Those of us approaching retirement, and many of those already there, often reflect on the meaning of their lives. Many find that meaning through serving others. I wrote a piece on the subject for the Encore section of The Wall Street Journal, which you’ll find below. I also encourage you to visit the WSJ site and join the discussion.

Originally published in the Wall Street JournalJanuary 14, 2014

As Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

I’ve now interviewed hundreds of people who found their way to post midlife work with deep personal meaning. In nearly every case, it starts with some version of service, advising, mentoring or volunteering. These are all things you’re well positioned to do after amassing years of experience. It might be called the “give yourself away” approach. And giving yourself away is a surefire approach to helping your skills find their next use.

There are a slew of programs that provide a structured way of offering your talents and skills to organizations that need them.

Of course, nothing should stop you from giving yourself away in a structure you design for yourself. For Vicki Thomas, one winner of this year’s Purpose Prize, motivation struck while she was watching a CNN segment about two young veterans who started Purple Heart Homes to retrofit foreclosed homes for wounded soldiers. With decades of public relations and marketing experience work behind her, Thomas, then 64, instantly knew that she had what was needed to help these two men take their venture to the next level. She cold-called the co-founders, offered herself up gratis, and ultimately became the organization’s director of communications. In her first year on the job, revenues for the nonprofit grew by 600%. Dale Beatty and John Gallina, the co-founders of Purple Heart Homes, say that Thomas’s involvement has completely changed the trajectory of their organization. But it may have changed Thomas even more. As she puts it: “As I grew older I realized that I was performing a function but missing a passion. I was contributing to someone else’s purpose, but missing a purpose of my own.”

Share This