January 26, 2005 in Business

Don’t falter at that next crucial step

Tim Mcguire United Feature Syndicate
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Baby boomers have gotten used to being the center of the universe in America. The nation built schools for us, reacted to us when we rebelled, changed Madison Avenue to appeal to us, and now the Social Security system is bracing for our mass retirement. Statisticians say that for the next 12 years there will be 10,000 people a day in the United States turning 50 years old.

One of my friends wrote the other day wondering what he should do now. He joins a long list of people I talk to who are trying to discern what they are being called to do in the next season of their life. Many people struggle with whether their next path will come in the form of a subtle suggestion or will be cast in obvious neon. Some are looking for a clear call from their Creator. Others are content to “see how things work out.” Still others lean more toward the “bull in the china shop” path. They are intent on “making something happen.” Another friend is convinced his biggest contribution can come from sharing his wisdom with others, especially family members.

An excellent, readable, new book called “Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose” by Richard Leider and David A Shapiro, details a remarkably cogent way of thinking about what’s next. That friend who is sharing his wisdom with his family is on the exact path Leider and Shapiro recommend.

The authors encourage us to become “new elders” and serve as resources for wisdom and power to our families and communities. The fire metaphor is a compelling one. Rather than being pushed away from the fire and pushed out of the action, Leider and Shapiro urge us to use our experiences and wisdom to move close to the fire to enrich all who follow us in work, family and community.

Leider and Shapiro contend there are four flames of fire. The first flame is of identity — Who am I? The second flame is for community — Where do I belong? The third flame is for passion — What do I care about? The fourth flame is for meaning — Why am I here?

The book is provocative and demands personal reflection. Each thoughtful reader will take different lessons from it.

That friend who feels so strongly about sharing his wisdom with his family will identify with the “Who am I?” question. He is intent on sharing his mistakes and his successes with his children so their journey is richer and more fulfilling. He believes his values, his faith and his frustrations can light the way for the young people at the fire.

I identify with the need to determine “Where do I belong?” I love the sun of the Southwest, but should I let climate be the sole determinant of where I settle for the long-term? I also have to consider family, friendships and where I can make the most positive contribution. I need to give more consideration to how where I live shapes the larger picture of my life.

Another close friend enjoyed a tremendously successful career in newspapers. The word “love” is often overused, but he genuinely loves newspapers. His friends worry that he works too hard to share his wisdom with young journalists, yet that is obviously where his passion lies. He desperately wants newspapers to survive and flourish and he wants to be a part of that. It is his passion and no matter how tired he gets, sharing his wisdom is essential for his happiness.

One of the most dangerous tendencies I personally fight is to believe I have already answered the meaning of life question with the first 55 years of my life. Too many older people think of meaning and purpose as past tense questions. Those questions must be present tense. The search for meaning should drive us every day. If our legacy speaks to only part of our life we have failed.

Tip for your search: No matter which stage of life you’re in, write down the four questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? What’s my passion? Why am I here? Put the questions in your wallet or purse and revisit them often.

Resource for your search: “Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose,” by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro (Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc. 2004)

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