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What should I do with the rest of my life?
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What should I do with the rest of my life?

MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors, is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Metro­West, and brings together leaders from Greater MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. Each month, a Metro­West CARES agency has an opportunity to address a critical eldercare issue. This month’s article on redefining ourselves as we age is presented by the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS). JVS will be hosting the Creative Maturity Expo, for to adults 50+, on Sunday, March 3, at the Aidekman Family Campus, Whippany.

Redefining Life’s Potential, the tagline of the JVS Creative Maturity Expo, is a fitting expression reflecting the latest conventional wisdom about retiring — or not retiring, as many of us enter a new phase in our lives.

Do you know anyone who flunked retirement? That is the premise of Peabody Award-winning author Mark S. Walton’s new book, Boundless Potential. Since 60 is the new 40, perhaps older adults of the 21st century have a new perspective on what new horizons lie ahead in the second part of life.

With children out of the house and the responsibilities of raising a family and sending the kids to college behind you, there are new possibilities for what comes next. Be it travel, a new home, a new job, volunteering, or starting a business, there are a lot of options open to the mature adult.

As President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” Someone who is 65 today can expect to live into their mid-80s or, with luck and health, to almost 100; that is the new normal. But out of the recent Great Recession we need to look at what is the new normal and understand what it means.

The well-known management consultant Peter Drucker spoke of the challenge of the first generation to be impacted by a workforce transformed from muscular work to intelligence-based skills. Today, as then, the problems to be faced are complex. Some will lose their jobs and financial footing, many will have trouble affording their new longer lives. Some will remain employed, but grow increasingly unchallenged. And, some will retire and feel as if they are losing their sharpness and mental agility. Which category do you believe you will fit into?

For many, the encore performance might just be the best years of their lives. Keeping the body, soul and mind active leads to a healthier, more productive “retirement,” that might just include doing something you always wanted to do, but couldn’t when you were younger. Whether it is starting to paint like Grandma Moses or volunteering at SCORE and mentoring business entrepreneurs, or taking up photography, writing a murder mystery, or learning a new musical instrument or maybe a foreign language — the sky’s the limit. For many, there is more opportunity, fulfillment and success in the second half of life.

Award-winning neuroscientist Michael Merzenich started mapping the brain in 2003, and determined that it is a myth that brain cells are lost as we age. We continue to accumulate new brain cells throughout our life. Merzenich found that if you stay active and continue to exercise your brain, it will “remap” and continue to respond to your life experiences. This means that older adults can continue to contribute to the ever-changing workplace and world.

So, what is the lesson to be learned? Remain active and keep learning to stay alert and productive in later years. Now may be just the right time to try something new that will not only fulfill a need in your life, but also benefit others. Make your mark — or your second mark — as you enter your golden years, or what you might wish to think of as your own “Age of Enlightenment.”

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