A few weeks ago I had a delightful experience appearing on the “Redefining Retirement” episode of “The Big Middle” podcast moderated by British journalist Susan Flory. Best part: Listening to Flory’s other guest, Deborah Gale, an Apple corporate treasury manager turned gerontology researcher who now helps retirees find purpose at a UK-based social enterprise called The exchange of objectives. It launched in October 2021, under the aegis of the provocative title The non-retirement age.
As a person trying to find purpose in my non-retirement, I wanted to know more. So I set up a video chat with Gale, an American expat in her 60s who now lives near London. I’ve learned that when it comes to purpose in retirement, says Gale, it’s all about three words: identity, intention, and action.
Sneaking into Gale’s schedule wasn’t easy. Among the many fascinators Gale carries: Affiliate Director for UK Operations of the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship and Intergen Leader of Encore Fellows UK, which helps corporate employees transition into non-profit work retired.
If you’re looking for a retirement goal or want to find it when the time comes, I think you’ll appreciate hearing from Gale; highlights of our conversation are below. (I would like to know how you found or are looking for a purpose in retirement. Please email me.)
Richard Eisenberg: How did you become so interested in retirement, purpose and aging?
Deborah Gale: I had been responsible for all domestic treasury and foreign exchange operations at Apple AAPL,
This is where I met my British husband; he was also in finance at Apple… As soon as the three eldest of our five daughters were ready to go to university, during the global financial crisis, I thought: ‘This is it. I’m going back to work.’ I was then in my fifties.
So, could I find a job? No. The reality was that I was considered to be on the wrong side of 50.
And so, I thought, ‘What’s the biggest sea change? What is the change happening in the world right now that we need to be aware of? And I was like, ‘I know it’s us, it’s me. I’m a highly educated, business proven woman who can’t find a job and I can’t be the only one out there. So, I started researching courses on aging and so on.
You went on to complete a Masters in Aging in Public Policy at King’s College London. Did do you have any idea what you are going to do with it?
I did not do it. So I started applying for jobs to become a researcher. And could I get an interview at 56? No. I wasn’t “a household name”… So I started writing articles that were published and peer reviewed. I was introduced to a place here in the UK called the BioCentre on Ethics and they were doing a lot of longevity work, with an ethical focus and became researchers.
Then, the Aging 2.0 group had just started. They were having a happy hour in London and they called it Aging 2 Pint O. The guy sitting next to me happened to be a scientist and he was Italian and we exchanged contact details.
Three years later, I get a phone call from him. He said: “I just heard about this non-retirement age from one of its co-founders. [Dr.] Jonathan Collie, who is organizing a major conference with his co-founder George Lee in London. You should call him. I did it. Jonathan put me on several panels and so I got attached to the non-retirement age.
What was the Age of No Retirement trying to do?
They really wanted to disrupt the retirement space and create this new narrative about aging. Their second lecture became the master key to what became The Common Room [a space where young and old people could meet and discover or rediscover their purpose and reach new life goals]. We had two open in London until COVID closed them.
To me, the term “non-retirement age” suggests that you will never be able to retire. You can never stop working; It is not possible. But I think what it’s really about is not the age of the old definition of retirement, but the New retirement version. Tell me how you see it.
It’s really about what are you going to do with the powerful you? How are you going to change the narrative? How will you disentangle yourself from the linear life course?
I saw the “non-retirement age” as a way to tap into that store of things you’ve never done before. And now, all of a sudden, you have all this time to explore. So, I saw it as a really hopeful thing, hopeful and likewise, a very selfless thing.
Why do you think now is the time to help people find purpose in retirement?
You got the biggest piece of the baby boom, the trailing edge [now age 58 to 66]who are lit in a different way than peak baby boomers [age 67 to 76] who embraced the “let me go to Florida” mentality.
Why was the goal so important to you and why have the initiatives you’re involved in taken off?
What we found in research with 80 in-depth interviews with people ranging from gang members to retired judges is that the most common motivating force for people, regardless of age, was purpose.
This is where the bones of the Purpose Xchange program were laid. When we opened in a part of London called Waltham Forest, they had a sign outside the storefront: Come in, discover or rediscover your purpose. We had 500 people signed up in no time.
What exactly is Purpose Xchange?
Our research shows that most people are looking for four things:
Either they still need to make money, or they want to make money – and that will require either a job change or a career change.
They want to learn.
They want to care; they want to give back and volunteer.
Or they are simply ready to do a creative expression that they have never had the opportunity to do before, perhaps with the intention that this creative expression will become an entrepreneurial activity.
We knew that the important part of Purpose Xchange was creating this community of purpose-driven people who are then able to not only find purpose for themselves in the next part of their life, but also realize that by as a group has so much power that is so underused.
As I understand it, the way it works is people sign up for three Purpose Xchange online workshops of one hour and 45 minutes each with people from all over the world. Workshops are approximately $75 in total and they’re on, ‘What really matters and what gets in the way?’ ‘Convert your social and economic value into objectives.’ And ‘You can’t do it alone. Conversation, connection and change.’
Right. The workshops complement each other. You do a lot of small groups. There’s a lot of exercise, but exploring how you’re going to take all the best things about you and prepare for a set direction? You also create a team to drive you forward.
And teams work on projects related to one of the eight “missions” that Purpose Xchange has selected: global warming, sustainability, poverty, health, wellbeing and care, prejudice and tension, education, human rights and freedoms. man and truth. So what?
We conduct monthly online exchanges. All of a sudden, you start creating this group of people who can help each other.
What’s next for the Purpose Xchange?
We work with Encore.org in the UK, the Academy of Modern Elders and more recently have become partners of AARP Live, learn and earn longer initiative. We currently have a pilot project underway with a large financial services organization with large corporates in the UK. If we could get some of these companies to have function groups in their companies to take on any of these missions, then you could galvanize a lot of people.
It’s the long term vision for it to become a movement.
Are the people taking the courses equitably divided between men and women?
The demographics are very heavily weighted for women as it is very attractive to women who have been suppressed in their adult lives and careers and are looking for opportunities.
Have you ever seen the effects of the Purpose Xchange?
In the almost eight months since our launch, we have people from 29 countries and almost 450 members. We took 125 people through the three-course program. And if you look at the Voices page on our website, you can see how people’s attitudes are changing. We light something. I told a friend that I thought we struck a chord. She said, ‘No Deb, you hit on a need.’
Do people in the UK think they will be financially well off when they stop working?
It’s a mixed bag. Exactly the same pattern exists on both sides of the Atlantic. The essential difference here is that you have a national health system. So that covers a lot of cracks because no matter who you are, you’re covered for medical expenses.
What do the British think about retired work and entrepreneurship? I think they are what retirement becomes for a lot of people like me in the United States
I would say people [in the U.K.] were very happy with the retreat. And I think that made us maybe less enterprising than in the United States.
I think that is changing; entrepreneurship is only going to increase when people realize that their retirement pot is not enough, especially in the hyperinflationary climate we live in right now.
Want to see a US version of Purpose Xchange?
We already deliver to a global audience – anyone, anywhere is welcome to join the workshops. We absolutely would love for more Americans to join us and share this learning from different countries. After the UK, our fastest growing market is the US, so we know there is huge potential there. Many of our people who have gone through the program have already risen at six in the morning to participate [due to the time difference between the U.S. and the U.K.].
We’re trying to get The Fortune 500 and as many large organizations as possible to think about it. Because everyone, in the post-big resignation period, is really reviewing what they are doing for their employees.
And the goal is something that, you know, will benefit everyone. There are so many benefits to democratizing the goal. So let’s do this.