. . . as part of their generativity, many senior sages report that their “job” in working as a volunteer is to build on the accomplishments of their predecessors. Rather than starting something new, which might bring personal recognition and ego gratification, these dedicated seniors value continuity and honoring past contributions. Their passion is contagious, as is their appreciation for work already done. This enables them to generate new energy as well as re-kindled old passions. They re-interpret the existing vision of their organization so community members can see the often unacknowledged value inherent in work already done, and will continue to be done by the organization. One of our sage leaders described this way of being generative as “leading quietly.”
As we noted above, these community-based generative services are not just about quiet leadership; they are also about voluntary community engagement (a key ingredient in any attempt to increase “social capital” or “community capital”). In keeping with this spirit of generativity, one of our sage leaders noted, “We don’t retire, we just quit working for money.” George Vaillant (2012, p. 166) offered the same observation with regard to his Harvard grads: “community-building is a career of its own—one of the really great ones.”
Insofar as men and women are serving in generative roles when working with other people, with an organization, or with their community during senior years, they are likely to be more inclined than ever before to exert authority in a collaborative and nurturing manner. And as they teach and mentor, they are also willing to take less credit and be less visible as they age. They already have acquired whatever power and recognition they are likely to get in their lives. They have had their “day in the sun.” These men and women now gain more gratification from watching their organizational or community or cultural “children” succeed than from succeeding themselves. They have shifted from a primary focus on their own success to a focus on significance—making a difference in the world. They care deeply.
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