Enough Horseless Carriages!

It’s time we change our frames-of-reference and language to address the reality of the world into which  our children are aging, instead of holding on to antiquated ones that reflects a world that is becoming history.

Sure, lifestyles, habits, cultures, norms, etc. change over time. At any time, we define our “present” by some aspects of the past and some of a “coming” future. There is no right or wrong there. But as role models for the next generation, we need to let go of the world we see growing around us. If we like it, great; if we don’t, we can try to change it.

Take the concept of “retirement”. In the 1880s, in a predominantly agrarian world that was moving toward industrialization, Otto van Bismarck recognized that after a life of fighting wars and working in the fields, people needed a break from work, and created the first Western “retirement system. At 74 year of age, he advanced legislation to allow people to retire with a pension at age 70; later it was dropped to 65 – which is the age that many other societies then adopted.

Fearing that workers in factories and hard labor would continue to work till they die, in 1935 Social Security was created, giving people at target: work till (about) 65, retire from work, and then enjoy a few “golden years” of non-work.

In the meanwhile, the world is changing dramatically:

  • The previous agrarian economy was replaced by an industrial one; more recently we live in a knowledge economy. It means fewer and fewer people are “laborers”, who are less able to handle the physical demands of their jobs.
  • Life spans increased – from 41.7 years at the beginning of the 20th century to mid-80s in the 21 century. If it weren’t for the opioid and related epidemics killing young adults, longevity would keep increasing. Indeed, the fastest growing subgroup is people over 85!
  • Recent research shows that beliefs propagated in the last half of the 20th century are myths. Today:
  • Increasingly, people are living to 100+. Today, over 60 million Americans are over 60; by 2030, they will constitute 20% of our population. In 2050, not very far in the future, 2 Billion people, globally, will be over the age of 60 (worth about $15 Trillion!)
  • Thirty plus years ago, industry experts referred conceptualized a world where people work and when they retire, re-wire, re-invent themselves (whatever term you like), they then seek an encore career. Today’s researchers find that people approaching “traditional” retirement age do NOT plan to retire from work; they want to continue at their jobs, take other jobs, volunteer, etc.; they want “purpose” in life. Moreover, they will have many careers, not just two; indeed, today most people have multiple jobs/careers through life; the largest group of entrepreneurs according to the Kauffman Foundation are adults past 50.
  • We perpetuate too many negative stereotypes. People do not necessarily become decrepit and depressed as they get older; many men are having children in their 60s and 70s (examples). Many important leaders (examples like Warren Buffet, etc). are between 60-100, and going strong.
  • As a result, most people age 50+ do not consider themselves part of the “old crowd” – a mistaken framework created by people who group people by whether they’re older or younger than 50.
  • Finally, get rid of stereotypes which make it harder for older workers who have so much to offer in a knowledge/relationship economy to continue contributing.

What does all this mean? We need to change our frameworks and language.

  • As Henry Ford noted when he invested the “car”, people didn’t want faster horses or buggies, they wanted faster travel. To drive a “horseless carriage” means looking backward; calling it an “automobile” addressed a future world. (We’re still making the same mistake: We’re not entering a world of “driverless cars”, but one of “autonomous vehicles”. And so on.)
  • While every generation can learn the basic development passages through school, careers and family, we’re the first generation trying to figure out how to navigate a longer life. We’re not just adding on extra years post-retirement, we’re creating new paths.
  • More important, however, is that we’re the first role models for younger generations and that’s an important responsibility. Our children and grandchildren will live elongated lives – expecting to live to 100+. We need to help them navigate adult lives (from 20-100+) according to new rules for balancing personal passions with life’s purposes (e.g., work, social causes, learning, etc.) while recognizing the importance of handling the other life basics: health, wealth and relationships.
  • For instance, in an elongated life, you will have multiple careers (the authors of Becoming Brilliant believe today’s children will have 10!) and need to take time off between life events to figure out who we were, are and want to be. (e.g., GROWTHH time- Goal Reorientation with Time for Health and Happiness).
  • Finally, just as BMW has discovered in its assembly plans, businesses should recognize that ergonomic design of facilities can meet the needs of different people and keep them productive regardless of age.

In sum, to have a fulfilling life to 100+, we need to follow the lead of Wayne Gretzky, possibly the greatest ice-hockey player ever. Instead of going to where the puck is, as other players do, he goes “to where the puck is going to be” Start planning your elongated life. Start being a role model for future generations. Start sharing your life’s wisdom – become a SharExer, sharing your expertise and experience.

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