Finding Meaning Through a Boost of Creativity After 50
It's never too late to start living with meaning.
Posted Feb 21, 2018
In my article, “Searching for Meaning Beyond the 'Midlife Crisis',” I suggested that we move beyond labeling anyone from the age of 50 to 100 as a “senior” and, instead, look at this span of potentially 30 to 50+ years as a continuum along which we may encounter many different experiences. I also suggested using the age of 95 as a target, a graduation point you might say, that can act as a magnet to pull us into the future.
Yet age is just one factor to consider. A person might ask, “Why live a long life if I’m not finding meaning in this long life?" As I shared in my latest book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, the world-renowned psychiatrist and existential philosopher Viktor Frankl so wisely concluded, “Even more people today have the means to live but no meaning to live for.”1
Many people tend to follow the conventional roadmap—work until 55 or 65, announce their retirement, vow to spend more time with grandchildren, periodically seek the warmth of sunnier climates, focus on health challenges, and methodically recalculate whether they will outlive their nest egg or if their nest egg will outlive them.
While some people relish and find fulfillment with this type of somewhat predictable lifestyle, others do not. Many people are neither satisfied nor fulfilled—some feel that there is something big they are still meant to do with their talents, some are troubled that their world is shrinking without the social interaction they found in their previous workplace, some are simply just frustrated with the realization that their major challenge of the day is replacing a light bulb or deciding what to do about dinner.
Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all. But for those who are frustrated, a paradigm shift (a fundamental change in the basic concepts and practices) is needed to address this lack of meaning in the later years. Instead of just accepting the conventional road map, I suggest we encourage a more innovative approach to living during these later years.
This innovative approach begins with encouraging a boost of creativity. In order to do so, we must challenge our current beliefs about creativity:
The young are creative, the old are not.
Are the "young" naturally more creative than the "old"? Or is it that the young feel free to express their creativity while the old shy away from such expression? Or is it that the old become stuck in the “right way” of doing things or the “accepted way” of doing things when the young have yet to learn these constraints? Or is it that the old are dissuaded from expressing their creativity, with the exception perhaps of the ‘true arts?” The belief that creativity declines with age needs to be challenged.
I’ve never been the creative type.
Some individuals seem to have a greater ability to discover new ideas and, importantly, share them with others. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld are able to make connections between things that make people laugh and think, why didn’t I think of that?
Some people think that creativity is an untouchable skill with which only a few are blessed. While I agree that creative skills can be honed, I disagree that raw creativity, the ability to make new connections is only the limited to the few. I believe that creativity is waiting to flow through all of us, just like electricity is waiting to flow through the wires in our house. All we have to do is switch it on and, importantly, not interrupt the flow with our self-doubt.
The bigger question is not whether you are creative or not, it is, “How are you creative?” Everyone is creative in their own way. For example, Bill Gates may be a creative thinker in the computer field but might not be as creatively inclined with gardening. Wayne Gretzky might be a creative thinker when it comes to hockey and reading the relationships between players on the ice, but he might not be as creative when it comes to composing short stories. Another person might be creative in rearranging the chairs in a dining hall while yet another person might be creative in developing a new bitcoin substitute.
We are all unique individuals and each of us has a different way of expressing our talents, knowledge, values, and interests. We need to challenge the belief that creativity is limited to the chosen few.
I was creative but I shut it down and now it’s too late
Did you at one time see yourself as a creative person but then, through conditioning from others, start to suppress your own creativity in order to conform or to escape ridicule? Did you lose faith in your creative ability because someone planted the seed of self-doubt about it or suggested that expressing your creativity wasn’t as important as other skills.
Many of the barriers to creativity are self-imposed. Through the conditioning of others and the resultant self judgment, many people stop expressing their creativity. They start to limit their experiences with excuses such as: “I tried skiing years ago but I fell”, “I gave a speech once in high school and no one liked it”, “I’ve never tried that so now it’s too late”, “I would but I don’t know anyone to ask for help”, “They’ll think I’m a flake for trying that”, etc.. The fear of making a mistake, the fear of entering the unknown, or the fear of what others might think can lock a person into their own creative thinking prison. We need to challenge the belief that it’s too late to start something new in our later years. (Hint: It’s never too late to begin again!)
When we have joy in our hearts and passion in our souls, we are alive with creative energy. Living life fully means we are always finding new ways to express our creativity and as a result, new sources of meaning.
DON’T DIE WITH YOUR CREATIVITY STILL IN THE CLOSET!
In future articles, I will explore how the "innovation mindset" (incorporating creative, strategic, and transformational thinking) can help us find deeper meaning in our lives. Life is a continuous process of mixing, matching, and building upon what we have experienced and, as a result, "know." As such, I plan to mix, match, and build upon the key principles from my books on Innovation (The Seeds of Innovation) and Meaning (Prisoners of Our Thoughts and The OPA! Way), as well as my related research and experience, to demonstrate how you can innovate your life with meaning.
1. Frankl, Viktor E. (1978). The Unheard Cry for Meaning. New York: Washington Square, p. 21. See also: Pattakos, Alex, and Dundon, Elaine (2017). Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl's Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Chapter 4.