Fulfilled living in later life
Finding your purpose in life

Tuesday 10th May 2022

Finding your purpose in life

Louise Morse

When Kathleen O’Neil, director of programs and research for a non-profit educational services society, was tasked with writing a grant proposal about engaging local seniors in technology she did some research to see if there was anything interesting already happening. What she found was unbelievably depressing. “All the stuff that I came across was written by young 20-year-olds who were saying things like ‘among the aged,’ like we were some kind of weird anthropological study group… That got my dander up. They have no idea what it is to age. Ageing is so powerful and so interesting.” That was the moment when she decided something must be done—leading her to create a film about aging by those actually living it.

She called it, ‘Hip to be Old’ because “To get the word out wide and far and loud and clear: It’s not just OK to be old, it’s hip to be old,” she said. “Instead of portraying the aging population in the typical light – unproductive, sickly, depressing, dependent, out-of-touch, cognitively impaired, incompetent and irrelevant – this film elevates their charisma, wisdom and spunk.” The full film is not currently available to the general public, but she is talking with various universities, media outlets, and other institutions to plan ways in which to bring the film to a broad public audience in a strategic way to have a meaningful and provocative social impact. She said she has high expectations the film will become a “cult classic.”

Society and the mainstream media, she explained, are often focused on what she called the ‘decline model’ of ageing. She instead wanted to focus on the ‘fulfilment model’. It comes at a timely moment because a different way of looking at old age is emerging, largely due to the numbers of ageing Baby Boomers and increasing attention to the pervasiveness and destructiveness of ageism. “There are a lot of us out there living this fulfilment model—older adults who are thoroughly enjoying the process of aging, embracing the power and freedom it brings. This group is just quiet; they’re not speaking up.”

Thousands making life changes

Thousands of people aged 50 and over in the UK are looking for their own kind of fulfilment by retiring early. So many over 50s have left their jobs that the ONS took an unprecedented step and asked them why? The Telegraph reports: ‘The largest group to quit their jobs with no intention of finding a new one were professionals and associate professionals – including doctors, scientists, defence staff, people in manufacturing, transport and financial services. 60% of them hadn’t expected to leave work early. Perhaps more surprisingly, the ONS figures showed that only 15% of them had lost their job.’ Among the reasons they gave were – their job not offering flexible working, not feeling valued, wanting a change in lifestyle, too much stress and simply not wanting to work anymore.

The head of business development at pension company Royal London, Clare Moffatt wonders if the huge Covid threat to life and health made people take a hard look at their lives and questioned if it was actually what they wanted. Often people who retire early go back to work or find other jobs because they miss socialising, or feel their lives have less purpose.

An opportunity that will increase a sense of purpose is opening for retired Christians in the Church of England, which has introduced a new scheme that will use their lifetime of work experience and gear them towards priesthood. It’s called the Caleb Stream and aims to train those in their late 50s, 60s, or 70s who feel a calling to be a priest. Until recently people were not put forward for ordination after the age of 55, but the Caleb Stream is looking to attract those who are already involved in church life as churchwardens or lay ministers. ‘We are looking for those who have served the Lord faithfully over many years, those who are involved in serving and in ministry in their churches and have experience of much of what it will be like to be the ordained minister of the church,” said Sam Follett, who oversees recruitment into these streams. By fast-tracking people into the priesthood, the Church of England will be helping overstretched vicars share their load with existing members of the community.

A Scripture verse that throws light into our purpose in life is Ephesians 2:10, which says, ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (NIV). If God has prepared them in advance, He will bring them to us. Our purposes can be obvious roles in life or can be little, social things that make a huge difference. People living in our housing and care homes are aware of their value and that God has a plan for their lives. I often tell of the 103-year-old who witnessed to the district nurse called in to discuss end-of-life medications with her, but every day there are conversations and little touches that wouldn’t happen if the person involved wasn’t there. We are told to build one another up, and that’s what they are doing, sometimes with each other and sometimes with staff. All of our lives have meaning.

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