Chapter OneWelcome to the Power Years
Do you long for a life without work or pressure in which your days are spent baking for the grandchildren or playing eighteen holes of golf in the morning, followed by a leisurely lunch and afternoon of bridge, then cocktails, a delicious early dinner, and a good movie? After all, that's how it worked for our grandparents and parents, isn't it? We grew up surrounded by this model of a leisure-filled later life.
Please forget everything you've been told. It's not your obligation to go away just because you're getting older. Nor is it your birthright to cede all responsibility to your community and mankind so that you may lead a life of leisure in retirement. Of course, you may choose these paths if you wish, but in our view that would be a mistake. Certainly there is no guarantee that you'll be able to afford a carefree romp through later life or even that you'll enjoy it if that's where you can afford to wind up. Reinventing yourself and repowerment-ramping up life where and when you choose and in ways that excite you, not winding down into obscurity-is the mold-shattering, exciting new stage that will come next for our generation.
While we've had our heads down toiling away these past few decades, spending more time than we might have envisioned at work and raising our children, the world has changed enormously. As we all know, the Internet, global trade, medical breakthroughs, and more are speeding up the pace of life even as life itself is being extended, posing new challenges in our careers and families. In this book, we cannot hope to deal with all the changes confronting our lives. Yet it's vitally important for each of us to appreciate just how different things really are and will become as we move into the next stage of life, a stage that we-the eighty-four million North Americans born between 1946 and 1964 as well as hundreds of millions more maturing adults around the world-will redefine as the power years.
The majority of our parents worked for one company all their lives. When their careers ended at age sixty-five, the norm was that they got a nice party and a gold watch and happily hopped on board a slow cruise into the sunset. Forty years of toil behind and the kids now grown, both Dad and Mom were done. They floated over the horizon, eagerly retreating to a life of leisure.
For their employers, it was a great deal. They got to bring in younger, more energetic, and less expensive labor.
For a lot of reasons, many of us won't have the same options that our parents had. For one thing, government and employee-sponsored entitlements have questionable futures, and the idea of early retirement, or even for many of us the idea of retirement at sixty-five, took a quantum leap backward when the global stock market bubble burst in 2000, eroding much of our savings and more than a few of our dreams.
Demographic trends threaten to foist an unprecedented labor shortage on the world economy. Companies of all sizes and shapes are going to want us to stick around longer and will be willing to provide us with a great deal more flexibility to do so. Meanwhile, our careers have been far more mobile. We've bounced among three, four, five, or more employers, often in as many cities, and we won't have been with any one of them long enough for a gold watch, much less the pension and wall-to-wall retirement health coverage that our parents might have been blessed with.
The slow, lazy cruise that our fathers and mothers eagerly signed up for turned out to be a little too slow and lazy. Look hard enough and you'll see that many of our parents have begun to rebel against the idea that they should fade away; they're going back to school and back to work, taking up writing or painting and otherwise reengaging with a society they had dropped out of. Throughout this book we will lean on the experiences of what we call Ageless Explorers, the growing number of leading-edge adults of our parents' generation and some from even farther back, to illustrate the changing nature of the power years. Our hope is that you'll find these anecdotes inspirational and that the glimmers they provide will meld into a beam of light that helps you navigate to-and through-your power years.
These years present a unique opportunity for us. The notion of staying in the game longer, of not having to step aside at a set age, will liberate us, setting us free to lead the lives we want to lead by staying engaged, vital, and youthful as long as we like. Opening before us is a whole new stage of life squeezed between our primary career years and a steadily retreating old age. Just as we moved from adolescence into adulthood three or four decades ago, we are now pushing into a whole new period of discovery and personal growth-what we call middlescence-as more and more of us make the most of the many fruitful decades that lie ahead.
Our generation is coming to realize that we will have numerous decades to live past the age commonly thought to be the time to stop working. What we do with that time will set us apart from all previous generations.
