Finding New Purpose on the Age Wave

- October 13, 2011

"Happiness in life is about more than what's in your bank account or stock portfolio"

Getting older has been on my mind a lot lately. It isn't my own relentless march through time that has obsessed me; it is the coming age wave that will engulf society in the coming years. My obsession started after reading the book, A New Purpose, then interviewing its author, Ken Dychtwald. Ken, a visionary gerontologist and lecturer, coined the term age wave in the 1980s after realizing the Baby Boomer generation turning 60+ would dramatically shift the composition and needs of society.

Ken saw on the horizon unprecedented strain on society's resources as we begin to care for an enormous number of seniors (who potentially could live into their 90s). Ken also came to see people living longer and healthier as an extraordinary opportunity to reinvent themselves and make significant contributions in their final decades.

One person who is taking advantage of this opportunity is Richard Woodruff. A former chief financial officer for major corporations, Richard began searching for a property a few years before leaving his career to help him fulfill a vision; the creation of a special gathering space where people dedicated to the common good could hold workshops, meetings, retreats, or simply rejuvenate in an exceptional environment.

Richard's five-year search for the right place paid off. He was guided to a ridgetop property in Santa Fe built by an Afghani princess. Rass Mandal is a blue-domed adobe palace that combines the feeling of the southwest with the East (complete with an outdoor yoga/dance pavilion). Richard knew he had found the right place to fulfill his vision. He says, "I want to promote a oneness with nature and an appreciation for the uniqueness of each of us. My goal is to provide an environment that encourages our collective creativity and energy to improve all that exists both within us and around us."

Richard is living one of the central messages of A New Purpose. Rather than focusing his retirement on entertaining himself, he is devoting his next stage of life to creating a legacy centered on serving people. He is putting into action Ken's words, "Happiness in life is about more than what's in your bank account or stock portfolio. Success is more than achieving power and respect. Each one of us has a responsibility for changing the world in a positive, significant, and enduring way."

It is inspiring to see people like Richard devoting the later stages of their lives to helping others. But as Ken points out in A New Purpose, giving back has nothing to do with how much money or status you have. It is about choosing to make a difference. Teddy Gross made that choice. After his daughter asked him why they couldn't take a homeless man home one cold New York night, he suggested that they start saving pennies to help the homeless. That was the genesis of Common Cents and its program the Penny Harvest, the largest child philanthropy program in the U.S.

Riding the age wave well is about realizing as we journey through life that our greatest joy comes from giving back. It is about understanding that in our later years, we have accumulated a wealth of wisdom that can be invaluable to share, and that sharing can range from the simplest acts to the grandest ones.

Rather than fearing the coming age wave and its challenges, we can embrace it as individuals, families and communities. We can heed Ken Dychtwald's call through rejecting a culture that worships youthfulness and begin to give more respect and weight to the older side of the age spectrum. To make it through these times of tremendous change and transformation, we need all hands on deck. Let's support those who think it is time to sit on the sidelines to get back in the game, find a new purpose and make a difference.

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