We are living longer. There is no doubt about that. According to Marc Freedman’s article in the Wall Street Journal, a person turning 65 can expect to live an additional 19.3 years on average – almost 5 1/2 years longer than a person turning 65 in 1950 (source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Health Statistics). That’s 5 years of bonus time that we get to enjoy.
Looking at it from a different perspective, that’s 5 more years that we have to find a way to fund. It is an individual challenge to find a way to pay for a longer retirement, but also a challenge for society as a whole as the majority of funding for the extra 5 years must come from income earned by the younger generations under the current “Pay-As-You-Go” social security system. More importantly, we must find something to do during these five extra years so that we will not fall into the peril of boredom and isolation.
Diane always tells me that I have to look inside to find what I’m looking for. Happiness comes from within. I argue that there is nothing at the core of myself. I am an onion – when you peel off the last piece of onion skin, you will find no pit in the middle. Each of the onion skins represents expectation, presumption, tradition, belief, inference, judgement, aspiration, and hope. I need all those skins to build who I am.
So, what to do in the bonus 5 years is the question. Marc Freedman suggests that it is not the last phase of our lives that we are gaining an extra 5 years, but the period before that. We are talking about this period of time in your life, AFTER you took your career as far as you could take it to the point that you have no more passion and curiosity left in the morning commute, and BEFORE you look squarely into the abyss of retirement. Marc says that it could be an emerging five-year period that did not exist before in the traditional sense of productive career leading straight into leisure based retirement. He says that this period between midlife and old age “can be a time of robust personal growth and development… the chance to do some of one’s most valuable work in a way that provides personal meaning and means something significant beyond ourselves.”
Citing Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Freedman goes further to say, “Those who fail to be generative in this period – who fail to invest what they learn from life in sustaining younger generations – are prone to stagnation and narcissism.” If a glimpse of boredom and isolation scared you, imagine life stuck in stagnation and narcissism a la Norma in the movie “Sunset Boulvard” (1950), played by Gloria Swanson, coming down the grand staircase and saying “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Marc continued, “In contrast, Lawrence-Lightfoot describes the dynamics of “looking back” and “giving forward to the next generation” in which we travel home to revisit the anchoring values we were socialized.” Working with the young generation can most commonly start from your grandchildren, but is that enough? Erick Erikson, a developmental psychologist, broadens the definition of “generativty” to include teaching, writing, innovation, artistic expression, activism, advocacy and service.
What I am feeling is that we need to use this time period to prepare for the last phase of our lives. Education and vocational training prepared us for a 30 year productive career and raising a loving family; however, we need some time for reflection, reevaluation, and possible redirection. I have this overwhelming suspicion that the value system that worked in the first 30 years may not work to bring happiness in the final chapter of our lives. A single minded pursuit of success may not be the answer to a meaningful and rewarding last chapter.
Realizing that neither 10 hours of meditation every day nor pure focus on spiritual revelation is practical in our modern everyday life, we need to explore a life style that draws on our skills and knowledge to inspire others, that holds some income potential to ease a longer retirement and make our life endeavor sustainable, and help us identify a meaning beyond our ego, which may provide a roadmap, at least directionally, to where we should be heading.
This extra 5 year period may be used as a chance to embark on new learning to chart the course for the next 30 years. Then, I will look for some way I can help. Something in line with my endeavor to significance. Something I can do to inspire the younger generation and be inspired by them. Not seeking success. Not a pursuit of happiness. Just looking for some way I can help. That’s what I would like to do in my extra 5 years.
Come to Ormsby Hill and plan your extra 5 years…
In pursuit of significance…