"We retied and bought a house with a lot on the bay and a dock for our boat," she said," but it wasn't long before it was . . . well . . . kind of boring."
Scrunching her face into a smile the tall, slim, athletic woman in front of me began to explain just how she and her husband came to be the owners of an alpaca farm on San Juan Island off the coat of Seattle, Washington.
Orca "Killer" whales and Harbor seals swim just off shore.
Sailboats and yachts fill harbors that have snow-capped mountains as a distant backdrop. Many might consider it an ideal retirement, but to the alpaca farm owners it wasn't enough.
One evening they attended a charity dinner auction where two alpaca were up for bidding.
"I'm going to bid them up," her husband said. "We want be be sure the hospital gets the money it needs."
"You'd better be careful," she warned. "You might just come home with two alpaca."
It turns out, she was right. The hospital may have gotten more money, but the couple found a new purpose in life.
It wasn't long before they fell in love with their new animals and began to consider how they could keep them. Eventually--gradually--it became clear that to keep the alpaca and begin their own herd, they would need to sell their house with a bay side view, their boat and other assets they had acquired. Eventually they sold it all and purchased the good-sized farm that had served as home to their first two alpaca. They bought more stock, increased their herd and opened a store selling alpaca items.
"That was 15 years ago," she said, clearly proud of what they had accomplished.
I enjoyed hearing the story of the alpaca farm especially because it demonstrates one of the findings of Blue Zones author Dan Buettner. According to researchers Buettner interviewed, one of the characteristics of those who live the longest, healthiest lives is living with purpose. One study that followed high functioning people between the ages of 65 and 92 found that "individuals who expressed a clear goal in life--something to get up for in the morning, something that made a difference--lived longer and were sharper than those who did not" (p. 282).
There are any number of ways to experience purpose in one's life, but it occurs to me that the Baby Boomer generation--those entering retirement in droves these days--may want to consider what their purpose might be in retirement. Where will they find meaning? What will get them out of bed in the morning? What will bring them contentment and satisfaction all day long?
It might be a beautiful home in a pristine setting with a boat docked nearby, or it could be an alpaca farm. Sometimes it's not what we think it will be.