What is your life’s purpose?
My purpose is to help others move in an empowered way through their major life transitions, and in so doing realize that they are capable of being and doing much more than they have thought possible.
How are you living your purpose?
At this point in my life, I live my purpose by supporting older adults in growing into the rich, fulfilled elderhood that is possible for them. I started the Center for Conscious Eldering in 2010, through which I and several colleagues offer weeklong Choosing Conscious Elderhood retreats and shorter workshops at retreat centers across North America. These serve to inspire people approaching retirement age and beyond to aim high as they age, rejecting the strong ageist societal messages that surround us and owning their innate capacity for growth, passion, purpose and service is their later chapters.
My skills as a writer have played a significant role in helping me fulfill my purpose. I have written many articles on various facets of the empowering paradigm for aging known as “conscious eldering,” and in 2014 had my book, Conscious Living, Conscious Aging published by Beyond Words/Atria Books. I have also served as host for the Shift Network’s Transforming Aging Summits in 2015, 2016 and 2017. All my professional activities are grounded in my deep commitment to do my best to be an exemplar of the intentionality, growth, and sense of purpose that characterize the elders today’s world urgently needs.
How did you find your purpose?
Finding my purpose was a difficult quest for me, filled with many dark nights of the soul. I perceived my purpose’s first glimmers while in college in the late ‘60s, when seemingly from out of nowhere strong idealism arose in me. I became passionately committed to helping create a society where everyone had the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Then I faced the difficult reality of finding ways to act on that idealism while also making a living.
After two abortive attempts at graduate education in which I ended up in programs that seemed to deaden me rather than bringing me alive, I finally began to find my way toward discovering how my idealism could take form. The California Institute of Integral Studies, from which I earned my Masters in East-West Counseling, taught me approaches from cultures around the world to help people grow and allowed me to meet fantastic people who were passionately acting on their sense of purpose. However, to my chagrin, none of these approaches felt like the way I was meant to be of service. Something inside me knew I had not yet found my way to serve, and after graduation this lack of clarity led to a very dark night of fear, hopelessness, and yet more searching.
This searching led to a pivotal experience at Mt. Shasta in California in which I absolutely knew that my purpose is to help people move through major life transitions by tapping into the power of nature to open their hearts and minds to the possibilities that await them in their next life chapters. But I knew no one doing such work. What I felt called to was vastly different than Outward Bound.
About a year later, in a moment that I can only describe as an experience of grace, I was introduced to Stephen Foster and Meredith Little, the courageous guides whose legacy is their pioneering work in reminding the contemporary world of the critical important of spiritually empowering rites of passage. Within minutes of meeting them, I knew I had found people who could show me how to embody my sense of purpose—how to use my idealism to empower others, and in so doing to truly come alive myself. They seemed to have a similar epiphany and told me they were considering starting a program to train others in guiding wilderness rites of passage and invited me to be their first trainee.
I went on to start one of the first vision questing organizations and devoted myself heart and soul to that work for several years. When our children came along, I had to do corporate training and educational program development work to support my family, but I always knew what my heart yearned for and what brought me most alive—and bided my time until I could engage with that work again.
In the year 2000, the current iteration of my life’s work began to emerge, when two wise elders asked me, the younger rite of passage guy, to join them in creating a program to serve as a form of rite of passage into elderhood. Now, 17 years later, I am nearly 70 years old and doing my best to show others the rich possibilities of a conscious elderhood as I myself do the inner work that makes those possibilities reality.
I would add one other thing about my discovery of my purpose. As I began leading wilderness vision quests, when I was engaged in that work I had a strong sense that rather than teaching me something new, Stephen and Meredith had reminded me of something I already knew in my gut, or my soul. The work felt like it was so deeply embedded in me I had known it forever and done it many times before. That for me has been an ongoing confirmation that the work that brings me alive is my calling, my purpose, my service to life.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Make a practice of looking at your experiences with an eye to identifying what brings you truly alive in your mind, emotions, and spirit as best you know it. Do a life review and look for those threads that seem to have tied the key events of your life together. What excited you as a child and kept emerging into your awareness at various times throughout your life and excited you when it did? Consider how you would like to be remembered after you die: What do you hope your legacy will be? What made you unique? What was your contribution to this world?
Remember that for some of us, the expression of purpose involves making a rather visible contribution to the world, while for others it is not, and need not be, highly visible or dramatic. If we get hung up on the idea that our purpose must be a career (although it can be so) or some visible engagement in social activism, the not finding such an expression can be very disheartening, and we may judge ourselves negatively. Our expression of purpose can be much quieter and less visible, perhaps only seen by a few others. It can be a commitment to bringing full, total presence to each of our relationships, and that transforms us and those we interact with.
Richard Leider, author of several excellent books on purpose, offers a wonderful suggestion for those seeking to find purpose—an umbrella purpose that can lead to deeper understanding of our individual purpose. He encourages us to make a commitment to having our number one goal each day being to somehow grow and somehow give. As we do so, we create the inner environment in which our unique purpose and expression of purpose can emerge. As we seek to grown and give each day, we can be reflective, looking within to see what brings us most alive, what we have talent for, what might want to grow from being a one-time act of service or a one-time learning experience into something we want to have be part of our lives in a more ongoing way. And then we may well discover that we have found a personal, unique purpose. What I most love about Leider’s advice is his understanding that purpose is not primarily a particular mode of making a difference in the world, but more so a deep, abiding commitment to growing and serving, with our individual expression being one critical reflection of that commitment.
What resources do you recommend?
The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better by Richard Leider
From Age-Ing to Sage-Ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older by Zalman Schachter Shalomi
Connect with Ron Pevny
Book: Conscious Living, Conscious Aging: Embrace & Savor Your Next Chapter
Ron Pevny, M.A., has for forty years been dedicated to assisting people in negotiating life transitions as they create lives of purpose and passion. He is Founding Director of the Center for Conscious Eldering, based in Durango, Colorado. He is author of Conscious Living, Conscious Aging: embrace and savor your next chapter, published in 2014 by Beyond Words/Atria Books. Ron is also a Certified Sage-ing® Leader, was the creator and administrator of the twelve-organization Conscious Aging Alliance, and has served as the host/interviewer for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Transforming Aging Summits presented by The Shift Network. Ron has presented many programs for people who hear the call to age consciously at retreat centers around North America over the past fifteen years.