You’re Never Too Old to Find More Meaning
Begin a new chapter or even a new book!
Posted Jun 21, 2018
The traditional Greeks view aging as a natural process that continues to bring new opportunities over one’s entire lifetime. While visiting the island of Santorini in Greece, we did what many tourists do: we rode a Greek donkey down to the old port. When faced with the prospect of descending the steep stairs from the village of Fira to the water’s edge where our boat was waiting, we decided that a donkey ride would be much more interesting and also a little easier than going on foot.
As we approached the row of donkeys leisurely soaking up the Greek sun, an elderly man eagerly motioned for us to choose his two donkeys. His name was Manolis and at an age when other people might shy away from rigorous activity, he was full of life’s energy. It was a happy day for him: the sun was shining, the donkeys were cooperating, and he had a chance to connect with visitors from all over the world.
Manolis proceeded to charm us: caring for us, checking that we were comfortable in the saddles, and generally, making us feel safe and secure as we descended the steep stairs. He was as sure-footed as the donkeys and was in excellent physical shape from navigating the steep stairs many times a day.
Upon reaching the water’s edge, we dismounted, paid his fee, and thanked him again for taking such great care of us. Manolis nodded, grinned from ear to ear, and then quickly turned to lead the donkeys up the stairs to meet his next customer. For Manolis, aging didn’t imply that he was weak or no longer of use to others. On the contrary, Manolis found meaning in every interaction—he felt valued and he felt alive!1
Traditional retirement can present a crisis of meaning. Retirement can be a very difficult time as we are forced to reevaluate who we are and come to grips with such universal, existential issues as the loss of structure, status, influence and financial security, increased isolation, new health care challenges, and the mistaken perception that “I am what I do.” We may wonder what direction to take for the next decade or even “what should I do for the rest of my life?”
Unfortunately, the current approach to this major life transition is too focused on financial matters and too focused on the question, “Will I have enough money to fund my retirement until I die?” Just because we have saved money for our retirement doesn’t mean that we will live a meaningful life during the remaining final chapters of our lives. Just because we fill our day with activities, no matter how leisurely they may be, it doesn’t mean that we will feel fulfilled. Life without purpose and, ultimately, without meaning, effectively means that we are dying instead of living, surviving instead of thriving.
To retire literally means to withdraw or retreat. Perhaps it is time to discard our traditional view of retirement at the age of 55 or 65 and take a more innovative view of what we might experience in the next phase in our lives.
You are never too old to start something new. Entrepreneurship for people over the age of 50 is booming as more and more people are undertaking new adventures. Some are reconnecting with their lost dreams and once released from previous work obligations, have decided to “do what I always wanted to do,” and in doing so, find deeper meaning in their life. Others see a new opportunity and want to put the wisdom they have garnered over the years to good use. We can all be inspired by examples of people who embarked on new ventures at the age of 50+ as well as those who demonstrated an authentic commitment to living and working with meaning in their so-called "golden years."
You are never too old to begin another chapter or even a whole new book in life. The choice is yours. Recognize that even if you want to continue to live the same life for the next twenty years or more, everything around you is still changing. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus taught us, “all is in flux” and “you never step into the same river twice” for the river (world) around us is always changing. Perhaps it’s time to take a lesson from Manolis and approach aging as an exciting and meaning-filled opportunity to begin a new adventure and feel alive!
1. Excerpted from our book, The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work.