A MAN DIED AND MET Saint Peter at the gates of heaven. “Saint Peter,” the man said, “I’ve been interested in military history for many years. Tell me, who was the greatest general of all times?”
“Oh, that’s simple. It’s the man right over there.”
The man looked where Peter was pointing and said, “You must be mistaken. I knew that man on earth, and he was just a common laborer.”
“That’s right,” Peter remarked, “but he would have been the greatest general of all time—if he had been a general.”
The story is often attributed to Mark Twain—and, depending on the version, sometimes it’s told about a cobbler instead of a laborer, and sometimes General Ulysses S. Grant makes an appearance. But it’s not clear the tale originated with Twain.
Still, I believe each of us was born for a reason. We’re each unique, with special strengths and talents that we need to nurture so we reach our full potential. Some of us eventually figure things out—but, unfortunately, some of us never do.
We might be blocked from realizing our full potential because of social pressure to conform. Our parents and teachers twist our arms, convincing us to take a career path that’s both lucrative and safe. In so doing, we lose touch with who we really are. We end up settling for a career path that doesn’t suit us, but it has status and pays well, so at least our parents are happy. We end up spending a substantial part of our life doing work that’s neither satisfying nor meaningful to us.
The good news is, in retirement, we’re given a second chance to unlock our potential and become the person we were always meant to be. I love reading stories about late bloomers—ordinary people who, instead of retiring and taking it easy, choose to do work that they’re passionate about and that’s deeply connected to who they are.
My friend Dan is a late boomer. He’d worked for a hedge fund in New York City for 20-plus years until the firm was acquired. He never needed to work again. But one of his friends suggested he apply for a job that was advertised at a fly-fishing store in Manhattan.
Dan applied for the job, not expecting much. To his surprise, he was accepted. Dan always had a passion for fly-fishing. Now, he can live his passion every day. He loves talking to clients about fly-fishing and can share his considerable knowledge on the subject. An added bonus: When he fishes, he gets to test out new equipment from various manufacturers. Who says dreams don’t come true?
One of the best and easiest ways of finding work that aligns with your interests and passions is to employ the Japanese method known as ikigai, which I described in an earlier article. I’ve used it to find work—both paid and volunteer—that aligns with my passions and strengths, as well as with the needs of the world. Thanks to ikigai, I now have a clear vision of the person I aspire to be and, because of that, life is pretty good.
I didn’t want to end up like the laborer in the story at the beginning of this article, regretting that I never became the person I was meant to be. I didn’t want to be a spectator sitting on the sidelines, watching the late bloomers have all the fun chasing their dreams.
Instead, I wanted to live out my own story and do what I was meant to do. I wanted to continue to grow and I wanted to contribute. I wanted to squeeze every drop of fun and meaning out of each and every day. I wanted to make the most of the gifts and talents that I was given, and not let them go to waste.
Mike Drak is a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry. He’s the co-author of Longevity Lifestyle by Design, Retirement Heaven or Hell and Victory Lap Retirement. Mike works with his wife, an investment advisor, to help clients design a fulfilling retirement. For more on Mike, head to BoomingEncore.com. Check out his earlier articles.