Richard Leider is an internationally known author and work life coach. He says all people want to find their gifts and share them with communities. But the question is always — how?
In this conversation with Cathy Wurzer recorded live this spring, he spoke about the revelations in his most recent book entitled “Who do You Want to be when You Grow Old; the Path of Purposeful Aging.” It’s co-written by David Shapiro and offers practical advice and enlightening stories about people who have figured out how to share their gifts.
Click the audio player above to listen to their conversation.
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Richard Leider says all people fundamentally want to share their gifts with their community, but the trick is how to identify your gifts and your life purpose. In a live conversation we recorded earlier this spring, Richard Leider gives us advice on how to identify our gifts and then how to share them with the world. He also has a ton of interesting stories about people who are doing exactly that. I find him both practical and enlightening. I think you will, too. Stay tuned for that special conversation. It comes your way right after the news.
WINDSOR JOHNSTON: Live from NPR News in Washington, I'm Windsor Johnston. Authorities are searching for a suspect who breached an FBI screening facility in Cincinnati, Ohio today. The agency says an armed man tried to break into the Bureau's local headquarters this morning and later fled. FBI Director, Christopher Wray, has warned about a rise in threats against the agency after it carried out a raid on former President Donald Trump's Florida estate on Monday. It's unclear whether the breach in Cincinnati was motivated by that search.
Former Trump advisor Peter Navarro is scheduled to go on trial in November. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, Navarro was held in contempt of Congress last year for failing to cooperate with the House committees investigating the January 6 insurrection.
CARRIE JOHNSON: Lawyers for Peter Navarro say they want any communications between the Justice Department and the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot, to find out whether there was undue political influence in prosecuting him. Navarro refused to share documents or testimony with the January 6 committee by arguing that former President Trump had claimed executive privilege.
Navarro says his case is different than podcaster Steve Bannon's. A jury convicted Bannon of contempt charges last month. But Bannon had not worked for the Trump White House for years. Navarro has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
WINDSOR JOHNSTON: The deputy spokesman for the Taliban says a senior cleric was killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul. NPR'S Diaa Hadid reports, the Islamic State group is claiming responsibility for the attack.
DIAA HADID: Reuters reported that a man with explosives stuffed in his prosthetic leg killed Rahimullah Haqqani in a suicide bombing. He approached him in a madrasa, or religious seminary. Previous attacks targeting Taliban leaders and fighters have been the work of the regional ISIS brand. Haqqani had survived a previous suicide bombing attempt. It occurred in a religious seminary, and several students were killed.
Haqqani was known for his strident attacks on followers of Salafism. That's a puritan form of Islam that ISIS militants uphold. He also opposed the Taliban leadership, in demanding that girls receive an education. The group has not allowed girls to attend secondary school since they swept to power nearly a year ago. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Kabul.
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JOHN WANAMAKER: For NPR News in the Twin Cities, I'm John Wanamaker. The Minnesota Nurses Association says it plans to hold a strike authorization vote on Monday. The Union says 15,000 nurses in the Twin Cities and in the Duluth area have been bargaining with their employers for a new contract for more than five months. Mary Turner is president of the union and an ICU nurse herself. She said at a news conference this morning, nurses have been working without a contract since June.
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Investigators have released the names of the sheriff's deputies who fatally shot a man in Otsego early Sunday. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says 21-year-old Jordyn John Hanson died after Wright County deputies Leland Wilkinson and Jeffrey McMackins shot him with their handguns. Two other deputies fired their tasers. The sheriff's office said Sunday that deputies responded to a call about a man who was threatening to harm himself and his family amid a mental health crisis.
The BCA says squad car video shows Hanson running toward Wilkinson with a knife and the deputy falling backward just before he fires. In a statement to the Star Tribune on Monday, Hanson's aunt told deputies, missed opportunities to detain her nephew before the-- deputies missed the opportunities to detain her nephew before he got hold of the knife.
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CATHY WURZER: Welcome to a special edition of Minnesota Now, on NPR News. I'm Cathy Wurzer. You know, I've always been a big fan of the work done by St. Paul, Minnesota, native, Richard Leider. Richard uses his prolific gifts as an author, speaker, and life and work coach to help people around the world figure out their place in the world.
Richard has written 11 books, including the best seller, Repacking Your Bags. His national PBS special, The Power of Purpose, was viewed by millions of people across the country. He's been a consultant to numerous businesses and organizations, including AARP, Mayo Clinic, and the NFL.
He and I were at a special event on behalf of the non-profit, End in Mind Project, an organization I founded several years ago. End in Mind Project helps people prepare for life's inevitable losses, serious life-limiting illnesses, disabilities, and death and dying. We also encourage people to live with meaning and purpose, even as they deal with life's challenges.
Richard Leider and I talked with an in-person and online audience about finding purpose in life and his new book, Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old? I started by asking Richard where he got his insatiable curiosity.
RICHARD LEIDER: That's a good question. I'm not sure. I know when I was growing up-- I grew up in St. Paul. I'm a homeboy, a local-- and when I was growing up, my dad used to bring people home at night for dinner. And he had that curiosity, but he made me-- picture this as a teenager or even earlier-- sit there and listen while he had these conversations with people.
And I always had the question, why do these people do what they're doing? Why don't they quit? Why don't they do something different because they're so unhappy or they're wanting something else? And so that kind of life planning curiosity was embedded in me early, through that kind of experience.
CATHY WURZER: Say, I'm wondering, a good friend used to say that when you stop being curious, you start dying from the inside-out. Is that too harsh, or do you think that has merit?
