Personal Growth Isn’t Just for Millennials — Baby Boomers Take Notice

September 28, 2018

The personal growth or self-improvement industry is primarily targeted at younger people and many Baby Boomers feel that the advice offered does not apply to them.

All this talk about following your dreams, quit your job today, get your side hustle going, become a digital nomad, find your purpose and so on is often lost in translation.

Nice to know and fun to read, but what does this have to do with me? I just need to maximize my 401k!

Baby Boomers are at a different stage in life and their focus is on other things — desperately hanging on to that corporate job, figuring out when to call it quits, how to save the most for retirement, keeping their health care, possibly moving to a warmer location such as Florida or Arizona.

People think that Baby Boomers are so different from Millennials or Gen X. What lessons from the self-improvement world could possibly apply to such a different stage in life?

As a Baby Boomer myself who has occasionally been dismissive of what felt like hocus-pocus advice from self-improvement gurus half my age I have become convinced that continuous personal growth is the way to live an active and fulfilling life.

The personal growth industry has much to offer Baby Boomers as they enter or contemplate retirement.

Baby Boomers are no different from Millennials or Gen X or any other generation for that matter. Our problems come in different flavors and how we grew up is certainly different (anybody remembers slide rulers and rotary phones?) but what we search for in life is not.

I just re-read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning best-seller book written while Frankl was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. According to a survey by the Library of Congress, the book is considered one of the ten most influential books ever sold in the US and has been translated into over 24 languages.

Frankl passed away in 1997 but the book continues selling well today. Its message is timeless and enduring — life is a quest for meaning. The message applies whether you are young or old, tall or short, married with kids or not, poor or rich.

For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment

Viktor Frankl

Real personal growth is at the end of the day a search for meaning.

What do you really care about? What are your core beliefs? What are you willing to sacrifice for? What is your “Why” that allows you to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and disappointments?

Nobody is born perfect or with all the answers. Instead, we must all grow into our own skin so to speak to lead a meaningful life. Personal growth does not ever end — it continues for life.

Every generation thinks that they are unique.

The specific problems they face are no doubt heavily influenced by the context or environment in which life is taking place, but the “big” questions in life of purpose and meaning are universal and timeless.

The whole transition into retirement that many Baby Boomers are facing today is fraught with fear of the unknown, but so is starting that first job after college, buying your first home or having children.

Are the concerns of Baby Boomers and Millennials that different? The specifics and context may be different but at the end of the day, our biggest struggle regardless of age most often happens between our own two ears.

Baby Boomers and Millennials are chronologically at different stages in their lives, but that does not mean that we live in different worlds. You may not hold Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as an exact description of how you look at life but the concept still generally applies regardless of age.

Everybody has needs and desires — these don’t just vanish with age. For most people, the bottom layers of Maslow’s pyramid have been long been satisfied. Instead in modern society the focus is on the quality of our lives and fulfilling our potential.

We all strive regardless of age and economic status to lead meaningful and fulfilled lives.

Self-actualization is the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming

– Abraham Maslow

Not surprisingly, a huge swath of the self-improvement industry focuses on self-actualization. Maximizing one’s potential, reaching for the stars, pursuing your dreams, following your destiny.

Dismissing the self-improvement industry as hokey pokey or too “new age” is a mistake made by many people of my generation.

Retirement is the ideal time to grow not to retreat into a protective shell.

As Baby Boomers retire from their long-held careers, the search for self-actualization in the form of meaning and purpose only becomes more important. We are no longer burdened by career and raising a family. We own our time, but we also own how we spend it.

Finding that new post-career identity that reflects the real you and recalibrating one’s sense of purpose and mission is not always easy.

Surveys show that it is not uncommon for many recent retirees to first experience a honeymoon effect but that the effect wears off after a couple of years and uncertainty sets in.

A lot of people enter retirement without a life plan. They may have saved diligently and even worked with a professional advisor to device a financial strategy full of bells and whistles. But they have all too often ignored to search deep within to find meaning and purpose. They have focused on the mechanics of retirement but not the emotions and possibilities for personal growth and fulfillment.

Retirees often mention that time seems to be moving faster and faster. They feel time slipping away. Maybe that is because they don’t know what to do with their time.

You can fool yourself, you know.

You’d think it’s impossible, but it turns out it’s the easiest thing of all

Jodi Picoult, famous novelist

Change is always happening. Some of the change around us is predictable and requires small incremental adjustments. Other times change is unexpected and requires major adjustments or an entirely new game plan.

And sometimes change is within us — what we value most, how we see ourselves within the grand scheme of life, our intended behaviors and how we want to be eventually remembered.

