The Elongated Life

Home » Culture & Structure » The Elongated Life

People are now living longer; they’re healthier and have greater financial resources than prior generations. Over 60 million Americans are 60+ years old; by 2030, 20% of our country will be 65 years of age or older. Current average life span is mid-80s; the fastest growing segment is people 100+. Lifespans are being elongated and creating new opportunities for us all.

Lifespans have doubled in the last 150 years and with increased longevity, adulthood keeps changing. In the 20th century, as people began living into their 60s, societies focused on helping our older citizens “retire from work” at 60-65 and live a few remaining “golden years” (e.g., till 70) on Social Security and savings. As long as there were many younger than older people, it made financial sense. In the 21st century, as we continue to live longer, we’re not just tacking on more post-retirement years; we’re actually elongating adulthood – and this creates new opportunities.

We’ve already elongated adolescence. In the past, children started working around and building families as teenagers; now most wait till their 20s until they finish college. Similarly, most people don’t plan to retire around 65; they want to be productive and/or need the income in their initial career or new ones. Think of it: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 86; Henry Kissinger is still giving political advice to world leaders at 94. Harriet Thompson, a cancer survivor, finished a marathon at 92; Charles Eugester, a retired dentist, started exercising at 85 and body building at 87 and at 95 broke the record for the 200 meter sprint for his age group in a London competition. There’s a factory in Massachusetts where the average age of employees is 81, with oldest employee 101! The idea that people retire from work at age 65 is obsolete.

We need to focus on the psychosocial development of people: what they want to with their lives during longer adult years, not focus on age. Janet Jackson, at 50 announced she’s pregnant; last year, Billy Joel, at 62, had a child. For the next 18+ years of their lives, they have the same focus and experiences as a new mother or father half their age. (Stage 2 in our framework) Stage 3 begins when the kids are out and initial careers have been lived, and you focus on maximizing your potential to live a fulfilling life to 100+.

The challenge for people who are entering this stage is to “navigate the transition” at the beginning.  We have plenty of role models to guide us through the earlier adult years, but we know far fewer who are enjoying life in these later years. As you think about what you want to do with your life, you want to continue current work/lifestyle – or make several changes as time progresses. You may want to be productive with one or more careers, acquire new skills for work, volunteering, mentoring, hobbies, etc. You may want to experience new cultures by traveling, start new relationships and families, enjoy more leisure activities and focus on leaving a legacy. To achieve your goals and appreciate the years ahead, you will want to maintain health, preserve financial resources and engage in growth-oriented relationships.

The issue that to resolve is: what do I want to do to maximize my opportunities over the next 30-40 years, when do I want to do all these things, and how to I ensure that I have the capabilities to do so? This is the main task of the initial “transition” phase of Stage 3. Unfortunately, it’s not easy. As a leading executive coach said, “what got you here won’t get you there.” That’s why Age Brilliantly created a community platform where you can engage online with peers, experts, peers and service providers to share information, inspiration and social support. As part of its offline offerings it soon will announce a new workshop to help people begin building a flexible, updatable road-map to maximize life to 100+.

Many 20th century premises are no longer applicable: concentrating education in adolescence for your job/career is being replaced by ongoing education throughout life to learn new skills and frameworks to productive engage in several careers over time. Similarly, work-life balance is being replaced by work-life integration, technology advances in telemedicine, fitness trackers, online courses, planning and collaboration tools, driverless cars, etc. to give us the chance to lead fulfilling lives to 100+.

What are you going to do with your elongated life? What are you doing to help your friends, parents and grandparents with theirs?  Share you stories here or on Age Brilliantly.