Living a Purposeful Life Is Like Cooking a Hearty Gumbo

Retirement should include what makes you happy and fulfilled, says this advisor.

By Lee Baker
Lee Baker

What does it mean to live well with a purpose? Like most things in life, the answer to this question likely varies from one person to the next. For some people the answer is tied closely to some form of material wealth. For some people it may be tied to status or some title. As I began putting together some thoughts on this topic, memories of my parents resurfaced over and over. One episode in particular seems most appropriate here.

After my parents had gotten older, my mother approached me in an effort to intercede on her behalf. You see, my father had been the pastor of a couple small churches when I was growing up. My mom felt that Dad had gotten too old to be driving up and down the road and was genuinely concerned about him. Being a dutiful son, I agreed to accept the mission. Well, I went to my dad’s room and began what I thought was going to be a difficult conversation. Dad made things very simple and said, “This is not something that I do. It’s what I am. I’ll stop when I can’t continue.” I nodded my head in acceptance and walked back to my mother. I told her, “Leave him alone. You ain’t gonna win this one.”

I consider my father to have been a very lucky man. He found his purpose in life and embraced it. Although he was never a man of great financial means, anyone who knew him would say that he lived a rich and rewarding life. Quite like my father, I think that I am a lucky man. What do you get when you combine the son of a preacher, with a degree in engineering from Georgia Tech, a CFP designation, more than a decade working with AARP, a wife, two children and a love for golf and cooking? I like to think of it as pretty tasty gumbo.

As a result of the paths that led to where I am today, my view on the idea of retirement is a little different than our generally accepted view today. Let’s take a look at the origin of the word retirement. As best we can tell, the word retirement has French origins. Retirement loosely translates to mean “withdraw to a place of safety or seclusion.” No wonder retirement can have a negative connotation for so many people. Who wants to just go away?! Not me.

So what are we to do if perhaps we have reached a point where we no longer need to get up and go into the office everyday (or maybe log on to seemingly endless Zoom meetings)? Maybe we would like to transition to something a little different. Speaking for myself, I think I’ll be a good bit like my dad. Sure, I’ll spend more time on the golf course and inviting friends and family over to share brisket or gumbo that I’ve spent hours cooking. But when the time comes to shift from the day to day of running a financial planning practice, I see myself remaining actively engaged in a number of ways. Serving on boards, for and not for profit, will allow me to utilize the experience and wisdom gleaned from years in practice. Board service will also help keep me current. I find the idea of teaching the next generation attractive because it will allow me to give back to a profession that I love.

I’ve witnessed this same sort of pattern with my clients as well. My clients nearing and in retirement run the gamut. After years of leading a nonprofit agency, one client grew out his beard and is now a naturally bearded Santa! He loves interacting with the kids, it gives him something to do, he controls his own schedule and the pay for Santa ain’t too shabby. Other clients have decided to cut back on the number of clients they work with, to be the primary caregiver for the newest grandchild and to spend time photographing nature while hiking.

I look forward to an ongoing dialogue with all of you. What are some of your plans when you transition from an everyday work life? I can’t wait to hear from you! Laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)

Lee Baker is the founder and president of Apex Financial Services in Atlanta, Ga., and president of AARP Georgia. Baker can be reached at

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