In Helen Lim’s books, keeping busy is just one aspect of graceful ageing. And it’s one that she has turned into a successful second career.

When Betty Friedan, American writer, activist, and feminist said “Ageing is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength”, it’s almost as if she’s describing Helen Lim, 67, founding partner and chief executive office of Silver Spring.

The sprightly and bubbly (self-described) “champion of the underdogs” has an easy demeanour and smile for everyone whom she comes into contact with. Her enthusiasm for life is contagious as she shares on manoeuvring life down the path of growing older.

Seniors in Singapore have got much more to give

With almost 40 years of experience in human resources management under her belt at the time of her “retirement” in 2005, she felt she had more to offer. “I’m driven by the feeling of being needed,” says Helen. That was the m​ain catalyst for setting up Silver Spring in 2009 – Singapore’s first social enterprise set-up of such nature – she says, as she noticed that many people lost their sense of identity and self-esteem after retiring or getting retrenched.

Helen’s story is an object lesson for retirees and even for those who have been “restructured” out of their employment. With the latter, there’s always the worry that their existing skills aren’t applicable to new industries, that their skills and experience aren’t transferable and that they will have to reinvent themselves to remain competitive, shares Helen.

“My passion is to enable these individuals to find the next chapter of their work life and help them realise that they still have more to give,” she says, while referring to Singapore’s growing concerns over the issues encountered by its ageing population.

And she adds, “Work also keeps your mind healthy and engaged with the world around you. And there are no hard and fast rules about it.” For some having a second career isn’t about a job only, she says, while for others, they want a job as a means of “giving back” to society. For those who need to or are keen to explore working well into their later years, Helen says, “It’s got to be sustainable for the next 10 years or so. You need to look after yourself and you need to go into a job that you can adapt well to. I’ve got consultants at Silver Spring who are in their 50s. The oldest is 75!”

She shares that there are candidates who come in and are inspired and encouraged by the consultants, who are still able to give of themselves by helping other seniors. “I am heartened and encouraged. (They need to know) that there’s still life in those of us above 65!” quips Helen.

Help others to help yourself

“Why would you want to throw away all of that work experience that you’ve spent a better part of your life accumulating? I think it’s about reconfiguring what you already have, taking the old and blending it with the new and coming up with something that’s going to excite you for the rest of your life!” she enthuses.

“I’ve nudged people and said, ‘It’s really up to you… the world doesn’t owe you a living’. There are people around you who are willing to support and guide you. So I’m always out to help people to help themselves,” adds Helen.

Aside from Chatters Cafe, which she set up in 2009 and is operated by seniors over 50 years old, she set up Silver Horizon, a travel co-operative run by seniors for fellow seniors, in 2012. “It’s all in the spirit of making life more active and meaningful for seniors,” shares Helen. Studies have shown that those with strong social ties are healthier too as they keep themselves alert (mind), strong (body) and happy (spirit).

Keep moving!

“Ageing well isn’t just about counting the lines on my face, it’s about feeling good in my own skin,” says Helen. Ageing well is about taking care of my body so that I can enjoy the next 30 or so years of my life with energy, low stress, vitality, limber joints, strong muscles and organs that do their job and don’t get sick,” she adds with a laugh.

She walks – a lot! “I’m not so good with going to the gym or exercising but I walk a lot. And I walk briskly as well,” she adds.

Stay engaged with life

“Ageing well is also about taking care of my spirit – nourishing my emotional body as much my physical body – with thoughts, experiences, people and activities that bring me joy, and avoiding those that don’t,” shares Helen.

But more importantly, reminds Helen, is keeping the mind active and staying engaged with life. “You must have a purpose or you have something you want to achieve at the end of the day,” she adds.

“Every day I come back (to Chatters Cafe) to close the register with Sally, 71, who’s been with me for six years.” What started for Sally as a two-day work week, is now five. “It gives her a purpose,” shares Helen and adds that working at the cafe allows Sally to meet a wide range of people every day and remain engaged with society.

Life continues to unfold

Not one to rest on her laurels, Helen will soon add “author” to her list of accomplishments. She is currently working with a writer (“a Gen Y!") on a book about what it “feels like to walk in another’s shoes”. The book’s message is about empathy and with it she hopes to show readers that it’s possible for two people, divided by a couple of generations, to understand each other and to work together.

“And that age is really just a number,” says Hele​n with a smile.

Fact Sheet on Helen Lim
Personal data :Age 67, married with 1 son
Occupation :CEO and Founder of Silver Spring
Hobbies :Reading, mahjong and being an “opportunity maker”
Cool fact :Always thinking of “What's next?” and first time author by 70!

​What are your (other) tips for ageing gracefully?

  1. Keep a positive attitude

    Positivity is contagious and we need that! When someone else feels that somebody else needs them or supports them… it’s the gentle push they need to leave their comfort zone. Find a purpose and channel your energies into it. An added benefit is that your family members don’t have to worry about you when they see you happily engaged.

  2. Ride on change

    We’re so engrossed in life and work that we think most things can be done ‘later’ but suddenly, somebody ‘moves your cheese’ away. What matters most is the attitude we have about change. You need to get internally motivated. Keep an open mind. For some (who come to us for career coaching) and through the power of questioning, they learn to discover – or maybe even rediscover – themselves.

  3. Change your mind set

    Older folks must learn to respond in a positive way. During my recent trip to Australia, I observed that when older folks are offered seats [on the tram], and when they decline the offer, they do it cheerfully. Here, the elderly either turn grouchy or don’t respond at all! It’s small things like that, that give the old folks a bad name.

Ref: Q15​​