RICHARD LEIDER: I think it has merit. I had a conversation with the founder of TED. You know TED, TED Talks? And we were backstage. And his name is Richard Saul Wurman. And he said-- well Richard, he's in his late 80s-- and he said, what are you going to talk about? And I said, purpose. And he kind of went [DISAPPROVING SOUND]. And then I said, well, what are you going to talk about? And he said, curiosity. And then he paused. And he said, well, don't you think curiosity is what really ignites purpose? Because if you're not curious about yourself and you're not curious about others or the world, you're probably not going to be as engaged and as healthy and live as long.
And so he went on to found TED, which is Technology, Entertainment, Design, about his curiosity about what's the intersection of these three together. And from there he created a conference. I hope you don't do this, but he said if someone went on and on talking, at his conference he would get up and just say, thank you very much. Next. And so that's how TED got to be only 18 minutes long.
That's the back story that I heard from him directly.
CATHY WURZER: I like the story, though. I really do. I'm wondering, you know-- let's talk a little bit about the book. And there's so much to talk about here. When we were kids, right, we were asked, what do you want to be when you grow up, right?
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah, what.
CATHY WURZER: What. What did you want to be?
RICHARD LEIDER: I wanted to be a director of a camp.
CATHY WURZER: A director of a camp?
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah, like a YMCA. I was a YMCA kid coming up, and I loved camping and being in Camp St. Croix and other places like that. And I thought the coolest thing ever would to be a camp director. And you get to be out there doing that. And it didn't look like much work. But it obviously was and is. How about you? What did you want to be?
CATHY WURZER: I wanted to be a racehorse jockey.
RICHARD LEIDER: Really?
CATHY WURZER: And then I grew up.
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, you're still an equestrian or--
CATHY WURZER: Yes. Yeah, but then I literally grew up, and it didn't work.
So the question always is, what do you want to be when you grow up, right, which is really wonderfully tweaked in this book, who do you want to be when you grow up? And I'm wondering, why should we be focused on the who at this point instead of the what?
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, first of all, spoiler alert, you're getting older. But the question is, are you growing older? So the subtitle is, the path of purposeful aging is really about growing as opposed to just doing whatever you ended up doing.
But the reason-- the short answer is that we grew up twice. First is from adolescence to adulthood. Second time is from adulthood to adulthood. But where's the manual for how to get to that next phase? Because in the early 1900s, the average life expectancy was 47. Now it's much longer. So we have this second phase of life.
CATHY WURZER: Now it's a second lifetime, in a sense.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah, a second lifetime. And I remember-- do you remember the book, Passages?
CATHY WURZER: Yeah.
RICHARD LEIDER: Passages came out in 1978.
CATHY WURZER: It was a wild bestseller, though.
RICHARD LEIDER: Wild bestseller for decades. But it only took you up to midlife. So what we wanted to do was to create a new narrative for what's the next phase of life possible. What are the real possibilities? Because a lot of the books on aging are about decline. And we don't deny decline in this book at all, but we look at what are the real possibilities.
So what we tried to establish here, Cathy, was a new narrative and a new language and with reality, with real stories and real practices.
CATHY WURZER: I love the book. I really do think it's one of your best. I mean, obviously, I admitted that Repacking Your Bags obviously changed my life, right. But this is really one of your best.
RICHARD LEIDER: I love the book, which is saying something because I love to write. I write almost every single day, in the morning. But what I've found-- I've done over 70 interviews for this book. And every single interview starts with somebody who wants to tell their own story about their life or their parent's life or somebody's life.
And so I think the pandemic-- the longevity revolution. We're living longer-- plus the pandemic and other factors, the economy, in certain ways, has really put these existential questions that End in Mind is really a stand for. And that's why I love being with you and being with End in Mind and doing this is because you've really taken a stand. And I really applaud you for that, and not easy.
CATHY WURZER: No, it isn't easy. And I also appreciate you and your work. I was quite intrigued by the chapter in the book that talked about living a default life. And at End in Mind we're all about the living fully. But so many of us go through what I guess I've long called the sleepwalkers life, mindlessly going through the motions.
And then all of a sudden something happens. You get this diagnosis, then you think, oh, I haven't really lived. I don't want people to do that. And you talk about living the default life, and many people do.
RICHARD LEIDER: Right. So the default life is just a life that's not of your choosing, and there's-- we're all-- one of the quotes that was up here before is that sometimes we're pushed by pain. Sometimes we're pulled by possibility. There's stuff that happens for all of us. But a default life, at a certain point, to say, this is over. I need to unpack this and let go of it.
And we call that living in the rearview mirror. You all know somebody who's living in the rearview mirror, right. One of the things that is something I dislike immensely is sitting on an airplane, at a dinner, at an event next to a former anything, who's still living a default life. And I say, well, what are you curious about?
And one of the most dangerous questions is, what do you do? Well, that doesn't give you much, but when you start talking about what are you curious about, what are you passionate about, things like that. So the question, then, is, that's-- am I living a default life is one of the most popular chapters in the book. But then the next question is, so what's the solution? What do I-- how do I get out of this? And it's not easy because-- and so the other chapter is, how do I start living a good life? Repacking Your Bags is all about the good life.
CATHY WURZER: Exactly.