This book is for people like you who are beginning to contemplate what comes next and how to make the most of it. Make no mistake-this is not a retirement guide. It's about unretiring-about how to shed your dated preconceptions about life after forty, fifty, or sixty and stay in the game in ways you'll find satisfying and invigorating. Money is important, and we'll deal with that critical issue in chapter 7. But that's where this book stops being like anything you've read before. Countless opportunities are developing to let you live all aspects of your life to the fullest-from staying connected with your kids and grandkids (and, eventually, your great-grandkids) to choosing emerging housing designs and lifestyles for a new, active time in your life with fewer responsibilities; from finding love all over again with your spouse (or someone new, should you be searching) to going back to school for the fun of it; from where, how, and why to make new friends to where and why you should pick up stakes and move to a city or town that will let you live and thrive as you always dreamed.
We'll discover new passions and explore long-dormant desires. We'll stay active by working longer or volunteering, by trying our hand at writing or painting or running a small business, and our continued involvement will promote our well-being and prove a vital resource to the communities in which we live.
You are on a far different life track from that of your parents; you just may not fully understand it yet. But you soon will, and this book is meant to help you as you ramp up your learning curve.
On a recent vacation with his family in Orlando, Florida, Dan was staying at a wonderful resort, the Gaylord, where he observed an apparent oddity that both encouraged and, at least initially, dumbfounded him. The hotel had two equally spacious and convenient swimming pools on either side of the grounds. One was designated as a quiet zone for rest-seeking grown-ups and marked "No One under 18 Allowed." That pool area might as well have been a mausoleum-not a single person was in the water. The other pool, by contrast, was overrun with raucous teens and quite a few bawling toddlers. What stunned Dan was that many of the mature adults he would have expected to find at the quiet pool had opted away from that morguelike environ, preferring-even in some cases with no children or grandchildren in sight-the lively atmosphere at the pool bustling with the energy of youth.
Which pool will you choose in the years ahead?
When is the last time you seriously asked yourself what you will do with the rest of your life? Is there a second or a third career you'd like to explore? A small business you want to start? Do you want to study art or open a bed and breakfast? Have you dreamed of taking up acting or going to cooking school? Where should you live for the perfect combination of weather, fun, friendships, family, lovers, intellectual stimulation, and lifestyle? What will all that free time do to our marriages and other relationships? Where and how will we live? What will keep our minds active and our lives relevant? Will this be the worst period of our lives-or could it possibly be the best? Most important: what choices must we make now to ensure the kind of extended life after career that we have always envisioned?
You can't get there if you don't think about it, yet few people ask the key questions. We assume that we can deal with these issues when the time comes, reasoning that as long as we manage to save a lot of money, everything will work out. But this is backward thinking. A big pile of money shouldn't be your primary goal. Who you want to be, what you want to feel, and what you want to do with your power years are the critical considerations, and from those spring the types of choices and trade-offs you'll need to consider.
You wouldn't think of building a house without a plan. You wouldn't go on vacation without thinking through your itinerary and even your wardrobe. So why leave your power years to chance? Even if you're not wealthy, you can enjoy an active, fulfilling, and youthful next stage of life by understanding your goals and creating a carefully thought-out plan that makes those goals possible. In this book, we will guide you through every aspect of this blueprint and show you a wide range of choices and possibilities you may never have considered.
As we step over the threshold into maturity, we will transform the stage of later life known as retirement into something that squares with our generation's desire to work, play, and love on our own terms, staying young in mind and body, and engaging in new pursuits without becoming bogged down with too many numbing obligations. With greater energy and drive, higher expectations for our later years, and a greater willingness to repeatedly reinvent ourselves than any previous generation, perhaps we'll reshape work into something that we can do three days a week, or eight months each year, or seven years per decade. And with extended longevity, why wait until maturity for a long break? Why not take time off along the way? Instead of being stuck on a one-career path for life, why not go back to school, learn some new skills, and reinvent ourselves again and again?
The Baby Boom Becomes the Age Wave
What we're naming the power years has also been called by some our third age, a concept derived from the European tradition of adult education. This view holds that there are three ages of man, each with its own special focus, challenges, and opportunities. In the first age, from birth to about thirty, our primary tasks of life are biological development, learning, and survival. During most of human history, the average life expectancy wasn't much longer than the end of the first age, and as a result, the entire thrust of society was oriented toward these basic drives.
