Many of us 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: we can also leave a
legacy by the ways we invest our time in retirement.
What is Generativity?
Leaving something behind is also known as ‘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.
What Kinds of Activities are Considered ‘Generative’?
While some of us think of parenting/grandparenting to leave our legacy,
volunteering is also common and can include things like teaching,
mentoring, and contributing to religious, political, or charitable
organizations. Researchers 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. For myself, I
don’t feel ready to make a big commitment to a regular volunteer position
just yet, but I do want to help organize a clean-up day in my own
neighbourhood. I see this as a practical way I can give back (and it will
make me feel better too).
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.
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, of these primary
motivations, about half are because of the personal benefits the activities
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 grandkids 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 neighbourhood or community?