RICHARD LEIDER: And the good life, in a nutshell, is living in the place you love-- like Friendship Village-- with the people you love-- look around-- doing the right work. Now, right work could be vocational work. It can be caregiving work. It could be a lot-- it's not about job. It's about things that you care about that you're spending your gifts and talents doing or being and with purpose. So that's the other end of the default life, is the good life is living in the place.
CATHY WURZER: I wonder, you talk about living with purpose and that this is-- I think I want to get to that a bit later on in our conversation, but it would appear that a whole lot of people in the world right now are not interested in living the default life. There's the great resignation. There's been this seismic change here in our society.
And I'm wondering, you call it the-- of course, it's called the great resignation. You write that sometimes there has to be a breakdown before there's a breakthrough. So how do you view this great reimagining, in the context of your work?
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah, I think that's the right word. The great resignation has been around a long time. It's now just coming up in many, many ways, that people are acting on it. So the great reimagining, though, the pandemic and other things have put up these existential questions. And dying or death gives us a timetable, a deadline.
So when you look at a deadline like a pandemic and look at your own life, it often forces or opens up the question, number one, about what are you really doing, and secondly, who are you doing it with? Because one of the things we know that's come out over and over again in the media these days, and you talk about, is isolation is fatal. Going it alone is an incredibly bad idea. And the pandemic put that up for us and still is in certain ways.
And so what I want to say is something-- and spoiler alert number two-- is that you have a purpose. And if you came here and said, well, I don't really have a purpose. And I want to give you one right now. It's the universal purpose, that has a lot of evidence behind it. But I'm a master of making things simple. And it's only two words. It's grow and give. So write that down or make a note of that.
If you're growing and giving on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, you're living purposefully. You're not-- it's not about having a purpose. It's about living and working purposefully. So I want to ease you out of something that I always get a big sigh out of, when I say that what I really talk about and what I believe in and what I've learned, is that there's Purpose with a big P and purpose with a little p.
So Purpose with the big P is the one that kind of makes people queasy. It's like, uh, you know, I'm not-- I haven't got a big project or I haven't got big work or something like that. And it has to be noble in people's minds. Purpose with a small p is what you do to grow and give on a day-to-day basis. There are 1,440 purpose moments every day.
CATHY WURZER: 1,440?
RICHARD LEIDER: Purpose moments in a day. Now, if you're sleeping-- you don't get enough sleep, I know. Because you have to get up 3:30--
CATHY WURZER: Yeah, there's that.
RICHARD LEIDER: --to work.
CATHY WURZER: I'm making notes.
RICHARD LEIDER: We talked about it.
CATHY WURZER: I'm making notes here.
RICHARD LEIDER: 1,440 purpose moments, but it just takes one moment to give a kind word, a hug, a email, something every day. And if you do that, you will be living purposefully. And at the end of a week, you will know the small p purpose, really. So when I say small p purpose, there's often, oh, thank god I don't have to have the big P Purpose. So can you just give me a big sigh here? [SIGHS]
So everyone has the ability to do small p purpose, to make a difference in one person's life every day. And you know where I got that originally? Back in 1968, I spent a week with Viktor Frankl.
CATHY WURZER: Oh, wow.
RICHARD LEIDER: Man's Search for Meaning, seminal book. Life-changing man in many ways. Was in concentration camps. His family was killed, or was exterminated. He, being a Jewish psychiatrist, neurologist, survived, and he came back to write-- once he healed , he wrote Man's Search.
I always gave him credit 100% of the time because it changed my life. You've all had fortuitous encounters with people in your life, that changed your life. That was a life-changer for me when I was right out of graduate school trying to figure out what to do with my life.
CATHY WURZER: Wow.
RICHARD LEIDER: I didn't have a repacking at the time. And so he said, the last of the human freedoms, regardless of your age, is choice. It's to choose what you want this next moment to be about. And so what choice do you have in a concentration camp?
AUDIENCE: Not much.
RICHARD LEIDER: The will to live, give somebody else a hug, a kind word, a crust of bread or something. And he said that didn't always guarantee survival, but it helped you to thrive and survive in those situations.
So as we age, we all have adversity. That's where-- but what's our mindset? So that's what the book is about. I rolled on on that a little bit, but it's about--
CATHY WURZER: No, I'm so glad that you did.
RICHARD LEIDER: It's about big P and little p choice. Choice is really the operative word here.
CATHY WURZER: OK, can we get back to the, as you say, the small p purpose and the big P Purpose?
RICHARD LEIDER: Yep.
CATHY WURZER: Can the big P Purpose change throughout life?
RICHARD LEIDER: Yes.
CATHY WURZER: Maybe I should back it up and ask, how do you get to the big P Purpose?
RICHARD LEIDER: Big P Purpose comes with the territory. You kind of grow into it. Things happen. You figure out that it's not all about you, hopefully, when you shift from adolescence to adulthood. You figure out it's about others. You learn to be-- compassion is the soul of purpose. You learn to be more compassionate. And maybe you don't name purpose, but there's a behavior that goes with that.
So my big P Purpose, which has been with me a long time, is to help others unlock the power of purpose. Now, I didn't always say it that way. But it's always about others. That's the bottom line of purpose. You don't have to be Mother Teresa, and you don't have to be Viktor Frankl. You don't have-- it's about the impact you have on the life of others.
My small p purpose is to make a difference in one person's life every day, just one. And I always say to this-- I carry this with me. This is a Post-it. And I'm recommending that you write grow and give as a purpose on a Post-it. Put it on your mirror when you go home tonight or tomorrow morning. And when you get up in the morning, ask yourself, how am I going to grow and give today? And at the end of the day, before you go to bed at night, ask yourself, when you look at that Post-it, how did I do today? And maybe you have a purpose partner that you do it with, that checks in with you, but.