In the second age, from about thirty to sixty, our concerns focus on forming a family, parenting, and work. We apply the lessons we learned during the first age to these responsibilities. Until very recently, most people didn't live much beyond the second age. But with today's longer life expectancies, new generations of youthful, open-minded, and high-spirited men and women are not interested in fading into the sunset at sixty.
A third age, which spans the period from sixty to ninety (and longer), is unfolding ahead of us. This is a less-pressured period in which we can further develop our intellect, imagination, emotional maturity, and wisdom. This is also a period when we can give something back to society based on the lessons, resources, and experiences we have accumulated over a lifetime. We need not be social outcasts, but instead can assume the role of a living bridge between yesterday and tomorrow, and in this way play a critical role that no other group is as well suited to perform.
In recent decades, a small but growing number of older adults have been rejecting the social pressure to "act their age." They have been rebelling against ageist stereotypes and seeking to remain productive, involved, and late blooming well into their mature years. They are everywhere-within our families, among our friends, and in our communities: the executive who becomes a high school teacher; the grandmother who goes back to college or who writes her first book; the accountant who becomes an artist. Ask them when they think they'll start to feel elderly inside, and they'll probably say never!
In his book The Virtues of Aging, Jimmy Carter lit the repowerment path in a single phrase at the end of this telling passage: "In one of her hour-long special interviews, Barbara Walters covered all the aspects of my life, from the farm to submarines, from business to the governor's mansion, service in the White House, and from president back home to Plains. Then she asked me a question that required some serious thought: 'Mr. President, you have had a number of exciting and challenging careers. What have been your best years?' After a few moments I responded with absolute certainty: 'Now is the best time of all.'"
If the past fifty years of boomer evolution have taught us anything, it is this: as we enter each new life stage we keep what we like and replace the rest, like remodeling a house.
We'll be moving and experimenting with new lifestyles. As we stay in the game longer both socially and economically, we'll reshape family and community life. One breathtaking finding from the Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey surfaced when we asked boomers how they would describe themselves. Ten times as many survey respondents said they "put others first" as said "put themselves first." A far cry from our rambunctious teenage years and our swinging single period, we're now focused on keeping our marriages strong, on trying our best to raise healthy and happy children, and on caregiving our parents (the average boomer now has more parents than children to care for). The me generation has grown up to be a we generation. This attitude shift will reshape philanthropy and volunteerism and may very well be the cornerstone of the new retirement values. Today's retirees have the lowest volunteer rate in the country, while those our age who are actively helping out in our kids' schools and in community churches/synagogues through various philanthropic activities actually have the highest volunteer rate. If this desire to make a difference continues into retirement, we may see a huge change in the role of retirees overall-from taking to giving.
With the right insight and planning, we'll be able to merge what we most enjoy in our youth-energy, freedom, flexibility, health, and personal growth-with the good things that come with age, things such as experience, perspective, wisdom, and depth. One thing is clear: as our massive numbers ultimately catch the wave, the ripples will stretch far and wide.
The Seven Reasons These Are the Power Years
Why are these becoming the power years? Here are seven reasons why the rest of your life has more potential than you may have considered:
1. We'll Be Living Longer and Healthier
In 1800, the average life expectancy was less than forty years. By 1900, when one in five babies didn't make it to their fifth birthday and common causes of death were diarrhea, influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, life expectancy at birth was just forty-seven years. Thanks to advances in public health, nutrition, and wellness-oriented lifestyles, today the average lifetime has stretched to more than seventy-seven years in all of the modernized nations of the world. Japan has one of the highest expectancies: seventy-eight years for men and eighty-four for women, for an overall average of eighty-one years. The tiny nation of Andorra, squeezed between France and Spain, tops the world charts in this regard with newborn boys likely to reach eighty-one and newborn girls expected to make it to eighty-seven, for an overall average of eighty-four years. The United States is far down the list, with an overall life expectancy of seventy-seven-behind Singapore (eighty-two), Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, and Italy (all of which have expected average life spans at birth of eighty years). If you've already made it to fifty, you can expect to live at least until your mid-eighties, and thanks to impending scientific breakthroughs, these numbers will keep increasing.