We are not born with a static personality. Retiring from one’s day job is the end of a phase of life but also the beginning of a period of huge freedom and learning if we choose to pursue a growth mindset.

Transitions can be hard but your’s does not have to be if you choose growth and adaptability over the fear of the unknown. The key is having a growth mindset.

So, where should Baby Boomers start to explore personal growth ideas?

The task may seem daunting given the proliferation of material, but here is a list of influential self-improvement gurus and experts.

Go to their blogs, read their books, find out who resonates given your own journey and belief system. I am not sure that anybody has all the answers and frankly I find that the ideas and concepts tend to converge to a small number of basic principles.

The key is taking small steps. Focusing intently on where you want to be instead of where you are now often leads to unfulfilled change. Take small steps. These small steps will amount to large change over time.

If you want some concrete suggestions, here are 3 books to read, 3 shorter blogs and, if you are a visual learner here are 3 videos to get you started. Time to adopt a growth mindset and truly enjoy your retirement years.

Here are 3 books to read:

The Compound Effect by Darrin Hardy

Wonderful, short book that gives you the fundamentals of success in a no-BS way. Small actions done consistently amount to large gains. Very actionable. Read multiple times until it really sinks in.

The Charge by Brendon Burchard

In this book, Burchard talks about the ten drives that make you human and how to activate them to lead a more engaged and fulfilled life. For each drive he offers tips on how to trigger these drives to eventually lead to higher energy, engagement, and enthusiasm. Provides useful worksheets to get you thinking.

Essentialism –The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

An absolutely fantastic book that applies to everybody. The idea is that most of the time we focus on activities that don’t matter. Busyness is not the same as being effective. In this book, you can learn that it is ok to shed non-core activities. Focusing on only important matters (to you) allows you to more clearly focus and move toward your goals. The rest does not matter.

3 Blogs to get You Going while you wait for Amazon to deliver your books:

Unsuccessful People Focus On “The Gap.” Here’s What Successful People Focus On by Ben Hardy

The idea explored in this note is to focus on improvement as opposed to reaching the ideal. The ideal or goal often appears unreachable and people lose momentum as their progress does not seem to be getting any closer. Focusing on small achievements is much more likely to result in sticking with the goal

Tim Ferriss’s 7-Step Checklist for Overcoming Fear — Entrepreneur Magazine

This article goes over the approach that Tim Ferris uses to deal with fear. He explains how he seeks to quantify the likelihood and magnitude of his fears and by doing so he “sizes” up the problem. Walking through his 7 item checklist allows him to slow down. He often realizes that even if the worst outcome were to occur he would be fine. We all deal with fear — going through the Ferris approach is one of the best ways I have found to get rid of the conversations in my head.

10 Life Purpose Tips to Help You Find Your Passion by Jack Canfield

Everybody wants fulfillment but it takes thought and action to figure out what really matters to you. It is very easy to walk through life following the norm and expectations set by society. For some people that might be fine but for many following the path less traveled is an approach more consistent with who they are. Following these 10 tips will get you closer to finding out what truly matters to you.

3 Videos to watch now:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People: 80th Birthday by Steven Covey

Covey is one of the best ever motivational writers. In this video, Covey imagines what his 80th birthday party would be like. If you do the same would it lead you to live differently? So much in life is about social connections. Who would be at your party?

The Most Important Lesson from 83,000 Brain Scan by Daniel Amen

Knowledge of the brain has expanded exponentially in the last 25 years. Dr. Amen walks you through the latest research. Staying healthy in retirement is a huge priority for most retirees. Understanding how the brain works and ways to remain “brain healthy” are a core competency of your future life.

How to Control Your Mind by Toni Robbins

Toni Robbins is today probably the best known motivational speaker. He is a Baby Boomer himself. His message can sometimes be lost in a sea of mass seminars but he is spot on with his recommendation that it is up to you to create the change you seek. Removing mental hurdles is the first step toward achieving clarity. Wanting the change badly enough and taking action are essential.

Time for action. As Marshall Goldsmith writes in his wonderful book, Triggers, most of us are really good planners and terrible doers. Personal growth requires both.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

– Dale Carnegie


If you are looking for additional perspectives to guide you as you formulate your vision check out our Retirement Wealth Checklist.

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About the author

Eric Weigel

My goal is sharing my experience as an investment manager, certified retirement coach, and fellow Baby Boomer to enable people to design the life they want and that matters to them in their next phase in life. We all want to live longer, but we also want to lead a life of meaning, joy, and fulfillment.