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Rearview Mirror Revelations

At age 80, I still ask myself “Who do I want to be when I grow old?” I have enjoyed many roles: author, entrepreneur, corporate executive, global speaker, father, spouse, wilderness guide, restaurant partner, non-profit founder. And now co-author of the 4th edition of The Power of Purpose.

Does this reflection at 80 in the rearview mirror define who I am today? Or, is who I am today defining the roles that I’m choosing to act upon?

I have come to recognize and accept that people who do rearview mirror reflection during late life have an awareness that to be fully who they are meant to be on this earth is better served by viewing their life, now, through the windshield. This comes at different times to each of us. Sadly, some never realize it. We might not all become who we hoped for, but reimagining our late life possibilities in the windshield is a first step.

My most striking revelation has been how much the arc of aging entails a subjective, interior, and even spiritual process, nothing less than the reclaiming of our unique spark of purpose. I reflect on my own purpose – Unlocking the power of purpose – on a remarkable thought from the philosopher Martin Buber:

“Every person in this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique and every [person’s] foremost task is the actualization of [their] unique unprecedented and never-recurring possibilities.”

I truly have experienced what Buber says, that everybody has something unique to contribute. And it’s been my purpose and my privilege to assist people to get in touch with it.

Peter W. Marty wrote in the Christian Century magazine (June 17, 2022): “The windshield on my car is five feet by three feet in dimension. I know this because I just measured it. The rearview mirror inside is 9 inches by 2 inches. There’s a reason the windshield is about 100 times larger than the mirror: cars are designed to be driven forward. Drivers benefit from having an optimal view of where they’re headed.”

“It strikes me that a lot of people spend their days trying to steer their way through life by fixating in the rearview mirror. What’s behind them in their own life’s experience guides their navigational instincts. Instead of believing that God or anybody else might be beckoning them toward a new future, they’re more focused on recovering the past. The orientation map they rely on keeps directing them backward rather than forward, which turns out to be a pretty difficult way to drive.”

It’s often said that hindsight is 20/20, meaning if we knew in the past what we know now, we might have acted on that insight. A rearview mirror is like hindsight because it shows us where we’ve been. When we reflect on our past from a purpose perspective, it can bring new choices. This new perspective is life changing.

Here are two ways how you can embrace that new purpose perspective:

  1. Rearview Mirror: Acknowledge Your Past
    Whatever we resist, persists. Don’t deny what’s happened in the past and don’t ignore it. Those feelings are valid, but we don’t need to dwell on them. Acknowledge and accept the life lessons it has taught you. But, give yourself a time limit to reflect and reimagine – and then move on. We can’t change what’s happened to us. We may have had an unfair past, but we don’t have to have an unfair future. We may have had a rough start, but it’s not how we start, it’s how we finish.

  2. Windshield: Be Purposeful About Your Future
    The next time you are in your car, notice that there’s a big windshield in the front and a very small rearview mirror. The reason the front windshield is so big and the rearview is so small is that what’s happened in the past is not nearly as important as what is in your future. Where you’re going is a lot more important than where you’ve been. Living purposefully is essentially a choice to grow and to give for life and lets your brain know you want to focus on contributing to life. When you set your daily intention on hope for what will be and gratitude for what is, you won’t have the time or the desire to worry about what’s already past. So, if you’re feeling stuck staring into the rearview mirror, remember you’re the one in the driver’s seat. You can choose to shift gears from Reverse to Drive at any time. Do it daily and it becomes a habit. Practice “growing and giving for life and it becomes who you are.

Richard Leider, founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company, is the author of twelve books, including two best sellers, which have sold over one million copies. Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose are considered classics in the personal growth field.  Richard’s PBS Special – The Power of Purpose – was viewed by millions of people across the U.S.  His recent book is Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?: The Path of Purposeful Aging. His newest book is the 4th edition of The Power of Purpose: To Grow and to Give for Life with longtime co-author David Shapiro to be released December 2024.

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