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Guest Column: The Power of Purpose After Retirement

Author: Gloria Dunn-Violin
April, 2016 Issue


Your purpose should fill you with passion and get you moving toward your goals.

How do we invigorate our lives after retirement? What do we do to replace the many hours we spent building careers and nourishing relationships at work and in related activities? How do we interact with family and friends now that we have too many hours to fill?

Discovering your personal purpose will direct you to a fulfilling and meaningful life beyond what you may have imagined. It will help you define your mission and why you exist, and energize you to be involved in life’s many blessings. Instead of feeling lost in a world that no longer requires your encompassing work focus, you’ll be involved in a new direction. It’s exciting and helps define your future.

Having a personal purpose is like having a master plan for your life: it takes your values, interests, ideas, skills, experience, wisdom, talents, and goodness of heart into the world to make a difference. The payback is incredible—the satisfaction you experience far exceeds many of life’s challenges.

Your purpose should fill you with passion and get you moving toward your goals. It pushes you forward on days that aren’t your best because you know there’s something important to accomplish. You’re on a mission, and it far outweighs some setbacks you may experience along the way.

Aggie is a spunky, no-nonsense woman who continues to be active at age 92. Young Aggie was always finding ways to help people. When a family in her neighborhood lost a loved one, she found community support services that the family needed. When her brother died in a car crash, she formed a support group to help herself and others deal with their grief. In her thirties, Aggie decided to go to college and become a social worker. With her degree, she built a practice and a nonprofit agency through which she’s helped thousands of people find their way through multiple their challenges.

Aggie still works to help others deal with the issues of life, although on a part-time basis now. When asked why she still works at 92, Aggie says, “My work gives me purpose—a reason to live. I receive so much personal satisfaction from what I do. It makes my heart feel good.”

Purpose also appears to have a potent ability to improve and extend lives.

“It’s a very robust predictor of health and wellness in old age,” says Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.

Following almost 1,000 people (age 80 on average) for up to seven years, Boyle’s team found that the ones with “high purpose” scores were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer’s than those with low scores. They also were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to the disease. “It slowed the rate of cognitive decline by about 30 percent, which is a lot,” says Boyle.

In addition, her study showed that purposeful people were less likely to develop disabilities. A sample of 1,238 people followed for up to five years (age 78 on average) by Rush researchers found those with high purpose had roughly half the mortality rate of those with low purpose.

Personal purpose appears to be a clear path to longevity and healthy lifespan as well as happiness and a worthwhile way to use our time. To discover yours, set aside time for deep thinking, writing and integrating the information that defines you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

• What are some of the patterns/themes that have run through my life?

• What motivated me to overcome my challenges?

• What did I dream about being when I was young?

• What type of people have I enjoyed being around?

• What always gives me pleasure?

• What activities did I dislike and find annoying?

• What kinds of activities was I drawn to over and over?

• What was so engrossing that it made the day fly by?

• What have I done in my spare time?

• What kinds of movies, books, and lectures am I drawn to?

Now, take those answers and use them to answer the following questions:

• Who am I?

• What do I do well?

• What are my values?

• How do I want to use my skills, talents and capabilities?

• How can I use all of this to the greater good to help others, the environment and the world?

Your purpose may not be clear at first, but continue to think and write; insights will eventually emerge. Experience your purpose by connecting with people, organizations and activities that feed your inner self and encourage it to find expression.

You may become one of the stories about people who do amazing things when inspired to action because they’re living on purpose. By helping yourself, others and the world, you’ll make the contributions for which you were born to give.

Gloria Dunn-Violin is a professional speaker, certified retirement life coach, seminar leader and business consultant through her company, Having a Life After Making a Living. She has more than 25 years experience in organizational behavior and development as a trainer, facilitator, consultant and coach. She also advises financial, insurance and other businesses on how to provide their clients and employees with meaningful advice about aging and retirement. For free information, visit her website at or contact her at (415) 259-7090 or



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