Ready to Jettison the 3-Stage Aging Model?

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It’s time to upgrade your mindset about the aging model and acting accordingly.

If you lived at the beginning of the 20th century, where the average life span was just over 40 years old, the basic aging model consisted of “childhood”, with a focus on education, and then “adulthood”, with a focus on family and work.  By mid-century, as people were living into their 60s, we added a third stage, “retirement”, which meant retiring from work to appreciate (a few golden years of) leisure and eventually life.

When the 21st century started, people were living into their 80s, and most people assumed that meant the third stage was extended. Then, as people started looking at their lives, this third stage became confusing. Increasingly, people approaching “traditional” retirement age, don’t want to stop working if it gives them identify, a sense of purpose and/or access to additional income to do more things during this stage. They stay in their jobs longer or start a F/T or P/T “second act” with new jobs, as entrepreneurs, or engaging in “encore careers” with non-profits, etc., so early thought leaders hungered for a new word for what’s happening:  rewire, refire, reinvent, etc., and even “unretire”. A better approach is to jettison this entire way of thinking and build a new framework for adult aging that recognizes current trends.

In the 21st century, today’s young adults will lead an “elongated life”: possibly for 100+ years. We need to update our mindset as to possibilities of how that life might unfold. In The 100-Year Life, Gratton and Scott make the point that instead of three stages of life there will be many more – and not all will be linear. Just as we added a new stage called adolescence between childhood and adulthood (when students attended secondary schools and colleges), additional stages will be added to adulthood. Data on Millennials and GenZ shows that they’re using their early 20s (a stage they called Juvenescence) to explore their life options.  As a result, early-adults are more likely than prior generations to change jobs early, finding that they don’t like their first (or second or  …) choice. They’re postponing, marriage, having children, buying homes, etc.  All of which will change their life trajectory – and affects macro-economic and other issues.

For instance, based on our changing interests and passions, we may want to start new careers and hobbies. In Becoming Brilliant, Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek project that children born today are likely to have as many as 10 careers. That means they lifelong learning will become a mainstay of their lives. As the demands of our knowledge economy and automation require increased specializations for jobs, we will go through more transitions as we move from a career, location, family-relationship, etc., to another and another and another. Triggers for transitions include relationship changes in marriage, divorce, empty-nest and death of a loved one, as well as changes in one’s health, finances, and life-purpose.

in Identity and the LifeCycle, Erik Erikson proposed 8 relatively linear stages of development; yet he acknowledged that the order might vary depending on circumstances. During our ‘elongated’ lives, stages vary even more. In one relationship, two partners raising a family may alternate between who is in the producer-stage vs. the rearing-stage; in the next relationship, the partners might choose to do it differently. This means, we will be spending more time in “transition periods” to figure out what we want and how to get it. Instead of thinking of these as “gaps” or “sabbaticals”, they should be viewed as GROWTHH™ time (Goal Re-Orientation with Time for Health and Happiness). A perfect time to retool!

In sum, unless you’re already in the last stage of the three-stage aging model (i.e., retired from work and focused on leisure), it’s time to update your mindset and recognize the great opportunities open to us during a multi-stage, elongated life. For those of us teaching children, it’s important to explain that the three stage model is unlikely to work for them as they age, and prepare them for their world. It starts by identifying the purpose of your elongated life and takings steps to achieve your goals.

We’ll focus on that and the implications of this mindset for leaders of the “5-generation workforce” in future articles.  Share with us your thoughts, so we can incorporate them in future articles within our Update Your Mindset series.