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Valued Activities as the Basis for ‘Leaving Something Behind’

Many of us (myself included) are concerned about making sure that when we retire, we have sufficient financial resources to leave something for our kids or grandkids if anything were to happen to us. However, there is also the other side of ‘leaving something behind’ that is worth exploring. This post draws on an article by Drs. Doug Kleiber and Galit Nimrod (see reference below) to look at research that explores the idea of how valued life activities contribute to ‘generativity’.

What is Generativity?

Generativity is defined as “working for the well being of future generations.” Extending ourselves to benefit others (or the environment) can be small or big. The most valued legacy I have from my own mom is a book she made for me of our family’s favorite recipes. Although the book is completely stain covered (I’m not a neat cook!) I cherish it not just for the recipes but for the effort she put into making it.

A more poignant example is provided by Sussey who shared that, as a way to both grieve and remember her husband who had died suddenly, she wrote a blog to him about things she learned as a widow: To create this legacy, Sussey combined writing and photography, which she described as her two passions. Sussey just retired last Monday, after years of careful planning, and wrote: So far it is so awesome….and as a final bittersweet plan on my part I retired on my husband’s birthday; he would have so loved that!”

What Kinds of Activities are Considered ‘Generative’?

While some of us think of parenting/grandparenting as a way to leave our legacy, volunteering is also common and can include things like teaching, mentoring, and contributing to religious, political or charitable organizations. Kleiber and Nimrod noted that activities that are generative may be directed toward creating social change as well toward protecting the “status quo” (e.g., to protect traditional family or community values). Common to them all is that they are activities that contribute in some ways to others or society more broadly.

The Reasons for Investing in Generative Activities

Kleiber and Nimrod interviewed 20 people who were all part of a ‘learning in retirement’ group. The following were provided as the motivations or reasons for engaging in valued activities they considered generative:

· sense of contribution

· connecting with others

· opportunity for growth/challenge/stimulation and skill development

· helping others/being needed

· enjoyment of the process and sense of competence and pride.

“Also offered, less often, as meanings or motivations for the activities were: promotion of a good organization; honor or prestige; self-expression; generation of income; opportunity for ‘processing’ (working through previous stress or trauma); meeting an obligation; and staying occupied.”

What Kleiber and Nimrod emphasized is that these activities aren’t just selfless, as they also provide us a way to develop and use our talents and express ourselves. Looking back at the above list it is interesting to see that, of these primary motivations, about half are because of the personal benefits the activities provided.

What Can You Take From This?

Thinking about the above ideas:

· What can you do to leave a legacy within your family (e.g., creating a family tree, photo albums or recipe books)? Can you teach your grand kids games or hobbies that have been important to your family life?

· What strengths or skills have been part of your work role that you can bring with you into retirement through some form of volunteer work?

· What ‘cause’ do you want to take on to make a change in your neighborhood or community?

If you want to think more about these ideas I encourage you to check out and complete the Values and Needs and Personal Strengths inventories under the Retirement Resources link. Taking time to assess how and why you want to invest your time in leaving something behind is important to not only doing something that deeply matters to you but is also important to building a long-lasting legacy.


Kleiber, D. A., & Nimrod, G. (2008). Expressions of generativity and civic engagement in a ‘Learning in Retirement’ group. Journal of Adult Development, 15, 76-86.

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