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5 Ways to Infuse Meaning in Your Second Act

What you can learn from Peter Drucker, Bonnie Raitt and others

By Bruce Rosenstein

If you’re a boomer thinking about your second act, odds are that two things, rightfully and understandably, are on your mind: money and health. But don’t ignore the importance of purpose and meaning.

Writing about their research in the journal Psychological Science earlier this year, Patrick Hill of Canada’s Carleton University and Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center noted that purpose predicts a longer life for younger and older adults alike. “Finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve, can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says Hill.

For a great second-act role model, consider Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, who died in 2005 at the age of 95. Drucker had a long career as a writer, professor, consultant, and self-described “social ecologist” and his second act radiated purpose and meaning. Most of Drucker’s 39 books were published after his 65th birthday. (I recently wrote a book based on his principles, Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way: Developing and Applying a Forward-Focused Mindset.)

(MORE: Purpose Prize Winners: Doing Great Work After 60)

Here are five strategies inspired by Drucker’s later life and career that can help infuse purpose and meaning into your second act:

1. Combine your talents and passions Renowned singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt, 64, is a 10-time Grammy Award winner and, according to Rolling Stone, one of the 100 best singers and 100 best guitarists of all time. Raitt is just as well known for her lifelong commitment to social activism as she is for her music.

She has long been mixing her performances with her work in the environmental movement — offering concerts around issues such as oil, nuclear power, mining, water, and forest protection since the 1970s. Additionally, she works on matters of social justice, human rights, and music education. And, over the course of her career, Raitt has partnered with some 100 nonprofits, including Little Kids Rock, Defenders of Wild Life and the Clean Water Fund.  

(MORE: Pivot to a Second Act With Purpose)

2. Break new ground After 33 years teaching political science and statistics at Yale and Princeton, Edward Tufte created an all-new niche for himself. Today, the 72-year-old Tufte is a bona fide guru in the presentation of graphical and statistical information. Since 1993, hundreds of thousands of data-driven professionals — web designers, marketing analysts, medical researchers  and others — have attended his day-long seminars on Information Design.

And Tufte’s books, including Beautiful Evidence and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, are popular worldwide. Once described by The New York Times as “the Leonardo da Vinci of data,” Tufte accomplished a first: he converted information into art.

(MORE: A Manual for Encore Careers)


3. Develop a multifaceted personal brand The founder and former CEO of the boutique hotel company Joie de Vivre, Chip Conley has built a unique personal brand at the intersection of business and psychology. A TED talker, Conley, 53, is a sought-after speaker and the author of four books, including Emotional Equations and Peak. Last year, Airbnb, the community-driven hospitality company, hired Conley to serve as its head of global hospitality.

On his website, Conley describes himself as: “Hotel guru. Armchair psychologist. Traveling philosopher. Author. Speaker. Teacher. Student.” Now that’s a multifaceted personal brand.

4. Help ease the pain of others To care for people and help them heal is sacred work. Jean Watson, 74, is pioneer of the Theory of Human Caring, a science and a set of philosophies and practices designed to restore the profound nature of caring-healing as well as to bring the ethic and ethos of love back into health care. Watson is founder and director of the Watson Caring Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. and Distinguished Professor Emerita and Dean Emerita at the University of Colorado, Denver, College of Nursing. Last year, she was recognized as a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nursing, the organization’s highest honor.

5. Never stop learning Celebrated writer and futurist Alvin Toffler is author of the landmark bestseller Future Shock, originally published in 1970. But at 85 he remains an active and respected futurist.

Toffler encapsulates the necessity to keep learning in this way: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

Hill and Turiano’s research suggests that you can find purpose at any point in life. But why wait another minute? Follow Drucker’s lead — and get started today.

Bruce Rosenstein is a leading management writer and speaker. A former researcher and business writer for USA Today, he is managing editor of Leader to Leader and author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way (McGraw-Hill) and Living in More Than One World (Berrett-Koehler). For more information, visit Read More
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