Successful Aging: Examining life’s purpose and creating a meaningful existence

Dear readers,

Purpose is a popular discussion topic that continues to be the focus of seminars, retreats, conferences, books and essays. The increased popularity might be due to the pandemic, which has given folks more opportunity to think about how they are spending their time regarding work, family and community. It might be a life-stage phenomenon that seems more relevant in one’s mid to later years as opposed to one’s 20s and 30s. It also might be the need for a brief life review with the overarching question, “Am I living the life I want to live?” 

This is the eleventh year I had the pleasure of participating in a special conversation with eight men and eight women to discuss a relevant topic to transition and change in later life. Yes, the topic was purpose. Men were part of the Life Transition Group; women were part of Renewment, a combination of “retirement” and “renewal.” Both the men and women have an overriding common characteristic: Neither is satisfied with the status quo for themselves or their communities. All embrace learning, growing and giving back with an emphasis on purpose, passion as well as pleasure. And all know that transition is a process.

Participants were between the ages of 60 and 85, most are retired. All are or were highly accomplished in their respective fields including television, business, higher education, science, journalism, law, social services and nonprofit leadership, to name a few.    

Here is some background:

A number of years ago, Ron Dresher and Brian Harris, both longtime successful marketing professionals, went for a bike ride along the beach and began to talk about their next chapter in life – commonly referred to as retirement. Both felt passionate about their work. They questioned what they would do with their energy and commitment when no longer working. They felt motivated to become more knowledgeable and were ready to share experiences with others. Subsequently, they formed a group of like-minded men and called themselves the Life Transition Group and have been meeting for 15 years with monthly speakers. They have over 35 members and three separate groups in the Los Angeles areas as well as several informal groups back east.  

To establish balance in their lives and a new sense of identity, they developed some guiding principles using the acronym CHAIRS. Each letter stands for a value the men want to embrace as they emerge from their full-time careers. The letters stand for the following: C=Charity; H=Health; A=Achievement; I=Independence; R=Relationships and S=Spirituality.  

These characteristics are shared by women of Renewment, a forum and movement started by my co-founder Bernice Bratter and me in 1999.  The Renewment women are like-minded with successful careers, wanting to create the next chapter of life to be equal to or even more satisfying than the previous one.  

It all started when Bernice called me after contemplating retirement from her second executive director position and asked if there was any research or programs focusing on career women and retirement? I replied, “I don’t think so; in fact, we are not even on the radar screen.” A four-hour lunch followed when we decided to invite several like-minded women for dinner to discuss life post-career. Given we had few if any role models, there was much to discuss and Renewment was born.  

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Despite our lack of intention to grow, Renewment grew virally to nearly 40 in-person groups most in Los Angeles County and some in the New England area down to Florida. Some groups have been meeting for three years; others for 23 years. Here is the new piece. The pandemic eliminated face-to-face meetings so we launched virtual Renewment roundtables to discuss subjects important to our life transitions such as having a sense of purpose, being relevant, new meaning of productivity, relationships and changing identities as in – “who am I without my business card?” Similar to the face-to-face meetings, the roundtables grew virally engaging nearly 100 women from across the country.  

Back to our joint meeting – we posed three questions to our participants.       

Is purpose overrated?  
What is the definition of purpose? Has it changed because of the pandemic, inflation, health concerns, etc.? 
Does having a sense of purpose depend on socioeconomic conditions? 

Next week, we’ll provide some answers to these questions. Stay well everyone and be kind to yourself and others.   

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at  Visit Helen at and follow her on

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