When you think of the words 'retire' and 'retirement' what comes to your mind? Is it something you have done or are thinking about? What if retirement is changing and you might need to continue to work for a longer period in order to fund your life and society at large? What might you do differently?
I am listening to 'The 100 Year Life' on Audible by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. Both authors are university professors and have researched what a 100 year life might look like. Statistically, people born in the first decade of the 21st century, will live over 100 years. Those born in the 90's to around 100, in the 80's until their 90's, in the 70's until their late 80'S etc. Their main premise in the book, is that the traditional 3-stage model of life where you grow up, study, work until 60-65 and then 'retire', will cease to exist for those in Gen Y and generations to come. Many factors are at play that create this situation, which the book expertly describes, so what I want to focus on in this article, from a career perspective, is what will you do differently, knowing you will probably work until you are in your 70's or 80's. How does this change your thoughts about your occupation(s), the types of work you do and the way in which you work?
As we are currently seeing, COVID has rapidly changed the working landscape. We fumbled at first, but are now steadily seeing the advantages of working from home. Productivity increases, less commuting, perhaps balancing our work with family commitments and other responsibilities are fast becoming the norm. It hasn't been easy for most, but it has created a shift in perception. This shift we can apply to our whole working lives and the meaning we give to work.
As a career mentor, I am often fascinated by what work brings up for people. In my own working life so far, I have strived to do activities I am both interested in and skilled in. I have had a variety of jobs and vocations, each calling me to bring my previous skills with me but implement them in a new way. Many years ago, when working in outplacement, the concept of 'active retirement' was given to me, that it is important to not stop work, sit at home and play golf and rapidly deteriorate.
Being active in the second half of your life is crucial. So what does this even look like?
Coming back to 'The 100 Year Life', Gratton and Scott mention we should be aiming for a 5-stage life, meaning that there are periods of work, rest, redefinition, exploration and play. We cannot think economically or socially of retiring at 65. For some, retiring at 65 could be a reality, based on their earning and saving potential throughout a lifetime, but for the majority this won't be possible as government pensions become slimmer, as fertility rates drop etc. And, what if you don't want to stop as you enjoy work and how you exist in society?
I ask you, 'what would you do differently with your work life, knowing you plan to work until you are 80? What choices will you make now that will affect your future?
For me, I made this decision awhile ago. To be at peace with working until I am at least 70 or 75. My own father is still happily working in his late 60's and his father after retirement, started a family business and worked in it for 20 years. This example shows me, that redefinition is possible. In the second phase of your working life, it might not be that you need work 50 hours a week to live, but you will still maintain perhaps 20 hours. This allows you to be active, engaged in the community and to offer value. The question for society is how governments and work culture will change to allow this pattern to emerge understanding the value older employees offer.
We also need to think of the pressures we place on young people, who are leaving high school. After I finished, I went straight to uni. A gap year was considered strange. Several of my cousins who are much younger than I am , have taken gap years or even time out of their studies to travel, work and explore who they are. Gap years and perhaps a few years of work to find out what you want to do before doing formal study are now normal. This is good. The period of 18-30 is now considered a discovery time. This is part of the 5-stage life. We need to embrace it.
So, whether you are early career, mid-career like I am or looking towards 'active retirement' think about what impact you want to have on society and yourself. What dreams, aspirations or new ideas can you generate? Take steps towards these and see what is possible. Imagine a life where you will not retire and deteriorate but remain active for as long as you can, especially as you might just live until 100.