Last fall, I was driving home after two days of client meetings in Wichita. The combination of those meetings, not sleeping in my own bed for two nights, living out of a suitcase, and the prospect of almost three hours on the road left me feeling exhausted. I turned on the radio and an old Beatles song came on, “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt I was 64 years old and I understood the song. Some of the lyrics of the song are:
When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now…
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone…
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
On a professional basis, I work with older clients that face a similar question. Do they still have purpose, do they still have worth, as they grow older? It can become particularly pronounced in a situation where someone has been a caregiver for a spouse, and then the spouse passes away. They feel like they are purposeless.
I am sure you have seen it as well. Some people retire and seem to slide into oblivion. They seem to have no purpose; they seem to have no goals.
But then you see other people; those who seem to spring to life after retirement.
Similarly, I see those who have lost a spouse and die shortly after. On the other side of the spectrum, I see those who carry on. Though they do not forget their deceased spouse, they carry on with a new life. I suspect they know that is what their spouse would want.
If you have not read the book “Being Mortal”, I would strongly recommend it to you. In it, the author discusses that we all need purpose, regardless of age. One of his criticisms of putting someone into long term care is that many times we take away their purpose. Maybe that purpose was to check on the crops; it could have been taking care of their spouse; it could have been their job. But they had a purpose, and now it is gone.
There are ways around that. As the author points out in “Being Mortal”, giving a person in a nursing home a job to do creates purpose. Researchers have shown that even a job of feeding a bird daily provides purpose.
I write this article as I have zoomed past 64 and am looking at the prospects of turning 65 in just a handful of days. I am thankful that I still have purpose in my life, whether that be my work, being a spouse, being a parent, or being a grandparent. It all gives me purpose.
I do not want to overstate this though: turning 65 has caused a lot of retrospective thoughts. More on that later.
Regardless of your age, create purpose. You have to create the purpose. You have to find the purpose. Whether you are turning 65 or 95, you can always have purpose. Purpose is what keeps you going; purpose is what makes the day worth living.