CATHY WURZER: So that is the grow and give. That's you're daily--
RICHARD LEIDER: It's the universal purpose.
CATHY WURZER: OK.
RICHARD LEIDER: You can say it in a variety of ways. But if you're not growing and curious, you don't have that reach out to others curiosity often.
CATHY WURZER: Exactly.
RICHARD LEIDER: So we're here to grow. If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.
CATHY WURZER: I love that.
RICHARD LEIDER: And your purpose is to grow and give. Now, you can name it different ways or in any way you want, but this is just simple-- one way to think about it.
CATHY WURZER: If you have a pulse, you've got a purpose. I love that. So going back to the one question that I posed earlier, can your purpose in life change? And I ask that-- people who are toward the end of their life, is that purpose different than, say, when they're in their 50s? I mean, is purpose malleable?
RICHARD LEIDER: It is. But the one consistent thing that is not malleable is it's always not about you. It's about your connection, your making a difference with others. That's the universal. And if you think it's a luxury, when we were doing the PBS special, one of the things that PBS helped me do is go out and visit with neuroscientists who are studying purpose in the brain.
And one of them, Dr. Majid Fotuhi, at Johns Hopkins, held up this pill. And I remember doing this in the PBS special. I held up a pill. And he said, Richard, do you see this pill? Would you buy it? And I said, what does it do? And he said, well, it reduces the effects of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's. It reduces the effects of macroscopic stroke. It adds to quality of life and reduces sleep apnea problems and will add 7.5 years to your life. What do you think? Would you buy it?
And I said, well, yeah. But is there a pill like that? And he's done a lot of science on this, and he says, yes, it's called purpose. We now know that purpose is-- it used to be every new idea goes through three stages-- End in Mind, I'm sure, went through it. That's why I'm asking this as a question. But first of all, ridicule. Like, why do that, with all of the?
So purpose-- people say that you're lucky. You just hit it right, with the boomers and all this other aging. And I said, yeah, 50 years later, and. But the fact is, it goes through. And then after ridicule, violent opposition. People oppose it in certain ways, to say, well, that's-- where is the evidence? And then third, it becomes self-evident. Well, purpose is now self-evident. We now have science in many, many domains that can back it up.
Dr. Becca Levy just came out with a book on this, with her 40 years of research, on showing how purpose and things we're talking about here does in fact add 7 to 10 years to your life. It's not just the-- all the other things are good, sleep, diet, exercise, all these things, but if you only have that and you don't have a reason to get up in the morning-- which is what purpose is. Why do you get up in the morning. Why do you do what you do? What's the point of the exercise here? And so we get back to that.
So purpose can change, but it's always about somehow-- it's not a luxury. Purpose is fundamental. It's fundamental to health, to healing, to happiness, and ultimately-- and I say that now with great, I wouldn't say pleasure, but great confidence. Because I've met so many scientists who are studying this now and are looking at it as part of the aging and longevity and health in second half of life.
Let me just ask you, because your dad--
CATHY WURZER: Yeah, Fritz Wurzer.
RICHARD LEIDER: --Richard Fritz Wurzer, made a gargantuan mid-career shift, which was-- I'm sure people said, don't do that. Why are you doing that?
CATHY WURZER: Oh, yeah.
RICHARD LEIDER: Can you share a little bit about that? Are you willing to?
CATHY WURZER: That was nice that you brought that up. Yeah, my father, when he was in his 50s, quit his very--
RICHARD LEIDER: At that point it would be definitely second half of life.
CATHY WURZER: Absolutely. He used to have a very stable job at the old Munsingwear, in Minneapolis.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah, sure.
CATHY WURZER: And it was a stable job, and he quit and wanted to be a teacher. So he went back to school to get his master's degree.
RICHARD LEIDER: Did your mom think it was a good idea?
CATHY WURZER: None of us really thought it was a great idea. There was a lot of stress around that. But he went. He did it. He was an excellent teacher.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah. So he went. You said we all need teachers.
CATHY WURZER: We all need teachers.
RICHARD LEIDER: Excellent teachers. My wife was an excellent teacher. She's sitting over here. And she talks, and we talk about the need for teachers throughout our whole life.
CATHY WURZER: Absolutely.
RICHARD LEIDER: But he was an excellent teacher. How did-- tell us a little bit more about why-- what turned him? I mean, was he really energized then?
CATHY WURZER: Oh yeah, he was. He-- definitely. I think the corporate life just wasn't for him. And he didn't last as a teacher very long, until he was laid off, sadly, as what can happen. But he was at Anoka Tech, Anoka Vo Tech, and Anoka-Ramsey.
And left behind a number of students who just thought he was terrific. And I think he found his calling at a late stage of life. And I was always impressed by that, because he had the courage to do that.
RICHARD LEIDER: So purpose is a calling. Those words are in interactive for me. So there's a formula for purpose, that we talk about. And the formula is-- or it's a pattern. It's gifts plus passions plus values equals purpose. If you get up in the morning and you're using your most-loved gifts on something that you feel some curiosity or passion for in an environment that's healthy for you-- and that great resignation is, a lot of people have a decent job in an environment that's not-- they don't have a voice. It's not healthy for them. And that's the great resignation-- that equals calling.
