Retirement – The Return of the Elder

2016-04-23 11:46

You might have been the CEO of a multinational, or a teacher who impacted the lives of thousands of children, an entrepreneur who created employment for hundreds of people, an employee who made a point of providing superior service to colleagues and customers, a dedicated parent, a wacky aunt or just someone who has learned how to live life in the hard lane.

And now “retirement“ is telling you that you no longer have anything of value to add.

A powerful myth that is told across the world is of the Hero’s Journey. Bilbo Baggins, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Dorothy (Wizard of OZ) Gale, Neo, James Bond and The Karate Kid are Heroes. They were all living in the Ordinary World, until one day they felt the stirrings of a call to adventure – to undertake a Quest.


Shortly afterwards our ‘Heroes’ cross over into the Special World and face trials and challenges – and imminent disaster and failure. At that moment an Elder appears – Gandalf, Dumbledore, Obi wan Kenobi, The Good Witch of the South, Morpheus, M, Mr Miyagi - who imparts a gift of knowledge and mentors them to completion of their Quest.

In most stories we see little more of this Elder and our attention is given to the Hero; which is as it should be! But in the modern western world there is a crisis.

The Heroes are our leaders; our captains of industry, our ‘A’ list beautiful people, but The Elders have been hidden away in Retirement Villages and the Heroes don’t realise that without their knowledge and wisdom, their Quest could go seriously wrong – leading to greed, death and destruction.

So for a moment, instead of attending the Hero, we need to attend the Elder. How did they come to play such a pivotal role, what value do they really bring and would our Heroes have triumphed if the Elder had not been there?

But first – what makes one an Elder? Surely not just somebody who is old? Some criteria present themselves.

  • Someone who, in their youth, set out on a Quest of their own and was met by an Elder who gave them a gift of knowledge.
  • Someone who has lived a varied life – who has experienced the demands of providing, protecting, and caring for others.
  • Someone who has gone through a “midlife crisis” and has had to answer the question “who am I”?
  • Someone who has made mistakes, has taken responsibility for those mistakes, and has forgiven him/herself.
  • Someone who has experienced the quietening of their Ego and is at peace with who they are.

Eldering is when that someone takes on the role of a mentor or advisor; a senior, influential member of society based on their personal authority.

So who do our modern-day Elders have to be to play their part? At one level, they need to sit at the side of the next generation of “movers and shakers” and they need to hold the question “Just because you can, should you?”

At a more individual level, if each one of them gave their fullest attention to their children and grandchildren, if each one of them listened to the needs of a single mother trying to bring up her children, if each one of them used the enormous power of positive regard to validate the dreams of the young men and women around them, if each one of them used their connections and influence to bring awareness to our politicians and business leaders, to hold them accountable for their actions, then they are modern Elders.

The Eldering Institute[2] began using the word "Eldering" to distinguish "wisdom in action"—with the focus on action. The phrase suggests that if we traffic in our experience and the knowledge we’ve accrued over the years without being in action or without having the capacity to inspire action in others, then all our "wisdom" is little more than a pile of comforting and mostly meaningless memories. When we stop the action, we become spectators and begin a process of detachment and inevitable decline. Eldering, in this sense, conveys the idea that life can continuously improve as we get older, provided that we continue to add value (be of service) and that we create and sustain authentic relationships with others of all ages.

Alan is a Retirement Coach. He has developed an on-line programme The Elders Journey, to help people facing retirement find meaning and purpose in a retirement that could last for 25 years. He can be contacted at

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AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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