Several years ago, executive coach and author Richard J. Leider identified a pattern he calls "executive death syndrome," in which people who had retired at 65 died within three years. He wanted to find out why retirement worked perfectly for some and not others, so he interviewed a sampling of retirees 65 and older, asking them what they would do differently if they could live their lives over.
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Almost to a person, the retirees told him they would be more reflective, instead of being so caught up in the challenges of daily life that they missed the bigger picture. They said they would take more risks the second time around. But their chief concern as they looked back on their lives to date was purpose — they wanted their lives to matter, to have made a difference.
Leider has long advocated for the importance of having a purpose, and has also spoken on the dangers of isolation. Social isolation and loneliness are problems at any age, but occur more often as people grow older.
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"Many people die with their music still inside them," Oliver Wendell Holmes said more than 150 years ago. Leider, who wrote The Power of Purpose, is a pioneer in the field of positive aging. Identifying your purpose in life — what gets you up in the morning and what energizes you and brings passion to your life — is important at any age. But to live your best life when you're on the other side of 50, it's essential, Leider has explained.
Leider is a big believer in the power of nurturing. Taking care of pets, plants and/or kids not only helps people avoid isolation, but actually results in their living seven years longer, on average, he said. "Isolation is fatal," he said. "We need to do a better job of helping people reimagine what they truly care about in life," he said, noting that just one out of five people say they are excited about getting up and going to work every day.
Volunteering can also be a great way to bring meaning back into life, especially for people who are no longer working. The opportunities are virtually limitless, and one of the best aspects is being able to define the amount of time you put into it. Many volunteers start out small, at just an hour or two a week, and soon find that they want to do more and more.
The bottom line, Leider has said, is to live an authentic version of life — your own.
Leider's life work involves bringing older people hope, connection and purpose. He is the founder and chairman of the Inventure Group, a coaching and consulting firm in Minneapolis.
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Learn more about how AARP Foundation helps vulnerable older adults win back opportunity