And so I've been studying, and everyone here has gifts. No exceptions. The key is, can you name your gift and use it on a day-to-day basis? Can you bring it to life and give it away? That's why grow and give. What are you giving? It's not just being a nice person. It's giving your gift. And your gift could be as a teacher, as a listener, as a-- it doesn't have to be a role per se, but it can be-- if I was to ask you what your gift is today, some of you would go, oh, I don't have one. That's only people who are really, you know. And The fact is every one of us has gifts. We were born with gifts in certain ways.
You remember the book, What Color is Your Parachute?
CATHY WURZER: Oh, yes.
RICHARD LEIDER: How many of you have heard of, What Color is Your Parachute?
CATHY WURZER: Oh, yeah.
RICHARD LEIDER: Richard Bolles, who wrote that, and I were friends and colleagues for many, many years. He wrote the foreword for one of my books, called Something to Live For. And the foreword was called, the gifts we love. Now, he was an Episcopal priest. He died about five years ago, six years ago. He was an Episcopal priest who got fired from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, for budget reasons not for any hokey pokey type things.
And he decided that he would find out, travel-- he got some money from the United Ministries in Higher Education to travel around and find out, well, what do former priests do? Like, what do former journalists do, or what does former anybody do? And he wrote, What Color is Your Parachute, which sold 10 million copies over time.
In the foreword, Something to Live For, he said this-- so think about this. Now, he's a Catholic-- he's an Episcopal priest-- he said, I had this dream that I had a conversation with God and that I wanted to go to Earth and be born. And so I had it and God agreed, but he said, being a loving God, you need to do something when you're there. I'm going to give you some gifts, something to do and give while you're on Earth.
So Bolles then woke up from his dream. But he had amnesia. He couldn't remember the gifts that God gave him.
CATHY WURZER: Great.
RICHARD LEIDER: And he said, all of us are born with amnesia. We don't know, and we have to figure it out along the way. And as teachers, as parents, as friends, as grandparents, whatever, part of our role is to help others discern their gifts. And that's what we try to do throughout life, not just in a job or in a career but at any point in life. What are our gifts? How do we go about remembering or naming them so that we can actually give them?
CATHY WURZER: You just asked yourself a good question. How do you go excavate that? Is there a formula for that? Because you had such a great formula, G plus P plus V equals, yeah. I mean, do you have something else, that you can help?
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, of course. That's what I do for a living.
CATHY WURZER: I know.
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, let me give a quick test. Is it OK?
CATHY WURZER: Go ahead.
RICHARD LEIDER: OK. It's very quick, but think about your own gifts. Number one, a gift is something you love to do. I love to listen to people's stories, to coach. Have I always had that? Yes, but not necessarily. So a gift is something you love to do.
Secondly, others observe you doing it effortlessly and superbly. They see you doing it well. And oftentimes, they see it in you. Why? Because they don't have the same gift. And we kind of live in a society of no pain, no gain. And so I don't have that gift, and you do. And so I value it. Third is, I can't remember learning it. I can't recall. I don't have a degree in it. I don't have a gold medal in it. I've just always done it effortlessly and superbly.
CATHY WURZER: Let me ask you about, once you discover your gifts, which kind of leads into your purpose, is this where we start growing whole? Because I really love that in the book, that I hope I can grow whole before I leave this earth. But I want to know, what does that mean? What does it feel like when you're growing into a wholeness?
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, we look at our lives and there's a chronological age, that you can say my age is blank. I'm 77. I'll be 78. So that's my chronology. Then there's a biology part of that. Am I healthy? And that's part of wholeness. And we can all level it. Then there's a spiritual part of that. Am I growing as a person? And then there's a social part, as a whole person, in what is my spiritual life like or my point of view, my worldview and that. And then there's also social. There is the relational part of growing. And so sometimes we're kind of specialized in one of those but not all of those. So growing whole means to open up to the world in certain ways on these other aspects of life.
I was on a program recently with-- this book tour with Dr. Vivek Murthy. Dr. Vivek Murthy is the surgeon general, both the 19th and the 21st surgeon general. He has a new book out called Together. And his book is all about isolation is fatal and that isolation is worse than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and other things that he kind of uses as drama, talking about.
And he said that we all need three things to grow into as we age. One is intimacy. And what he's talking about there is to have one friend who really gets you, who can talk with you, who can listen to you, care versus cure, without fixing you, can just hear you, at least one.
And he said the research that they've done shows that today, even pre-pandemic, there are millions and millions of people that don't even have one person that they can talk to in that way. We're kind of letting technology, in many ways, hijack the human moment. We're connected. We're overconnected in some ways and underconnected in other ways. We're always going somewhere, never being anywhere with people, he's saying.
So think about for you. Who is somebody that is that somebody? And sometimes we have to work at that. We have to figure that out.
CATHY WURZER: Especially at a later age, it's really hard to find those people.
RICHARD LEIDER: And they die or they-- different things happen. They move. Secondly, he talks about friends, and not just in a-- but people who we share collective experience with. We might live in the same place. We might share certain hobbies or things that we-- and then the third thing is community. And so he said that these, all three, are part of growing whole as we age. And there are other factors that we talk about here as well.
CATHY WURZER: You know, you wrote in the book, which I think is interesting, having a clearly identified sense of purpose helps us reframe stressful situations so that we can deal with them more positively and bounce back more quickly. I'm interested in that. I'm really interested in reframing. Give us an example of how that works.
