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Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old? | Richard J. Leider | Richard J. Leider

Summary of: Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?: The Path of Purposeful Aging
By: Richard J. Leider


Embark on a transformative journey into purposeful aging, where your later years are not seen as a period of decline, but an opportunity to evolve and contribute meaningfully. Rooted in the idea that life has substance and value, this book summary delves into the importance of becoming an intentional elder in a society that glorifies youth. As you navigate the mental and physical challenges of growing older, uncover the true essence of your life’s purpose by shedding ingrained societal notions, finding your path, and embracing your true self.

Embracing Purposeful Aging

Aging isn’t a decline, but an opportunity to continue thriving, growing, and contributing to society. Purposeful aging involves discovering new possibilities and finding meaning in life through a positive mindset. This mindset centers on purpose, acknowledging the value of one’s life.

Embrace Senior Adulthood

Don’t let society’s negative view of aging hold you back. Embrace senior adulthood as a meaningful and fulfilling life stage, and focus on what gives your days purpose. Society may celebrate youth, but the second half of your life is just as valuable as the first. Don’t shy away from the word “old” or fear the changes in your mind and body. Instead, reimagine them as opportunities to live according to your core values. Active aging is possible, but it starts with self-reflection and a positive attitude towards aging.

Purposeful Aging

Pivotal life events, such as retirement, present an opportunity for self-reflection and projection towards intentional elderhood. Defining your purpose involves identifying how you can contribute to the world, whom you wish to help, and pursuing activities that give you energy. A sense of purpose makes you more optimistic and resilient, and helps you actively engage with the world, unmask your true self, and express your spirituality. Through the body, memory, and soul theories, you can redefine yourself as you age and discover that purpose and spirituality are two sides of the same coin.

Learning, Evolving, and Giving

The purpose of our existence is to grow and give. Young adulthood activities have emotional and financial benefits, while elderhood provides the opportunity to explore profound questions. Asking questions leads to self-discovery and purpose. People experience feelings of regret later in life, but it’s never too late to redefine what success means. Tom Schreier’s retirement at 55 made him feel unmoored, so he redefined success for himself. He now provides tools to help people in their next phase of life.

The Definition of a Worthy Life

The concept of a valuable life is shaped by people’s history, culture, and role models. Hinduism views life as a progression through four stages, with spiritual enlightenment emphasized in the final two. On the other hand, modern society perceives retirement as a time for leisure pursuits and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. Finding personal satisfaction and fulfillment is the key to feeling wealthy. Practicing mindfulness, meditation, volunteering, and connecting with nature can be ways to achieve spiritual growth. Defining “enough” is crucial to prioritize spiritual satisfaction over monetary concerns.

Redefining Adulthood

Societal and familial expectations no longer dictate what it means to be an adult. The traditional model of education, job, companion, house, and children is evolving, and people are more accepting of alternative options. This extends into older age, where you are not bound to the default model leading to emptiness and dissatisfaction. Living without intention in areas like place, people, life work, and purpose creates a sense of something lacking in life. Choosing to overcome fears and not settling is a great challenge in later life. Fortunately, without the weight of making a living, you are free to switch to voluntary work, entrepreneurship, or hobbies to find purpose. You don’t have to live in one area just because you settled there; consciously choose where you prefer to live. If your circle of family and friends just stagnates or shrinks, develop new relationships. By making conscious choices in these areas, you can bring tremendous improvement to your outlook, leading to fulfillment and happiness.

Late-Life Crisis: A Natural Part of Aging

Late-life crisis is a normal stage of aging that can be triggered by different life events such as illness, boredom, or loss. It is characterized by feelings of discontent, fear of time running out, and questioning one’s purpose and faith. Symptoms include ruminating on mortality and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. However, this crisis presents an opportunity to change one’s mindset and shift the focus to new prospects. Sharing these feelings with trusted friends and family and exploring new practices such as consistent journaling or mindfulness can help in the recovery process. At the core of this recovery lies purpose- finding and expressing one’s deepest, most essential self by giving to others. Purpose is not only a luxury for good times but also essential for surviving and thriving in bad times.

Embracing Sage-ing

Life’s difficulties can be managed by accepting and transcending daily trials of aging. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi coined the term “sage-ing” to describe older people who are still learning, growing, giving, and living with pleasure. Sage-ing is the ability of elders to nurture young people and contribute to society with their wisdom. Psychologist Erik Erikson refers to this as “generativity.” By being a sage, you seek knowledge, make intentional choices, act with empathy and integrity, and forge a connection to something bigger than yourself.

Growing Whole While Growing Old

Your journey to becoming whole involves a balance of mind, body, and soul. Your authentic self is an amalgamation of your thoughts, emotions, and fears. Even though you never reach a state of wholeness, embracing your growth process allows you to face life with curiosity and less fear. To live a fulfilling life, you should accept the inevitability of death and focus on the purpose that drives you. The “grow and give” model encourages purposeful aging, which involves continuous learning, listening, and loving. It keeping you relevant and valuable as you get older. Gratitude for life’s fleeting nature and greater self-compassion come with age, intensifying the necessity of appreciating the present moment. Finally, true personal growth comes when you embrace your true self confidently, including the less desirable aspects.

Final Recap

Embrace purposeful aging, a perspective where your later years are filled with opportunities to learn, grow, and leave lasting impacts. By challenging societal norms around aging and assimilating an intentional elderhood, you pave the way for a deeply enriching and meaningful life. Gain clarity about your contributions in the world and fuel your days with optimism, resilience, and a sense of purpose. Remember that life’s fleeting nature intensifies the necessity of living in the moment and expressing gratitude for the time you have left. Indulge in self-reflection, foster personal growth, and take ownership of the unfolding of your life’s journey.

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