On Finding Purpose in Stewardship

My purpose, I think, is to lead a good life. A good, moral, ethical life. And to do what I can to lead and influence others by being a good example.” ~ Joe A.

Today, we’re continuing our profiles of “folks of a certain age” who are in the throes of defining how to achieve fulfillment in this stage of life — what I’m calling the third quarter of life, which can last up to 20 years. 

This is the stage of life where people have traditionally retired after long careers. However, as we have done throughout our lives, our generation seems to be re-defining this stage.

Some are truly retired — for now. Some are semi-retired — maybe still working, but not as hard as they have in the past. And others are somewhere in between. 

Regardless of how they refer to themselves, they are all looking for meaning and fulfillment in this stage of life just as they have throughout their lives.

This week, I spoke with Joe A., a “not-retired” former university administrator, who is very active in the rural community he and his wife returned to when they left the university.

Deliberately ‘Not-Retired’ 

In defining his status, Joe tells people that he’s “deliberately ‘not-retired.’” 

“In my mind, I’m in a little in the state of retirement, but to the rest of the world, this doesn’t translate…I have obligations, responsibilities, things I need to do on a regular basis that look like work.”

In a small community, the small pool of people available to do volunteer work get “gobbled up” quickly. 

Joe stays (very) busy running a local non-profit, finishing up a term as head of a state-wide professional association, and as the treasurer and tech expert of his church, where he and his wife are among the younger congregants. He’s also had a part-time teaching role at the university. 

Four Words Provide Meaning

Joe has thought about purpose and meaning ever since he was in high school. More recently, he often reflects on four words to drive purpose and meaning at this time in his life: firewood, fly-fishing, trails, and church.

Firewood has a number of meanings for Joe. There’s the actual physical work involved in splitting wood, the preparation for winter and the feeling of self-sufficiency by providing his own heating fuel, and the artistry and intentionality of stacking firewood.

Fly-fishing relates to leisure time, especially being outside. Joe likes to be active, and fishing also provides an opportunity to be present in the moment and to meditate on life.  

Trails is about living in harmony with nature, and not trying to dominate it. When he’s out maintaining  trails on his property, he’s reminded that we are simply stewards of the land, not really owners. 

Church isn’t so much about institutional religion. For Joe, it’s  a metaphor.  He believes that organized religion is important in society; that it’s the one institution that promotes ethical behavior. While he recognizes the failings of organized religion, he feels that it’s core existence is the promotion of kindness, goodness, and love. And, while he may have disagreements with the church and much of what it does, he stays connected to promote kindness and harmony with others. 

At the heart of his four words lies stewardship. Stewardship keeps Joe thinking and acting beyond his own self-interests and in the interests of other individuals and his community. 

Joe wants to be remembered for this perspective of stewardship. He wants to be remembered as a kind, helpful person who left folks feeling better and his community better off than when he arrived.

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Image copyright: liudmilachernetska