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, it's like Viktor Frankl. Purpose or having a why, having a reason to get up in the morning is a mindset. And so it's a choice in certain ways. And so when I was doing the work with AARP, we created something called the Life Reimagined Institute, that I was the curator of. And we looked at how people-- you know, the old model of aging was like this, grow up, grow old. Grow up, decline.
My father, I grew up with that model. My dad worked for the same place for 40 years. Retired. Died two years later. And he had kind of-- I'm not-- I can't channel him, but that was the model that I grew up with, was that you want to retire from something. The new model, that we studied, is this new life phase. So we're living these 20 or 30 years longer, or maybe more. The fastest growing cohort in the country is 85 and over. And there's going to be something like 10 times more centenarians in the next 10 years, living to be 100. So those are just statistics.
But the new model is grow up. There's a dip in the middle. They used to call it the midlife crisis. They now call the you curve of happiness. Because the worldwide science on this, what I'm talking about here, is that midlife in the 40s and early 50s is the most unhappy time of life. It used to be, in the old model, that aging was the most unhappy time of life. You didn't want that decline. Now they're finding the two most happiest times of life are that adolescence shift to adulthood and the shift to the new phase of life that we call life reimagined or the--
CATHY WURZER: I call it older hood.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah--
CATHY WURZER: I think that.
RICHARD LEIDER: --older hood.
CATHY WURZER: Older hood.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah.
CATHY WURZER: Yeah.
RICHARD LEIDER: And so how do we grow into-- how do we change our mindset, to your question, to look at this as a real possibility? Think about-- let me ask you-- I'm asking Cathy, but I'm asking you the same thing-- who are your exemplars of what I would call purposeful or vital aging?
CATHY WURZER: How about you?
RICHARD LEIDER: I can think of many. One was Richard Bolles-- and he was writing and speaking and thinking all the way up to his final days-- of course, people like Viktor Frankl, who are known. But I'll tell you, one of the people who died, who was a mentor for me, is Dr. Roland "Rolly" Larson. And Rolly Larson was a psychologist. And on his bumper sticker it said, listen to someone today. That was his purpose. That was his mantra.
And whenever I had any kind of a challenge, he was one of my first turn-to people. Because he would listen without fixing, care versus cure, interested versus interesting. And so there's lots of people today in the-- and the world's reporting on this constantly, about people who are vital aging. And we have a president of the United States who's-- what is he, 79? And so you can look around and just say, what are the models for?
Because it's not about-- the old model was escape from or moving from. The new model is moving to. When I talk about retirement with people-- people think I'm anti retirement, because I'm not planning on retiring-- I don't care if people retire, but I want to know what they're moving to. What is energizing them, whether they're working or not working, what's on their-- what's in their windshield?
CATHY WURZER: As we talk about vital aging, though, we're still are in a culture that reveres youth.
RICHARD LEIDER: True.
CATHY WURZER: And we're making progress. Do you feel we're making progress with this? Is the baby boomers'-- is this what will be our legacy moving forward, is actually changing societal preconceptions about aging?
RICHARD LEIDER: Everybody's is an experiment of one. And so ageism is alive and well. It's going to take a while for it to go away. But I find it going away in many ways today. So I don't have, really, an answer to that, other than to say that whenever I see it, I call it out.
So I think for you, too, if you look at people who are aging-- because everybody here is an older person in training, learning to be an older adult. It doesn't come with a manual. And so you have great places like Lifespark. And Joel Theisen, whose story is in the book, his about changing that aging mindset.
You're doing it with this. YouCare is doing this. People like-- I could name Friendship Village and others. We're changing the model, I believe, of what aging is possible. And it's not Pollyanna-ish. There's stuff that goes with the territory that you have to deal with. But then there's also the mindset and the practices. What do you practice on a day-to-day basis, not just good health and good sleep and everything, but what about the meaning part of that?
There's 3M's-- I gave a talk at 3M. I don't know if anyone's here from 3M. But I gave a talk at 3M. And they thought it was so cool because I made it up for them. I said, no, I've been talking about this for a long time. For vital aging, there's money that's needed, resources. There's medicine, health. But there's also meaning. You all know some people who have enough money and enough health but are a drag. They're not alive. They're not-- they're still living in the rearview mirror.
CATHY WURZER: Exactly. Can I get back to-- again, kind of curious about reframing the mindset here. And for those who are not familiar, reframing is a technique where you take a situation, put a different frame around it, and by doing so, you change your entire experience of the situation. Where is the line, I'm wondering, between reframing and, for want of a better word, I guess self deception? Should we be mindful of that?
RICHARD LEIDER: Yes. However, you're only as good as your practices. We're always practicing something. But reframing is reframing your mindset but also testing it out and seeing how it feels and how it works. And there will be failures along the way. So it's not easy.
But one of the things that helps with reframing is to have a sounding board, is to have other people that you can talk with. And when I was a full-time coach, I wouldn't work with people unless they had a sounding board to test out their ideas, not to whether they're good or bad. And sometimes-- you and I were saying this, there's some research that just came out at Stanford. Someone that you don't even know can help you reframe. They can ask you questions.
And you said you sit on an airplane sometimes and to have a genius conversation with someone you've never met before?
CATHY WURZER: Fantastic.
RICHARD LEIDER: So that's kind of a reframing practice. You're testing out, maybe, an idea. And rather than-- you'll say, tell me more about that, Cathy. How do you feel? Or why do you feel about that as opposed to somebody who's saying, oh, you're so busy, Cathy. You're the queen of busyness. Why are you doing that? So the point is that you need a practice. Reframe, mindset, practice, how does that work in your life and in the real world?
