You need to meet my friend Gary Sweeten. Gary is a counselor, leadership development expert, entrepreneur, and mental health guru. Every conversation with him turns into a cascade of big ideas and boisterous laughter.
Gary is a Baby Boomer, and he’s counseled many of his peers through the adjustment to retirement. In one of our many conversations, Gary, with his irrepressible enthusiasm, proposed an idea for church ministry: “The church needs a ministry to help all these retired Baby Boomers figure out how to re-deploy their gifts and their accumulated skill and life knowledge, using them for growing the kingdom of God. We could call it ‘Sizzlin’ Seniors.’ There’s a HUGE need for something like that. People would come flocking to your door.”
Gary is right. There is a great need. A whole cottage industry had grown up around the idea of “Reinventing Yourself” in mid-career or after retirement.
Marc Freedman offers some helpful advice toward this end in his Harvard Business Review article, “The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention” Freedman says that the fantasy of leaving the past behind and forging a new identity is something that only works in movies and pulp novels. The fantasy is even dangerous: “More troublesome,” he adds, “is the underlying assumption that the past — in other words, our accumulated life experience — is baggage to be disregarded and discarded. Isn’t there something to be said for racking up decades of know-how and lessons, from failures as well as triumphs? Shouldn’t we aspire to build on that wisdom and understanding?”
Freedman suggests that we think of this stage of life in terms of “reintegration.” He suggests that this kind of work is best done by creatively applying your past accomplishments to your present situation. As an illustration, he tells the story of Gary Maxworthy:
As a young man, Maxworthy heard JFK’s call to service and aspired to join the Peace Corps. But practicality intervened: He had a family to support, and put his early dreams on hold to work. And work he did, for 32 years in the for-profit food distribution business. Then his wife died of cancer. That tragedy forced him to reevaluate his life, particularly how he would spend the coming decades. Maxworthy then joined VISTA, the domestic sister organization of the Peace Corps, which in its wisdom placed Maxworthy in the San Francisco Food Bank.
The food bank, he quickly realized, was only set up to distribute canned and processed foods. Meanwhile, his years in the food business had taught him that an enormous amount of fresh food is discarded daily by growers throughout the state, simply because it is blemished. Drawing on his knowledge of how to distribute large quantities of food in ways that preserved freshness, he launched Farm to Family — which distributes nutritious food, that otherwise would have been thrown out, to food banks in California and elsewhere.
Maxworthy might have been able to do some good as an idealistic young Peace Corps volunteer, but after a significant body of midlife work, he was able to accomplish something truly remarkable, something at the intersection of experience and innovation — qualities long regarded as oxymoronic in nature. You could say Maxworthy put two and two together, except in this case common sense logic led to something larger: this year Farm to Family distributed over 100 million pounds of food.
Reintegration. That fits so well with my understanding of God’s work in our lives. If we are truly God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10), then it makes sense that every season of life, even the painful ones, lay foundation for our present calling. Reintegration helps us understand the story of our lives, helps us grasp that “…in [God’s] book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me.” (Ps 139:16)
So, you ‘Sizzlin’ Seniors,’ what’s your story? Have you reviewed your life thus far, looking for themes and lessons? How have you ‘reintegrated’ these life themes into your present calling? Comments are open.
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