“I have learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life” Maya Angelou

Finding one’s purpose is dynamic not static, evolving over our lifetimes. Finding purpose is about how to use your talents to contribute to the greater good, it is not simple how you use your talents to earn a living. We experience a deep sense of fulfillment when we live our purpose. The question what is my purpose, is answered in one’s third act in a uniquely different way than it was in early adulthood and midlife. Especially, since these additional thirty years of life are a relatively new phenomena for humans.

Historically, earning a living was completed and you retired at 65 years old. Now many people opt to continue working rather than retire. A new era has unfolded in the workplace with research showing five generations working together now. We are recomposing our lives as we go along says cultural anthropologist Catherine Bateson. This composing and recomposing process is more akin to improvising jazz, than to moving box step through the old linear adult development models. How do we activate the wisdom gained during our lifetimes to improvise our futures?

We can learn from how others have approached making a fulfilling life in the third act. Jane Fonda wrote a New York Times best selling book about her notion of purpose in the third act e.g. “finishing the work of being you” by taking a deep dive into examining and resolving earlier life issues. A brilliant woman who spent her career in the E-suite of non-profits is, building houses around the world with Habitat for Humanity, enjoying the added benefit of keeping her in great shape! A family matriarch uses her planning skills for annual reunions, her counseling skills to support younger family members work through tough times and her research skills to develop the family history.

Your happiness and well-being are determined by your fulfillment through purpose in this final life stage. Otherwise, you will probably suffer from failing health, loneliness and depression. That is the challenge and there are as many approaches to meet it, as there are individuals.

Consider this as you improvise your purpose in the third act. A method for clarifying purpose and avoiding the pitfalls along the way as you compose this stage of life may be clarifying your intentions. Intentions set the underlying energy or meaning of your actions.

For example:

  • I intend to learn from the younger co-workers, as I share my relevant wisdom at work.
    • Your focus is on the here and now, without pushing against change by always looking back.
  • I intend to stay connected with old friends and make new multi-generational friends in my retirement.
    • Your focus is on nurturing relationships, the most fundamental human need, thus avoiding retirement grief.
  • I intend to be a role-model to my family on how to age well.
    • Your focus is on maintaining your physical and mental health in order to stay actively engaged in life.

“If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good” Maya Angelou