Freelance After 50 Newsletter

F50 Issue #6: Finding Your Purpose in Unretirement

Published 8 months ago • 5 min read

F50 Issue #6: September 26, 2023

Retirement is for the Birds: Finding Purpose in Your Unretirement

“Eat a plant-based diet!” “Get gardening!” “Eat more soy!” “Enjoy the sunshine!” “Stay active!”

This is some of the advice we hear in a new Netflix documentary series called Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. In each episode, author Dan Buettner takes us on a journey around the world as he explores five communities where people live long, healthy lives.

According to his website, Buettner coined the term “blue zones” when he led an exploratory project in 2004, searching for communities where people enjoyed extreme longevity and a high quality of life. This concept originated with the demographic work of Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who drew concentric blue circles on a map to highlight villages in Sardinia, Italy, that had extreme longevity and called the area inside the circle the “blue zone.”

The first episode of the documentary explores Okinawa, Japan, home of the longest-living woman in the world. Overall, Buettner found that Okinawans suffered less dementia, cancer, and heart disease than Americans.

Now, you might think they achieve this through a relaxing retirement lifestyle, but the opposite is true. The Japanese language doesn’t actually have a word for “retire.”

Instead, Okinawans embrace a strong sense of purpose called “ikigai.” It’s their reason for living and for getting out of bed in the morning.

A similar concept appears in the third episode of the documentary, where Buettner meets an inspiring centenarian in Nicoya, Costa Rica. Here, the idea of purpose is called “plan de vida,” a reason to live.

And you can see how this positive outlook leads to long, healthy lives!

Key Benefits of Having a Purpose

The scenes are touching. You see older adults smiling, laughing, and working. They’re eager to share their wisdom and zest for life.

In the first episode, Buettner explores the benefits of embracing an ikigai. He says, “I believe it’s one of the most powerful factors contributing to [Okinawans’] longevity.”

He interviews Harumasa Mekaru, age 80, who says, “I contribute to the world. The art I’ve created will remain for hundreds of years after I pass away. This is my ikigai.”

And Dr. Makoto Suzuki sums it up: “Ikigai is a kind of mission. A sense of purpose.”

After these enlightening conversations, Buettner concludes,

“People imbued with this constant sense of purpose, they know their values, and it makes those day-to-day decisions very easy because you know your core.”

When you can articulate why you get up in the morning, you have a clear sense of responsibility, and you feel needed, no matter how old you are.

This concept is further illustrated by the evidence Buettner sees in Nicoya, Costa Rica. Buettner asks 100-year-old Ramiro Guadamuz why he works so hard when he doesn’t have to. And Guadamuz answers, “Because that’s my life.”

Buettner explains,

“Costa Ricans have this very clear sense of purpose they call plan de vida. They know where they’re heading in life. They know why they’re waking up in the morning. That’s what propels them through difficulties, keeps them doing the work.”

If you watch the series, you’ll notice that Guadamuz looks much younger than 100. When you see him riding his horse, you’d assume he’s decades younger. He enjoys his work, and he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

In a Further article titled, “Lesson One: Who Do You Want to be Next?” Brian Clark discusses ikigai and how it can benefit us too:

“We all likely have a general mode of ikigai that fuels us while the specific applications continually evolve. Work that ends up being a series of interesting projects allows for that evolution in your life.”

So, let’s see how you can apply this concept to your own life.

How to Find Your Ikigai

If you’re thinking, “Retirement is for the birds and I can’t make bird houses for the rest of my life,” you might be interested in finding your ikigai.

Jessi Christian shares this handy graphic in her article, “Ikigai — The Reason Why You Get Up In The Morning”:

To discover your ikigai, she recommends asking yourself four questions:

  • “What is it that you love?”
  • “What does the world need?”
  • “What are you good at?”
  • “And what will you get paid for?”

As you can see, your ikigai will be the sweet spot where passion, mission, profession, and vocation intersect.

So, take some time to reflect on these questions. Do you have a favorite activity that answers all four of them?

How to Turn Your Ikigai into a Freelance Niche

At Freelance University, we use a similar set of questions to help freelancers discover their niche: “a specialty service and/or market that is suited to your personality, passions, proficiencies, and professional background.”

For instance, maybe you have a passion for birds and a background in writing. You’re wondering if you could write content for birdwatchers. Or maybe you have a background in marketing and want to help a family member who sells birdhouses.

If you decide to become a freelancer, you can use our Niche Identification Matrix to explore these four elements:

  • Personality: How will this niche mesh with my personality?
  • Passions: Will this niche align with my passions/interests?
  • Proficiencies: How does this niche complement my skills and experience?
  • Profitable Niches: Will this niche expand my income potential and opportunities?

Whatever stage of life you’re in, your health and longevity will benefit from finding your ikigai or plan de vida. If you can identify just one thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, you’re on your way to reaching 100 with greater vitality!


Now it’s time to turn on your stereo, Walkman, iPod, or music streaming service and listen to Peter Cetera’s song “The Glory of Love.”

Are you listening? Okay, now imagine you’re in a theater watching The Karate Kid Part II in 1986. This movie was set in Okinawa, as Ralph Macchio’s character, Daniel LaRusso, travels there with his karate teacher, Mr. Miyagi.

Although the movie was actually filmed in Hawaii and other locations in Japan, many of the actors are well on their way to achieving a longevity worthy of the Okinawans in the Blue Zones documentary.

You might wonder if they’ve found their ikigai in acting, because decades later, they’re still performing and demonstrating impressive karate moves.

61-year-old Ralph Macchio now stars in the Netflix series Cobra Kai, reprising his original role along with 57-year-old William Zabka, who plays his rival, Johnny Lawrence.

76-year-old Martin Kove is back as Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese — remember how he used to say “no mercy” and “sweep the leg” in the first movie? — and 61-year-old Thomas Ian Griffith returns as karate master Terry Silver.

It’s like they haven’t missed a beat, and their story continues. They have a reason to get up in the morning and delight us with a wonderful walk down memory lane!

Words to Live By

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

― Maya Angelou

Wishing you much success as you find your ikigai and take the first step or continue many more steps toward a long, fulfilling life!

Until next time,

Co-founders of Freelance University

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Freelance After 50 Newsletter

Craig & Kelly Cannings, Co-founders of Freelance University

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