Over the past few years, I have had the genuine pleasure of getting to know Richard Leider, the founder of Inventure – the Purpose Company, and one of America’s preeminent executive life coaches. I have had the opportunity to meet many different coaches throughout my career and life, and I can firmly say I have never met anyone quite like Richard.
He has spent his life understanding the value of purpose and its importance to leadership, and he has taken up the banner of helping others find their meaning and act upon it. The strength of his belief in his mission is palpable, and his objectives are not based on profits or revenues, but changing the world. In addition to wonderful mentorship and guidance, Richard has shared with me a wealth of materials that he and his colleagues have written on how to apply purpose in one’s daily life.
One of these articles, “Savoring Life through Servant Leadership,” introduced concepts that I believe could fundamentally change our collective view of the future, not just financially, but for our overall well-being. I am excited to be able to share a few of these ideas with you in the hope that they can serve as the foundation for changing the narrative when it comes to elderhood.
To me, the most powerful theme in the article was the idea that, instead of becoming “elderly,” which implies frailty and vulnerability, we simply, at some point in the future, enter the “second half” of our life. In this piece, I take a look at the ideas in “Savoring Life through Servant Leadership” in the context of how financial planners can help clients make their “second half” count.
Help Your Clients Become “Inventurers”
Richard coined the concept of an “inventurer,” meaning one who adventures inward through outdoor experiences, and has transformed his theory into reality by hosting “inventures” in Africa and other locales for those seeking purpose. The idea of an “inventurer” has many applications to those either approaching or in the second half of life.
To use the outdoors theme, perhaps those in the second half of life are still able to physically complete the climb to the Parthenon or to the highest vista in Machu Picchu in search of inspiration and meaning. Then again, those days may be behind them. That does not mean, however, that they are no longer the adventurer they once were. It’s simply a new type of adventure—one that includes finding out who they really are and living their second half of life with that wisdom in mind. In fact, it may be the greatest adventure of all, as challenges facing the soul and spirit are often far more taxing than those facing the physical body.
To be an “inventurer” means that you never stop exploring, regardless of the state of your body or where you happen to be physically at any point in time. Indian speaker and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti tells us that “the whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” “Inventuring” is a way to carry that torch during the second half of life. If we devote our second half to accruing knowledge about the world and, more importantly, about ourselves, we give ourselves the chance to grow whole, not just old.
Encourage Clients to be Open to Adaptation
In their seminal piece, Leider and co-author Larry Spears tell the story of a 95-year-old fisherman sitting by the window of his house on the coast of Maine quietly knitting nets for lobster traps for the active fisherman to use. The tale conjures a powerful, lasting image. The man in the story is still serving by doing what he can do best at his age, while not stepping completely away from something he loves. It’s an important distinction to separate vital aging, or remaining valuable as we grow old, from expecting that life as we age will be the same as it always has been.
We can’t control what happens to our bodies as we age, but we maintain control of our spirit and our will. Change and adaptability, then, are of vital importance. If we hold onto only what we once were, we can never truly embrace who we have become. Every one of us, regardless of our age, wants and needs for what we are doing at the moment, and our lives as a whole, to matter. Yet, in the U.S., as our elders age, they seem to lose their usefulness (in both our eyes and theirs), which causes deep psychological rifts, not to mention the loss of vital lessons, stories and experiences that could serve future generations.
Reconnecting value to our elders as a nation, then, is a critically important goal. It is also the definition of a two-way street: we must do a better job of changing perception surrounding the importance of our elders’ experience and wisdom, while the elders themselves must make a commitment to adapt to remain a vital part of the community as they age (as the fisherman in the story above has done).
In the Hadza culture, the elders of the tribe are afforded a seat close to the fire, while younger members of the tribe gather around to learn. Yet, a seat close to the fire is not a given simply based on tenure. As Leider and Spears write: “a person seated close to the flames is expected to have something valuable to bring forth.”
