Depositphotos_69423601_s-2015-rA new definition of work is emerging that goes beyond financial rewards in the workplace. I’d like to share some ideas with you meant to shift your beliefs about work and open up opportunities for greater fulfillment and meaning in your life.

During the lead-up to Indian independence in the 1940’s Mahatma Gandhi challenged his country to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” In a different kind of revolution today, Gandhi’s challenge gives us Baby Boomers a clue to how we can use work to take care of our material/financial needs plus also find meaning and ways to create the world that we want for ourselves and our children’s future.

Today’s Baby Boomers are finding that their work life may continue beyond the time that they expected. Both work and lifestyles are in flux:

  • “Boomers expect to live longer than any previous generation”
  • “Boomers are facing the largest rich-poor gap in recent history”
  • “Boomers will draw on reduced resources in retirement”
  • “Perhaps the greatest challenge is still ahead of them – to generate new forms of wealth that will bridge the gap between their savings and failing institutional safety nets”

From Boomers: The Next 20 Years published by AARP


with permission Lee Abel, photographer

Yet most Boomers want their work to give them more than material security; they also yearn for work that brings fulfillment and purpose. These findings point to the importance for each of us to take responsibility for our futures in a new way. And, we’ll need all of our creativity, focus and strong desire to do so.

How we act and the steps that we take daily are deeply rooted in our thoughts and beliefs. Take a minute to write down what you believe today about work and what your work life will be like for the remainder of your lifetime:

  • What is your definition of work?
  • How long might you work?
  • What do you need/want in order for you to be happy with your work?
  • What is it that you don’t want to experience?
  • What do you see as the opportunities?
  • What do you believe the constraints will be?
Jan Hively

Jan Hively

I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the thought leaders for Positive Aging during the second half of life. One of these people, Jan Hively, is the founder of SHIFT, a non-profit in Minnesota that helps empower people in midlife transition to plan and pursue purposeful work as employees, entrepreneurs, or volunteers. Jan offers us a new definition of work:

“Paid or unpaid productivity that benefits you and/or your family, and/or your employer, and/or your community.”


This expanded definition of work offers a new framework for addressing not only the financial/material needs that we each have, but also opens up avenues for fulfilling our social and emotional desires. As our needs change during the second half of life, this definition gives us a way of meeting our needs through a broader range of potential roles that give purpose and meaning. With the financial constraints many of us face, the roles to serve and contribute in non-monetary ways can bridge the emotional gaps that may occur in our financially-strained environment and can make life manageable and more caring.

Remaining self sufficient and supporting our families and our “village” will call for us to change our definitions of work and contribution. Take a look at the same questions posed earlier and see what is now available to you from this expanded definition of work.

  • Now what do you see as the opportunities?
  • What constraints will still be present?
  • What else is available to you for meeting your material needs as well as desires for purpose and contribution?


Work fills a set of complex needs for each of us. When we choose to change our beliefs about work, and expand our definition, we open up the possibility for creative solutions to our real material problems. We also open up the opportunities for greater fulfillment and contribution to the world around us. May each of you take up Gandhi’s challenge and Be the Change!