Written by Richard Bergstrom, January 10, 2020
During these long winter evenings, Leona and I have been watching the NETFLIX series “The Crown.” In Season 3 Episode 5, Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother of Prince Philip and mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, is visiting with her brother Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of Prince Philip and former head of the British Navy. She was an elderly cigarette smoking nun who had escaped Athens after the fall of King Constantine II and the imposition of military rule in Greece. She was being housed in Buckingham Palace as a member of the Royal Family. During their brief visit, she remarked to him,
“There came a moment around the time I turned 70, that I was no longer a participant, rather a spectator.”
He replied, “I’ve discovered that for myself.”
To which she added, “Then it’s just a matter of waiting and not getting in the way.”
Princess Alice’s words so strongly spoke to me, I had to replay and freeze-frame the scene (pictured above.) Today, on January 10, 2020, I turn 70! I’ve been asking myself the question, “How does one entering his 8th decade of life continue being a participant in the world, not just a spectator?” We 76 million Baby Boomers have had the center stage for a long time. We have taken the lead in technology, in business, in education, and even in the leadership of our country. In many industries, the baton of leadership has already passed. (Have you noticed how young the doctors are anymore?) And while it is a good thing to empower the next generations for influence, does that mean that we have nothing left to give?
As our colleague, Chuck Stecker, writes, “If you’ve passed the baton, take it back!” He’s not suggesting just hanging on to a position in life, and blocking the accessibility of influence for the next generations, but instead continuing to stay in the race and make a contribution to society.
How does one continue to be a participant in life and not just a spectator? What role do we have to play as we see ourselves replaced by younger leaders in every sector of society?
As I turn 70 on the day of this writing, here are my thoughts on how we can stay in the game:
- First, we must take responsibility for charting our course. One of the benefits of not being able to find a job in my late 30’s was it prompted me to launch my own non-profit and become a 501(c)(3) organization. This year we celebrate 25 years of our corporate existence. I had to discover my “inner entrepreneur” and learn how to take responsibility for my livelihood. Those entering the so-called “retirement” stage of life may need to explore a context where they can give back. There are many opportunities to do so without having to start your own business or organization. Take the time to discover the needs of the world around you. Research the volunteer opportunities in your community.
- Second, we need to take the time to re-discover our purpose in this stage of life, and what we are passionate about. That has been our emphasis for several years with the development of our Re-Ignite retreat curriculum, our book Third Calling: What are you doing the rest of your life?, and now our journal, My Life After Work: Retiring from work, not life. We love to see a person’s vision re-ignited!
- Third, we need to devise a strategy for achieving our purpose and fulfilling our dreams for this critical stage of our lives. No one is going to do that for us. Leona and I have had an overall strategic plan for our non-profit for years now. Each year we come up with an even larger goal we call our B.H.A.G. –our “big, hairy, audacious goal.” In 2016 it was writing and publishing our book, in 2017 it was a 5-city speaking tour of Australia, in 2018 it was capturing the content of Re-Ignite on video and posting it on a learning platform as an online course. In 2019 it was publishing the journal. Ask yourself, what could my B.H.A.G. be in 2020?
- Fourth, we need to persevere and overcome objections and obstacles. To remain in the game as a participant involves “swimming upstream” against the currents of culture that would shuttle us off to the sidelines. Ageism is alive and well in our society, and we need to push back against it. My 10-year old grandson was the first to acquaint me with the phrase, “OK Boomer,” which I have since learned is a “slang phrase” used “to call out or dismiss out of touch or close-minded opinions associated with the Baby Boomer generation and older people more generally.” (Dictionary.com). It reflects the generational divide felt by those still waiting in the wings for their opportunities in society.
- Fifth, recognize the value of giving back. It’s what sociologists call generativity. While there is great enjoyment to be found in travel and leisure, there
is nothing more fulfilling than re-investing your life in the next generations and your community. Boomers can help bridge the generational divide by “giving back” to future generations and allowing them access to jobs and careers of influence.
- Sixth, we need to be willing to recognize that we may no longer be the main player in an organization. In the film, The Intern, Robert De Niro, plays the part of Ben Whittaker, a retired executive from DEX One. He applies to a senior citizen intern program for a job as a senior intern at an online fashion website after retirement has become too boring for him. Over time, he earns the trust of the C.E.O., Jules Ostin, and becomes a trusted mentor to her in her role. It’s a classic example of how those of us who have moved beyond primary leadership can still influence the next generation of leaders. I enjoyed a similar role late in my career as an Executive Pastor in a large church. I was able to support the Senior Pastor and the entire team without having to bear the burden of being the primary leader.
- Finally, recognize that eventually there comes a time when you do become a spectator in the game of life. During the NFL playoffs on January 4, the announcers mentioned it was Don Shula’s 90th birthday that day. Shula was the only coach in NFL history to have a perfect season. His Miami Dolphins were 14-0 in 1972–and they won Super Bowl VII. During his prime, he was a participant in life, but now at age 90, he has fully embraced the role of spectator.
Until that time comes for us, it may be time to pick up the baton once again and re-enter the race. Decide to postpone the role of the spectator. Stay in the game, even if it is on the sidelines.
–Richard Bergstrom, D.Min., President, ChurchHealth/Re-Ignite
Images by CanStock and Re-Ignite