I am in the final phase of life: retirement. I somehow made it through the initial stages of adolescence and early adulthood, an intense period of learning about yourself and the world around you. It is a period when a person develops individual and communal skills that hopefully lead to self-actualization. Family, teachers, and mentors play a major role in an individual’s development. It is when a person learns by trial-and-error. The family and community support the adolescent until the individual is ready to be self-sufficient. I achieved self-sufficiency when I graduated from university and started working my first professional job. After this time, my parent’s role changed to unpaid consultants and cheerleaders.
I then married and after five years, had my first child. I was no longer just self-sufficient, but responsible to my spouse and child. I was more of a giver than receiver. My focus was to provide for my family and to parent my child through adolescence. I developed both professional and parenting skills. My responsibilities grew along with my expanding family (my second child arrived six years after my first child). As I matured, life became more complex and I had to continually learn new skills as more was expected.
Alistair MacKenzie (Emeritus Senior Fellow at Laidlaw College – New Zealand), Wayne Kirkland (writer at Signpost Communications), and Annette Dunham (Lecturer at the University of Auckland) authored SoulPurpose: Making a Difference in Life and Work (NavPress NZ Ltd., Christchurch, NZ, 2004). They define SoulPurpose as a “compelling sense of calling, destiny and mission that brings focus, integration, balance and meaning to one’s life. … A reason to live, a cause to die for.” (page 13) During adolescence and early adulthood, I did not have a SoulPurpose. I was an active Christian but did not lead an integrated life. My focus was family, work, and keeping fit. These aspects were distinct and performed without much thought or reflection. Sadly, my faith was more of a Sunday institutional requirement than an integrated total commitment.
Then I entered the next life phase of “midlife consciousness.” I started asking the question: is this all there is to life? “Men in particular often experience a shift from their earlier dreams of ‘success’ to re-adjusted dreams of ‘significance’, often involving a new clarity on the important values to live for. Words such as relationships, legacy, contribution begin to figure more prominently in their vocabulary, and achievements, goals, success somewhat less. … Now, at midlife, work acquires new meanings. Am I making a worthwhile contribution (to my family, to society, to God’s work)? How much time do I have left to achieve the things I want to achieve?” I pondered: where is God outside the church building? What am I called to do with the remaining years of my life?
As I climbed the corporate ladder, the working hours and time away from family increased. My children went off to university and family life became primarily my spouse. After four years working in London, I finally decided to aspire towards generativity: “the sense that one is making a worthwhile contribution to those who follow.” I went to seminary and started to deeply learn about my faith. After graduation, I researched work and faith and wrote my first book, Trading with God: Seven Steps to Integrate Your Faith into Your Work. In addition, I serve on the Board of Trustees at Southwestern University where I interface with students, alumni, administrators, and parents. I have grown from my time in the liberal arts. In many ways, I have entered adolescence again. I am joyfully discovering my SoulPurpose.
I have decided not to retire into stagnation: “the sense of sliding into retirement, of unwillingness to keep growing and learning.” (Page 176) My hope is that I will be a continual learner until I die. I can choose my subjects and take the plunge. I can choose what gives me joy and if I fail, I can rise again and dust off my bruised ego. I see my grandchildren learn and fail like me, except that their egos don’t get bruised. My hope is that they develop their SoulPurpose by the time they reach early adulthood. This will “bring focus, integration, balance and meaning” to their lives.