One of the most accepted measurements of success in the twenty-first century is the accumulation of wealth. With financial resources comes personal and political influence, freedom and pleasure. Although we are aware of it, we seem to ignore the dictum that financial success does not necessarily bring happiness. Through a series of studies Canadian researcher Elizabeth Dunn found that how you spend your money is more critical than how much money you have in determining happiness. One of life’s greatest quests is the search to find happiness and purpose.
Many studies show that as we mature we tend to change our fixation on material gain to meaning in life and nurturing personal relationships. This also seems to be a characteristic of Baby Boomers (those born from 1946 to 1964). Baby Boomers growing up in the 1960’s and 1970s were heavily influenced by the culture of their day. The leaders of this tumultuous time in our country had a great distaste for commercialism and were more concerned about meaning in their life. Work for the Boomers was more about meaning than accumulating wealth. In the 1960s one of the most mentioned goals of a college education was to develop a “meaningful philosophy of life.”
So, what does this mean for us as Baby Boomers? Work continues to be a meaningful activity for this group. Thus, it is not surprising that most surveys indicate that they will continue to work into retirement. An additional reason is that many in this group are not prepared for retirement.
Although I do fall into this age group, I was raised in a much more conservative part of the country, so I was not as heavily influenced by the ideals of this time period. I do think that I have started to look at life and work with a more introspective fashion. Work should be something you enjoy, and you should derive good benefit from it so as to enjoy life. I am only one generation away from those who went through the depression of the 1930’s. For those living in that time period, surviving was a major goal. There was no time for enjoyment. Success was defined as “not going out of business.”
Now that we, as Baby Boomers, have a broadened perspective of life, we have the luxury of time to re-evaluate our definition of success. Obviously, it should have a financial component as there is nothing wrong with financial success.
Some define success as, “what counts is who you are”. I would take this to mean that you are kind, and you use your resources to help others.
Or maybe you can relate to Reiner Lomb. He was urged to do something radical with his life after he saw a news story on TV about the torture being perpetrated on children and their fathers in Africa. He quit his professional career to help people become the best they can be and help them find opportunities that mattered deeply to them. He was surprised at the number of people who wanted to align themselves with something they were passionate about. This is supported by a study done by Encore.org, which showed that more than 25 million Americans 50-70 years old are willing to share their professional skills. Reiner Lomb is an excellent example of applying leadership and technical skills to a social cause.
In re-evaluating our life’s work, we do not automatically assume that what we have been doing is of no value. Reiner Lomb acquired technical and leadership skills from his profession that gave him the ability to make the change he wanted. Bill Gates success at Microsoft gave him the enormous wealth that he is using wisely.
In looking for a new activity in this stage of our lives we need to combine the goals of making adequate income and finding ways that we can make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. This may just be helping an elderly neighbor or working part-time at a nonprofit organization. Often how we use our wealth can be a major focus. Organizations such as Samaritans Purse already have the logistics in place and are limited only by financial resources. Doctors Without Borders has quite a list of personnel needed in the medical field.
Where does this leave us as Baby Boomers? According to the Yankelovich studies, work continues to be a central part of our lives. Work for the Baby Boomer has always been more about meaning than accumulating wealth. Baby Boomers intend to continue work in retirement. Work is supposed to provide meaning that matters. I can relate to that.
Whatever we choose to do, it must have a purpose bigger than we are. This will give us a perspective about who we are and how we should relate to others.
This is a tremendous time to be alive. New technologies have created so many new opportunities. This is more fun than trying to choose a major in college. Now we have to dream.