CATHY WURZER: And all of what you're talking about in this book is really, really exciting. It truly is. And I'm wondering, it was Albert Einstein that said he felt that fear and greed are two of the three great forces in the world, fear and greed. The third one is stupidity. That's not what we're talking about.
Fear can drive a lot of what we do, right, or not do. So do you have strategies for folks who are listening, who are hearing what you're saying, but there is some fear that maybe stops them from wanting to find their true purpose in life, to live with wholeness? That can be a big barrier to people, fear.
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, I've said it, but first of all, don't go it alone. And have some-- one at least, you can share and talk with about whatever that is. And secondly is a practice. I mean, do something to overcome that. So we haven't talked about dying yet.
CATHY WURZER: We're going to get there.
RICHARD LEIDER: But that's a big fear, and which can be a block for lots of people for lots of reasons. But part of overcoming fear-- I don't-- there's no silver bullet. There's no easy answer for that for me other than to dive into the flame, if you--
One of the axioms that I grew up with in Outward Bound. I created Outward Bound's first adult course, called the Life Career Renewal Course. And one of the things I learned as an axiom in Outward Bound, like, if you're climbing a mountain and you're fearful-- I mean literally rope climbing-- and you get stuck in the middle of the-- think about it. And you can't-- there's down and there's up and you're stuck.
And in Outward Bound they say, if you can't get out of it, get into it. And what that means is all of a sudden I'm going to choose, right in that moment, to get into it and let go of all the ego and let go of all the other fear and just-- and all of a sudden, people just shoot up when they make that decision. How they get about making that-- I mean, you can't stay there all night.
CATHY WURZER: Right.
RICHARD LEIDER: So they either have to go down or go up. And usually, we wouldn't let them down, so they'd have to go up. But if you can't get out of it, get into it. Well, easily more said-- easily said than done. But getting into it means going it with somebody else and trying a simple bite, a step in the right direction. One step.
CATHY WURZER: One step at a time, which is really-- it's a great life practice. So I want to acknowledge something. As we sit here and we are two white, middle aged, educated, mostly healthy, comfortable individuals, and there are so many other people in the world that don't look like us. They're struggling mightily. Where does this message land with them?
RICHARD LEIDER: You know, I've learned more about purpose-- I'll use sort of a backstory example. But I've been leading trips in Africa for over 30 years. I sat around the fire in Africa with elders. And I have learned as much about purpose there as I've done in other reason. And I found some of the most purposeful people there who have nothing and give everything.
And so one of those people was a man named Kampala. And he died in his 80s. He was a hunter-gatherer from a tribe called the Hadza, hunter-gatherer tribe. And I was interviewing him about how do you become an elder and what the elders do and all of this. And he got pretty tired of my interview. And he said, you mind if I ask-- if I interview you?
And we stepped aside with a translator in an ancient click language. And he said, Richard, do you know what the two most important days in your life are? I said birth and death. And he looked at me like I was from outer space. He said, you came over here on an airplane. You came out here in a Land Rover. You're in that tent over there, all these things, and he said, I sleep around the fire in this. And I've never been more than like 25 kilometers from here.
I said, well, what are the two most important days? He said, birth, because of infant mortality and things like that over there. The second most important day is the day you determine why you were born, what you're here to do. He said, in our culture, the only way we've survived for 100,000 years is through total giving, grow and give. We, as elders, teach youngers-- even there, with no-- all these things we're talking about here-- what their gifts are and how to give those gifts. Because we're not going to survive unless you show up and give in total. I've never seen-- Sally, my wife, and I have been there. And if we bring something, it's shared equally by everybody instantly. And that's what giving is.
So there is adversity. There's people, as you said, who are all walks of life. But purpose is who we are as human beings. It's not some psychological construct. It is who we were born to be, to be part of community and to give our gifts.
And some of the most-- there are people in this room who I know who are-- like Brian Mogren sitting over here, who's giving in the north side of Minneapolis and helping young youth in the north side to learn to grow and give. And so-- and other people I could name here as well. So I think it's hard to get the story across when there's adversity, but it's fundamental.
CATHY WURZER: I'm grateful that you chose to talk about death and dying in your book. That's a tentative end in mind, obviously, to talk about the stuff that people don't want to talk about. You had the best description, calling death the world's unparalleled expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion, that we all will die. How is your relationship with death?
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, David Shapiro, who's a tenured philosophy professor in Seattle, and I, this is our sixth book together. And the opening of the chapter of the book, the opening section, is the long conversation. But it ends with the ultimate conversation. And so we took on that ultimate conversation, about how do you want to die? When do you want to die? What do you want to leave behind?
So there's three questions that the book asks you to answer. But we said, if we're going to ask you to answer these, we better answer them ourselves. And so we wrote that. And that was kind of-- we were thrilled once we actually did it. But we said, do we really want to talk about our own death and dying?
CATHY WURZER: What was it like?
RICHARD LEIDER: And it was liberating. Because I think that death gives as-- takes away, if you face into it, like your mantra, in certain ways, your Benedictine mantra, which is?
CATHY WURZER: Death before you every day.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah. Why?
CATHY WURZER: Because it allows you to live. That fear is lessened.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah. So keep death daily before you every day. But also, look at what is it, the end, like, it gives gratitude. It gives life, as you said, and to realize that your most precious currency is time. And so what are you doing with that time? That's what purpose is. Purpose is a verb. Purpose is a verb. It's an action. It's what we do with our time and our life and our choices. It's a path that we travel.
