By Walter C. Wright, Jr.

For my 60th birthday I took my family to a performance of The Lion King. My grandson was fascinated as animals were brought to life and the circle of life was portrayed. Birth, death and living with purpose were embraced with memorable music. Life is a journey; leadership is a journey. Both find their purpose in relationships.

As I entered the third third of my life (60+), I started to ponder how to think about calling and retirement, about purpose and meaning, about life and legacy. That of course became the agenda for a continuing discussion with my mentor. Max De Pree became a valuable resource once again, as we massaged a conversation about the second half or the third third of life. In typical Max fashion, he drew out the questions that needed to be considered along this path – the questions, which, when answered, would provide shape to our journey. What is my purpose? What gives me joy? Where might I contribute? What does my spouse think about the future? What might I learn? For four years we unpacked these questions, adding more along the way. We explored fears and aspirations, opportunities and challenges.

Conversation partners Max De Pree and Walter Wright

Longtime conversation partners Max De Pree and Walter Wright

At the time I was actively working with business executives and nonprofit organizations. It seemed clear to me that a significant opportunity and challenge were surfacing. Every day now for the next fifteen years, 10,000 men and women will be reaching the age of traditional retirement. Many do so with health, wisdom, experience and potentially 30 more years of life before them. Most leaders I work with have not given much thought to the third third of their lives. They envision freedom from constraints, but not freedom with a purpose. At the same time, I see nonprofit organizations seeking to address the hurt and needs of the world, desperate for leaders, for board members, for consultants, for volunteers. The match seems obvious; encore possibilities to bring experience, skill and wisdom to bear on the needs of society, communities and families.

Walt's latest book: The Third Third of Life

Walt’s latest book: The Third Third of Life

Filled with more questions than answers, Max and I prepared a study guide, The Third Third of Life: Preparing for your Future, to encourage men and women to reflect on their life and leadership and think about purpose, meaning and calling for the rest of the journey. It brings together research about retirement, aging and health with vignettes about how some men and women are answering the questions. Questions and exercises are presented to provoke thought and discussion, believing that as we engage one another in these fundamental life questions we will give shape to our future. Questions open themselves to possibilities. Most of my life I have pondered three questions: Am I making a contribution? Am I learning something new? Am I having fun? When the answer to each of these is ‘yes’, life is fulfilling. What do you want to learn next? Who matters to you? The answers to these questions may determine your future.

Walter Wright navigated a leadership journey as administrator at Fuller Seminary, as president of Regent College in Vancouver, and as executive director of the De Pree Center. Today Walt is a senior Fellow of the De Pree Center. For more on Walt, see his De Pree Center bio.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of introductions to the books of Walter Wright, by Walt himself. Read the others here. If you are interested in purchasing your own copy of Walt’s The Third Third of Life: Preparing for your Future, you may do so via IVP or

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email The Editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


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