Last week I joined more than 400 people at the annual conference in downtown San Francisco. The social venture is in the vanguard in creating a new vision of retirement characterized by older Americans using their experience, their skill and their talent to help fix social problems.

A high point of the conference is its annual Purpose Prize honoring six people ages 60 and over for their second acts. Take Dr. Samuel Lupin. Seven years ago he was nearing 70, thinking that it was time to retire from his solo physician practice of making house calls to elderly patients in Brooklyn. However, his millennial grandson proposed bringing modern telecommunications to his geriatric care practice. Lupin delayed his retirement while his grandson and son-in-law created the Brooklyn-based venture, Housecalls for the Homebound. Housecalls has treated more than 4,000 homebound patients in the greater New York City area.

The other Purpose Prize winners were equally impressive. Journalist Laurie Ahern, 61, is an advocate for children with disabilities warehoused in horrible conditions around the world. Former Black Panther Jamal Joseph, 62, created a refuge from violence for inner- city youth while they learn art and leadership.

Their personal stories were inspiring. Most of us aren’t going to come close to their accomplishments. Still, there is a lot to take away from their examples while imagining our prospects and possibilities for the second half of life. Many people can’t afford to live a life of leisure throughout the traditional retirement years. Many more want to put their knowledge and experience to good use.

The trend has important implications for retirement planning. Savings matters, of course. So does reducing fixed expenses.

Most importantly, spend time researching and thinking about what you might want to do next. Tap into your informal network of friends, family and colleagues for insights and suggestions. Volunteering is a good way to seek out opportunities. It lets you learn about a nonprofit’s mission and staff. If there’s a good fit, maybe you could work there, at least part-time?

The vision of a good “retirement” increasingly includes working for both meaning and money, usually part-time. Most of us need time to figure out our next chapter, but the planning is well worth the effort.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” and commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.