot about. Health care for all? Affordable housing? Environment? Public transportation rather than more roads?
  • Builds a new social network, one where you connect deeply with your new friends
  • Recognition – maybe your efforts will result in seeing your name on a letterhead for an organization or entry to a new club
  • The “helper’s high”

Many people want to give back, but don’t know what would really grab them. Or they have so many interests, they fritter away their time. Or their lives seem too busy already. That’s the case for most of us. My expertise is in helping people like you find your niche, find what you really are good at, what your gift is that you can offer to the world. Are you good at managing, at being entrepreneurial, at being a team player, being a cheerleader, a mentor? How can you parlay your gift into giving back, even a little at a time?

Dychtwald’s book, With Purpose, is one which triggers our sensibility about who we are and what we are here to do. What do you want your legacy to be?