The power of purpose; SENIOR LIFE


The Boston taxi driver didn't seem to enjoy much of his workdays, best as Richard Leider could tell.

"He was a crusty old Boston cabby with the hat and cigar to match," said Leider, who was making a speech about the power of purpose in life. It's a theme Leider champions as an author, lecturer and founding partner of a management consulting firm, the Inventure Group, based in Minneapolis.

"He asked me what I was doing in Boston. I told him; then he asked me whether I was a minister or something."

The answer is "or something." Leider has been studying the link between purpose -- you might call it passion -- and health since the late 1970s. He had noticed a disturbing trend: Many of his father's friends and colleagues were dying or suffering major illnesses just a few years after retirement.

Leider, a career counselor and psychologist by academic training, started interviewing retired people. He received funding from the Aetna Insurance Co. and sat face-to-face with former executives and other workers at IBM, Honeywell and 3M. He asked one simple question: If you could live your life over, what would you do differently?

The answers, of course, were varied. But Leider identified three themes and realized the healthiest seniors were the ones who continued to explore their gifts and abilities long after they left the workplace.

The first theme: The retirees said they would be more reflective. With a do-over, they would focus more on the big picture of life and not let minor crises at work or home rule the day, Leider said.

"The second theme was to take more risks," said Leider, 55, who refers to himself as the "village elder" at his company. "The risks they regretted not taking centered mostly on work and love."

The final theme was what Leider calls the personal bottom line: whether people felt they were appreciated and whether they had made a difference in the world. It inspired him to write a book, "The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in Your Life and Work" (Berrett-Koehler, $20), and develop a lecture series and newsletter -- -- on the topic.

Leider is a believer in reinventing ourselves at different stages of life and argues that health benefits are sure to follow.

"Discovering your purpose is an ongoing process," he said. "It provides a certain energy and vitality."

Just how seniors might reinvent themselves can be a difficult proposition, but Leider offered some suggestions: Be an active grandparent by doing something with the child that is a learning experience for both of you. Look for an organization that can make use of your mentoring skills, even if you will not be paid for it. Sign up for a class to recharge your self-identity as someone who is still seeking and growing.

Perhaps Leider's most intriguing -- and fun -- idea is "choosing your own personal board of directors." They can be people -- alive or dead -- you know personally or only by reading their work. They would be people from whom you seek advice.

"It's the minimum to stay healthy," he said. "Gathering this board literally or metaphorically can be quite powerful."

No one is beyond realizing purpose and its health boost, Leider said, not even the Boston taxi driver. Turns out the cabby did enjoy one part of his workday: regularly picking up an older female customer who relied on him for help in carrying bags and getting her around town.

"I'm her guy," the cabby told Leider proudly. "She told her friends in the apartment complex about me. I'm their guy, too."

"The cabby was making more money for his extra service and feeling better about his work," Leider said. "That's the power of purpose."

Senior events

* Movie screening: Riderwood Village retirement community celebrates "The Day After National Grandparents' Day" with a free screening of the movie "South Pacific" at 10 a.m. Monday at the Loews Cineplex Wheaton 4 Theater, 11160 Veirs Mill Road in Wheaton. Call 301-495-5700.

* Lansdowne -- Baltimore Highlands Senior Center events: Through September, events at the center, 424 Third Ave., include a breakfast with Judge Kathleen Cox at 9 a.m. Tuesday, $2; a slide show and discussion on "The Good Old Days in Baltimore (1900-1960)" at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 20, free; and an open house with refreshments and music at 6 p.m. Sept. 22, free. Call 410-887-1443.

* Computer classes for seniors: Learn the basics of computers from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Fridays through Dec. 10 at the John Booth Senior Center, 229 1/2 S. Eaton St. $41; $36 Golden Age Club members. Call 410-396-9202. Learn the basics of exploring the Internet and discover Web sites of interest to seniors, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Bel Air branch of the Harford County Public Library. Free. Call 410-638-3151 to register.

* National Grandparents' Day events: In honor of the day, senior events take place through September at the Bel Air branch, Harford County Public Library. Tuesday at 11 a.m.: Beginners' genealogy workshop for grandparents. Tuesday at 7 p.m.: Web surfing for seniors. Wednesday at 7 p.m.: Video and discussion on Elderhostels. Thursday at 7 p.m.: Introduction to e-mail for grandparents. Saturday at 2 p.m.: "A Grand Tea" with costumed presenters, for grandparents and children. All events free; registration required. Call 410-638-3151.

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