The whole of your life from birth to death – not just your working career life – is a continuum of progress, growth and self-actualisation. It is what nature always intended of you. But ever since the work ethic came into vogue at least a couple of hundred years ago, we have had drummed into us the belief that life, growth and development starts and ends with our working careers. Respected dictionaries still define ‘retire’ with terms like withdraw (from life?), retreat (into your shell?), stop (living?), and go back (to the past?).
One of the refreshing advances in 21st century society is that we have at last swept away these negative and limiting perspectives on when and how our lives grow, flourish and blossom. In my lifestyle mentoring business I searched for a new more positive phrase and came up with “what’s for dessert? I’ve finished the main course and I’m still hungry”. This phrase says it all.
Even that expression may just be a sign of the times. Baby boomers may well be the last generation to experience life in the traditional three stages – preparation for your working life - your working life and then a life after your working years. It happens already with eating – we no longer limit ourselves to a sitting of entrée, main course and dessert. We eat what we like when we like. Our perception of our traditional journey through life is going the same way with people deciding when and for how long they will work and in whatever order suits their thinking. We are beginning to live life on our own terms. No longer is life centred on work, though of course work still serves a vital role in giving structured economic and social value to our lives and the community that our work serves.
What do you want to do in your dessert years? What will be the unique ingredients in your recipe? You certainly want it to taste great, contains large dollops of passion, full of rich experiences, keeps you healthy and, best of all, satisfies your hunger to keep on moving forward, growing in mind, body and spirit, enjoyed to the last drop. We live in a rapidly-changing, highly mobile society where individual creativity, innovation, challenge and the desire to keep moving forward is becoming the norm. Age means little now in our natural desire to unleash our talents, passions and potential. Structured work is only one way to achieve this. We are increasingly realizing that work goals limit us to the demands and expectations of bosses and clients. Life after the end of our working career frees us to express ourselves in our ways for our reasons and for our own unique personal sense of satisfaction.
The dessert years however are less about a period of time in your life. More they are about a change in your attitude towards what, for you, life is all about. The dessert years begin when you start thinking about (and gradually act on) a transition in your life’s priorities from doing what you have to do (supported by what you love to do) to doing what you love to do (supported by what you still have to do). For most of us that transition begins to take place long before any thought of quitting paid employment. For some it can be as early as one’s mid-40’s.
Imagine you are attending a live theatre performance divided into three Acts. It is interval, following the conclusion of the second Act and you are reflecting on the show so far. You feel that Acts One and Two have been powerful and thought-provoking. You are wondering what surprises the rest of the show might bring. But this show is unique. There is only one performance…it is a play written by you and you are writing the script as the performance happens in real time…the actors are on stage waiting for their lines. There is no rehearsal and there is only performance – this is opening night and closing night all in one. And no one yet knows – not even you, the playwright – what the ending will be. And the final twist? You are the lead actor, the star of the show. The play is called “Your Life”.
Act One embraced the early years of your life – the years that prepared you for work. The content of Act Two has been your working life. Act Three is yet to come and you wonder what surprises it has in store for you. Act Three may well be a long one. It’s up to you to make it memorable for you and for those who love you. You will want to feel that, at the end of “Your Life”, the rest of the cast and the audience alike will give you a standing ovation, acknowledging that you have given a performance they will never forget.
This is an extract from my latest book "The Hunger to Grow - How to Enjoy the Dessert Years of Your Life" available from amazon.com.au in three formats: soft cover, ebook and audio (I fully recommend the audio of me reading the book because you get to hear exactly my emphases). Or you can email me at