The Purpose Prize Proves It's Never Too Late for a Great Idea

The Purpose Prize awards people over 60 who are making a difference. These people are proof it's never too late for the "aha" moment to hit.

Sitting in a room filled with people over the age of 50, and listening to personal stories of transformation—how accumulated work and life experiences led to various 'aha' moments, when they realized they were uniquely qualified to begin ventures that have a positive impact on society—it’s impossible to not feel inspired. But something else was happening to me on a physiological level, like an enormous weight had been lifted from my chest, the breath flowing out of me in a sigh of relief leaving one realization: There is plenty of time to do great things.

I was attending the 7th annual Purpose Prize event, an award ceremony celebrating five social entrepreneurs over the age of 60 who are improving their communities and the world, each receiving $100,000 to further their efforts. This year nearly one thousand individuals were nominated, creating the need for a second tier of 35 “Encore Fellows” also being acknowledged for their contributions. The event is the brainchild of, the organization responsible for creating a new “encore” life stage in which traditional retirement is forgone in favor of pursuing work that combines purpose, passion and a paycheck—the latter being of primary importance given challenging economic times.
What struck me most about this year’s winners was their humility—each of them clearly motivated by a deep sense of purpose. Ron Cordes eloquently captured this truth when stating, “I spent the first half of my life trying to be the best in the world, and I’m spending the second half trying to do the best for the world.” It was also refreshing how the room of individuals celebrating the winners didn’t seem the least bit threatened by their achievements. And oh boy, were there some achievements (see videos here).
Bhagwati Agrawal is using his engineering experience to bring safe drinking water to thousands of villagers in his native India. Susan Burton is lifting female ex-offenders out of the darkness of addiction and emotional struggle, helping them to stay out of prison and rebuild their lives. Judy Cockerton is re-envisioning the way foster care works in our country, lowering the barriers to engagement by creating facilities where people can come to volunteer their time, connect with other foster parents, and experience intergenerational mentoring. Thomas Cox uncovered massive fraud among mortgage lenders, leading to a $25 billion (yes, you read that correctly) settlement that allowed those facing foreclosure to stay in their homes. Lorraine Decker created the “Game of Real Life” to help low-income teens and adults establish motivating goals while learning the financial and life skills to make reaching them possible.
Okay, so if I don’t have you interested yet (or thinking about how you want to send this article to your parents), the question asked by skeptics tends to be focused on the “how” piece. Experiencing this kind of “passion pivot”—a distinct point in time when you change your career, or life trajectory, to better align with personal passions—can feel overwhelming. Which is exactly why Marci Alboher, a leading authority on the changing face of work and a Vice President at, wrote “The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life.
One practical suggestion Alboher made during a recent panel discussion at the Milken Institute is to “start hanging out in the world you want to live in.” By this she means to be a visitor, introducing yourself to the people who inspire you and have what you want. Talk openly and frequently about what you’re trying to create in your life, as you never know where conversations may take you and what opportunities might arise. Alboher is also a big proponent of jumping into volunteer, or “pro-bono consulting” work—the latter being a suggested term that will more likely lead to compensation, and going back to receive training in a field that both interests you and where there is current job opportunity (e.g., healthcare, teaching, green jobs, etc.). One such example of this is Empowered, started by UCLA with the support of Sherry Lansing.
As I was driving back from the event and reflecting on the spirited conversations I had with individuals while buffet-dinner-mingling, it struck me that not once did I hear the response “busy,” when asking people how they are and probing to better understand their line of work. Is the wisdom gained through life experience a repellant to the “busy trap” so many people my age find themselves in? This getting older thing was starting to look pretty good.
The award ceremony closed with Marc Freedman, the founder and CEO of, honoring the late John Gardner, who was the co-founder of Experience Corps, a founding board member of, and one of America's greatest thinkers, reformers, and social entrepreneurs. The quote Freedman recited is one that makes clear big dreams need never end, and those transformative 'aha' moments can happen—if we’re open to receiving them—for the rest of our lives. Said Gardner, "What I want for those youngsters in their forties and fifties is several more decades of vital learning and growth. And I want something even broader and deeper. I don't know whether I can even put it into words. What I want for them is a long youthfulness of spirit …a long youthfulness of spirit. It doesn't seem much to ask, but it is everything.”
Idea image via Shutterstock\n
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

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