I spent an afternoon in the local coffee shop listening to my friend Elaine’s story and came away inspired and amazed at the energy and purpose evident in her life. A true “Third Ager,” Elaine fills the criteria by having had 61 birthdays, “retiring” from inside the corporate world at age 55 after 30 years and reinventing herself and her work.
Elaine had been the director of leadership and organizational effectiveness in a large multinational organization. Even in her early 50’s, she was still steeped in that world and the contribution she felt she was making. Elaine told me how she felt she always had one more project that needed her. Thus, she could never leave, even though at times it felt stifling to her. Then a company assignment in Asia introduced her to other cultures and different people.
She began to see that she could create meaningful work outside of the corporate world as well. So at age 55, she decided to give up her excuses, spread her wings and start her own company. Elaine was no longer driven by corporate rewards and reinforcements such as high salary and high performance, or by the mantra of “gotta produce and make money.” She said it felt like a leap into total freedom – like leaving home and not having to report into her parents anymore!
But what to do now? Elaine believed that she was the arbiter of her own destiny, that she could carve what she wanted for her life and work. She also believed that she needed time to unhook from the corporate world and rediscover her own sense of being and who she was in the larger world. So she spent one year “cocooning,” plunging into questions about working meaningfully until she was well into her 70’s. During this time she completed a credible coaching certification program and focused on her own spiritual direction.
She noticed that when she let go and trusted, rather than tried to control how her work took shape, offers that spoke to her came along. Her key learnings at this time were about her need to balance being and doing and that her work wasn’t about “fixing people.”
After a year, Elaine started her own consulting business with a focus on leadership development. She says that she is only interested in working with people or teams who are really serious about change and transformation. She’s also teaching at a local college and spends one month each year in a global service project in the Yucatan, China or India. And now, after 6 years on her own, she’s involved in a start-up organization focused on caring for caretakers in other countries – to provide coaching and consulting based on their needs.
Elaine is living out her core values: freedom, service to others, deep spiritual connections, self-awareness and growth in body and soul, and developing and nurturing strong relationships. She has 3 sons and 5 grand daughters and she wants very much to help her grand daughters value their place as women in the world. Elaine says that her life and work are together, not separate. Work is play for her. She enjoys it and it gives her energy. Her parting words to me about her attitude at age 61 were: “I’m keeping all of my doors open!”
© 2004 By Nancy Cosgriff,M.A. All rights reserved.
Nancy Cosgriff is a coach, consultant and trainer and a member of The Center for Third Age Leadership.