CATHY WURZER: Another question from the audience. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: I have so many questions I'd love to ask you. But I actually have a friend listening online, who was unable to get hers in the chat. Her first name is Nneka. And she's a doctor. And she asked-- addressing end of life is a passion of hers-- and I would like to ask, how do you start the conversation on death and dying with strangers? Do you feel it's something we should all talk about to erase the stigma? Or should it be something to be kept for more quiet spaces?
CATHY WURZER: Ooh, Nneka, good question.
RICHARD LEIDER: How much time have you got?
CATHY WURZER: Good one. I like that a lot.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah, I think the-- I don't know. I mean, I do start a conversation with strangers all the time about this. I'm annoying that way. But those three questions at the end of the book, I think, are three questions to take a look at and to share with her. And so how do you want to die? How do you want to die is maybe not the opener, but.
CATHY WURZER: Maybe not. It's a little harsh.
RICHARD LEIDER: But it's really like-- the third question is, what kind of gifts do you want to give while you're still alive, while you're still here? That's a show stopper because oftentimes we think of our legacy and our estate and afterwards, but what about while you're here? And can you-- and I find people can talk about that.
CATHY WURZER: I have a final question for you, my friend. You've been talking to elders since what, the early 1970s--
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah.
CATHY WURZER: --interviewing these folks--
RICHARD LEIDER: Yep.
CATHY WURZER: --asking them what they've learned about themselves.
RICHARD LEIDER: We did it for this book, too.
CATHY WURZER: Yep, what they wish they would have learned sooner in their lives.
RICHARD LEIDER: Yeah.
CATHY WURZER: So what lessons do you wish you would have learned sooner in your life?
RICHARD LEIDER: Well, the interviews with elders have three themes, all three of which I would answer are lessons learned for me, and ask them, if you could live your life over again-- it's like our friend here, who does ask the three questions-- what would you do differently?
Number one, they say they'd be more reflective the second time around. So I wish I would have been more reflective. And I am pretty reflective. However, I can be nonreflective as well. And secondly-- and I said, why weren't you-- when they say they wish they would have been more reflective. What caused them to be more reflective? A crisis. Then I had to. I got cancer. I got a divorce. I had to-- lost my job. Something happened, and all of a sudden, bang, I had to step back and look at the big picture.
So I think what we're trying to do here is to help people open the lens on the big picture, with or without a crisis but hopefully without. Secondly, they said they'd be more courageous the second time around. And the two areas they would take more risks were work and love.
We spend about 60% of our time working. And then in relationships, those are the areas that give us the most pain and the most joy. And they wish they would have been more savvy in those areas, more courageous about these courageous conversations.
And then the other thing is, the third thing, of reflection and courage, was purpose. Mattering matters to us as human beings. Every single person I've ever interviewed wants their life to matter. And I think that's why End in Mind exists, is that mattering matters all the way up to the very end. And you're helping us to have that kind of conversation, to make sure it does happen.
CATHY WURZER: I think you're right. Richard, I am grateful to you for your wisdom and your generous heart. And I admire how you move through the world. And I thank you for the gifts you've given us tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, the incredible Richard Leider.
RICHARD LEIDER: Thank you.
Thank you. But can I just add one thing, too? We've already given applause for her essence, but on my playlist, in my memorial service, which I've written, the top song is "Old Friends," by Simon and Garfunkel, written by Paul Simon. Old friends sat on the park bench like bookends.
CATHY WURZER: Yeah.
RICHARD LEIDER: I want to sit on a park bench with bookends like you.
CATHY WURZER: You would be fun. That would be great. I would love that. Thank you.
I'm also incredibly grateful to YouCare and Friendship Village of Bloomington, and Lifespark, Securian Financial, Spire Credit Union, Always Joy, Clear Dwelling, Mill City Commons, [INAUDIBLE] Legal Services, for making tonight possible. If you liked what you heard and you saw and you want to hear more of this and see more of it, go to EndinMind.org and check us out there. We've got a lot of great stuff.
Richard, thank you. And everyone, thank you for being with us. It was really a delight.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You did a great job.
That was bestselling author, speaker, and life work coach, Richard Leider. He and I were in conversation about his latest book, Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old? It was part of an event sponsored by the Twin Cities based End in Mind Project. That's been a special edition of Minnesota Now. I'm Cathy Wurzer.
SPEAKER 3: Support comes from South Dakota, reminding you that the greatest part of a road trip is how you appreciate every minute a little fuller, feeling the rhythm of life's great adventures. Information at TravelSouthDakota.com.
SPEAKER 4: Programming is supported by Best & Flanagan, a legal team dedicated to understanding where you want to go and helping you get there. best & Flanagan, lawyers you know, online at Bestlaw.com.
JOHN WANAMAKER: Up next on NPR News, the takeaway.
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JOHN WANAMAKER: Well, everybody is talking on social media about how beautiful the sunrise was this morning. I missed that. But it is a pretty nice afternoon, 79 degrees under partly cloudy skies. Not terribly humid. So it's pretty comfortable. We'll see a high near 82 degrees. And then tonight, clouds moving in. Some showers developing in the early morning hours of Friday.
And it looks like we'll see rain on and off through the morning, into the early afternoon, and then maybe another round possible later on in the afternoon on Friday. Highs tomorrow only near 72 degrees. But then the weekend is looking beautiful, sunshine, highs in the mid 80s.
This is NPR News, 91.1, KNOW, Minneapolis, St. Paul. It's 1:00.
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