By John D. Anderson, Next Avenue Contributor
Your second half of life can be invigorated and energized by living out one or more of three opportunities. You can do all three at once, but will benefit most by focusing your energy on one, and enjoying the other two as additional fuel.
- Pursue Professional Mastery
- Revive a Dream
- Improve Your World
Why not just kick back and drift? In his book, On Fire, John O’ Leary counsels, “You can’t always choose the path you walk in life, but you can always choose the manner in which you walk it.” That’s good advice for those of us at or near retirement age.
So, let’s explore each of our three opportunities:
1. Pursue Professional Mastery
In our first‐half careers, many of us pursued success as identified by matrices like income, achievements and getting to the top. That’s fine. That kind of drive got the economy roaring and gave many boomers an amazing lifestyle. But there’s a downside. O’Leary says, “When you chase success, your spark burns out quickly. When you do something of significance, the spark jumps to life, spreads to others, and burns brightly long after you are gone.”
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The opportunity for us now is to reflect on valuable experiences from the past to define (or in many cases simply refine) specific areas of expertise where you also gain energy.
The work I’m advocating is about using your unique contribution and creativity, coupled with flexibility, and opting out of the mainstream. It’s about feeling empowered, fulfilled, and valuable.
Mastery is defined as a comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment. My definition of professional mastery is narrowing down your scope to include only those specific items that give you consistent energy and a deep sense of contribution to humanity.
During your career stage you probably took on greater levels of responsibility and authority as you went along and were in turn rewarded financially for it. In this next stage, I am encouraging you to narrow your focus to those few things that you never tire of learning about, exploring and discussing.
Give yourself permission to go much deeper into your area of unique contribution. The payoff of this approach is you will likely earn just as much or more money for your unique contribution — while putting in less effort!
Perhaps you’ll start a business of your own. Or, perhaps, you’ll come back to your current employer, but as a contract worker. Professional mastery looks different for each individual. But think hard about maximizing your impact while freeing yourself from doing whatever you consider burdensome and energy draining.
2. Revive a Dream
In January 1895, American author Henry James debuted a play on the London stage. It was a total disaster and a financial failure. James was 53 at the time. Friends and family urged him to quit and retire. Refusing to bow out, James redoubled his efforts.
In the years to follow, James wrote numerous masterpieces including The Turn of the Screw — arguably his greatest work. James perpetually saw his future as “large and full and high.” For anyone approaching (or exceeding) middle age, that’s great advice. Repeated and acted upon, it can change our entire outlook.
What does this story tell you? It’s time to reignite your passion.
A wonderful option in the second half is reviving that dream. You know, the one you left behind to get a real job. You now have more time, more wisdom and a lifetime of experiences to draw from and express.
Now that you have greater control of your schedule, indulge yourself in the arts, sciences and athletics.
If you’re visually inclined, get those oil paints out of the closet. Grab a sketchbook and head outdoors. Try a class in graphic design or letterpress. Take that photography class you’ve been putting off. Join the ranks of over‐50 artisans who are bringing beauty to society.
Maybe you’re a writer or a poet. If so, massage that gift and share it with the world. Self‐publish a book on your favorite subject. Submit short stories to local publications. Start a blog. Collect oral histories. Write a novel. Join a writers’ group.
You can call upon the wisdom you have gained from your career. Peter Drucker was one of the most influential thinkers on management theory and practice. Business Week called him, “the man who invented management.” In all, Drucker wrote 39 books. And here’s the wild part — he wrote two‐thirds of them after age 65. Instead of retiring, he worked joyfully until he died just short of his 96th birthday.
Maybe you like to build things. Dust off that workshop and get busy. Xprize.com has projects just waiting for innovative solutions that will massively impact lives. So does Habitat for Humanity.
Do you love the outdoors? Manage a campground. Organize the community garden.
If you love music, unpack that guitar. Tune up that piano. Enroll in lessons, join a group, or have a jam session. If you played an instrument in high school or college, you’ll find enormous joy and energy in picking it back up.
History is full of painters, authors, and naturalists who did their finest and best‐known work after 60. Geniuses like Picasso, Monet, and Wagner worked at a high level well into their old age. If they could do it, so can you.
3. Improve Your World
Many major corporations are putting social responsibility at the core of their business model. And wisely so. To an increasing number of stockholders, a company’s social footprint is just as important as their financial health. In fact, “doing well by doing good” has almost become institutionalized.
As a result, you might be tempted to think the big corporate players have it covered. Or maybe you look around and think the world’s problems are so enormous that an individual like you can’t make a difference.
Wrong on both counts.
You are absolutely needed, and in my mind, obligated to pitch in.
The urge to be a positive force for change can range from meeting local needs (like tutoring kids or stocking a food pantry) to tackling international issues (like human trafficking or preventable childhood diseases).
The role of the “little guy” in solving problems cannot be overstated. Lives and communities are improved one person at a time through millions of small interactions.
O’Leary encourages us to look for “small” opportunities to improve our world. The kinds of problems we could help solve right in our own backyards. Makes sense.
Maybe you’re wondering if you can find time to do something vitally important. I say you can — but only if you’re willing “to make the changes necessary to have a significant second half.” That challenge is from Bob Buford’s Half Time: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance.
So drop some nonessential activities. Then roll up your sleeves. What you do behind the scenes may not grab headlines. But it will improve the world, revitalize your life and inspire others. Best of all, you’ll create and inspire others to live a legacy of significance and purpose.
Let’s vow not to be surprised by old age. Instead, let’s surprise the world with what we have to offer.
(This article is excerpted from Replace Retirement: Living Your Legacy in the exponential age by John D. Anderson. Published by Lioncrest Publishing.)