The discussion surrounding the “elders of our tribe” and the use of the literal placement around the fire as a representation of value reminds us of the raw power of oral tradition. Oral tradition has been one of the world’s most powerful means of communication since civilization’s earliest days, and is still the primary way the most important stories and legacies of a people, a tribe or a family unit are passed down to future generations in many cultures.
As oral tradition is based wholly on the experience and wisdom of our elders, rediscovering its value and execution as a society may be considered a critical issue. The revival of oral tradition in the U.S. has many applications, and can be one of the many ways we can help, through our own actions and through working with our clients, to redefine the value of those in the “second half” of life.
Help Your Clients Assume the Mantle of Teacher
In “Savoring Life through Servant Leadership,” Leider and Spears touch on one of the most common stereotypes surrounding our elders in the piece: “Elders teach by story and example. But it isn’t a simple recalling of stories about ‘the good life of the past.’” This is a powerful call-to-action for the generation of “new elders,” as it puts the onus on them to serve as teachers (not just storytellers).
Reminiscing about the “good times” is important, as it provides a perspective on the past for younger generations that they might not otherwise experience. The next step, however, is teaching based on life experience. Teaching requires the sharing of both the positives and negatives from the past, as lessons from failure or tragedy are often more powerful than those taken from success.
This focus on taking the good with the bad in sharing experiences may not just be a shift for the “new elders,” but also a larger cultural shift. Many organizations give into the temptation to share only the “good news” or the facts that support the company’s story, but the organizations who choose to show vulnerability by leading with weaknesses are often those that earn the highest levels of consumer trust. Thus, we see a lesson not only for our elders, but for our society as a whole.
Help Your Clients Recalibrate Their Alarms for Purpose
The alarm clock metaphor has been used liberally in the retirement space, as the first day of retirement may be the first in many years that your alarm does not wake you up. The metaphor, while attempting to show that the retiree can finally achieve some level of relaxation, also assumes that, on your first day after a long work career, you no longer have anything to wake up for. I believe, for most of us, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As Leider and Spears write: “As a matter of fact, for many new elders, the alarm that might have dragged them out of bed for so many years has been permanently retired. Freed up from imposed schedules, some now find the freedom to make their own.” This is a vitally important point, in that, most of us cannot spend 40 years of creating the schedules and routines that give our lives structure, then suddenly descend into 30 to 40 more of unplanned “relaxation.” For many of us, a schedule will remain important in our second half of life, but because it can be one of our own choosing, we can imbue it with our purpose.
The freedom to pursue our passion, follow our dreams and, for the most ambitious of us, attempt to change the world, represents the ultimate purpose-driven call-to-action. Thus, helping your clients take the concept of “something to wake up for” past just throwing away the 9-to-5 alarm clock altogether may represent an important distinction. There’s still a reason to get up and make every day count in the second half of life, but it’s no longer an “alarm,” which conjures urgency, fear and apprehension. It’s instead an internal clarion call, driving us to seize the day with the power of purpose.
At its most basic level, the information above centers on the life-long search for meaning. The concept is simple, yet the execution can be incredibly difficult. The pitfall of mistaking “busyness for meaning” is a concept those either approaching or experiencing the second half of life must all understand. As Leider and Spears write, in the second half of life: “You quickly find out if you are comfortable in your own skin, or if the meaning of life is found in the busyness of your day.”
I believe it’s harder to get out of the “busy” mindset than we think. If you spend 30 or 40 years pursuing “busyness” in your life, then simply changing that mindset on your first day of retirement is likely akin to quitting smoking cold turkey. Make time for this conversation with your clients, as they may need your help in exploring these emotions and feelings at or near retirement.
As with so many things, we need to spend some of the first half of our lives preparing for how we will live in the second half; it’s foolish to think that we can simply turn on a dime when the time comes. I hope that this article and the stories that inspired it have given you a few ideas to help in your search for meaning, and that, if so, you will share it with others to assist in their search for purpose.