Finding a Sense of Purpose

In younger years, our work contributed to a sense of purpose. When asked “What do you do?” we responded with a job tag. Work helped define us. It helped identify our social currency. It placed us in the social order. Particularly for the boomer generation, work was a powerful identifier. We worked to buy a house, car and maybe an overseas trip or two. We worked to educate our kids and give them a good start in life. Work or a career was usually in one field and at the most, 3 or 4 employers in our working life. We stayed in jobs a long time.

But what happens when a career is no longer the motivator to get you up in the morning?  You’re now retired- some with a bucket of money and others with a teaspoon full!  It can be a great relief not to have to go to work and freedom at last to do the things we really want to do. Some retirees find part time work, become unpaid carers for the family – or embark on new adventures like VIVA 70!

We know that a sense of purpose is crucial for good mental health. Purpose can sound lofty and as if you need to change the world. Put simply, purpose is what makes you bounce out of bed in the morning anticipating a good day. But purpose is harder to find if you are lonely.  Some older people live alone and with children living in other countries. Others in a relationship suddenly find themselves together 24 hours a day and going nuts. They need separate interests and an identity apart from the partnership. Yet others find themselves living on their own in their later years- some, very happily and others missing a soul mate. Purpose, identity and well – being are 3 parts of the age well triangle and how we choose to live our older years.

In this article let’s look at these 3 connected elements. George Bernard Shaw had a great perspective on Purpose.

This is the true joy of life –the being used for a purpose that is recognised by yourself as a mighty one instead of being a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

I have those days of being a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances! The one person pity party. It’s those days more than any other that I need to reconnect with purpose. On retirement I spent a year of doing nothing- my reward for 47 years of work (you can read about it in the article A Year of No Shoulds on this website. My transition year was great but messy. I emerged with a strong need to DO something more than pulling weeds that regrew, making food that was eaten in minutes and watching Netflix until my eyes were sore and rusty.

Twelve months was enough time to disconnect the formal work part of my life and look at new beginnings. I needed a purpose. This is what I learned about purpose

  • Make a list of things you really like to do… and do them. Constraints are part of life- money, health and moments of sadness. Excuses can become bad habits. “I can’t do a day trip because I haven’t got the money, the washing needs doing, I’m too tired etc.”
  • Stay open to ideas that come to you- keep a notebook- let ideas marinate for a while- don’t leap at the first idea. I had a list of 15 things I want to do in these years- A Bucket List by any other name!

  • Try to experience new places and things. Its amazing who and what you find! I went to Melbourne fashion week. Sitting next to me was a woman busily taking photos with her iPhone. Zoe Singleton is a fashion photographer and content creator – a blogger ( I had to google “blogger” to find out what one is, that’s how little I knew about this internet business world.
  • Create an interest- It might be writing children’s books (David Walliams seems to have done alright in his shift from comedian to author), making jewellery, making baby clothes, repairing old cars. Research and look around- check out different things- you may want to teach piano, be part of a choir or sell produce at farmers markets. I spent hours looking at websites and seeing what others were doing. Margaret Manning at is inspirational and I made viewing the latest post of Mornings with Margaret a ritual at breakfast time. I followed the trail of creative crumbs and that lead to the wonderful Suzi Grant, a nutritionist and fashion blogger  and my ideas were taking shape.
  • Push the edges of your purpose. Take considered risks outside your comfort zone. Learn new things and do what I call The Fear Test for Growth. My FTFG looked like this. Most mornings I felt very cool about my new blogger status. My dress code improved and I bought purple glasses- sure sign of a creative at work! Other days, I was gripped with panic when I realised how much I had to learn.  What is a pixel? What are google analytics? What are royalty free photos? The technical side of this enterprise was terrifying to me. It was then I knew I was on the right track. This project passed the FTFG test and gave me purpose!
  • Finally, find the right people to be by your side in creating a new purpose. If it’s planting a new area of your garden connect with friends who share your passion. Check out the local gardening club. In my case, being clear about where expert help was needed. A patient graphic designer who really heard what I wanted and made it easy for me to manage the site and get the look I wanted for Viva70   My social media is currently handled by a wonderful young woman, Annerley who just makes it all happen while I struggle to know the difference between tweets and hashtags.

How are you finding purpose in your Third Age? What has worked for you? Do share your comments. We’d love to hear.








30 January 2019 | Living Well

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