Retiring Retirement: The Rise Of Lifes Third Age – Forbes

Volunteer tutoring students in classroom

In an earlier post, we explored how the practice we call retirement is transforming under the influence of the Baby Boomers. Now lets look ahead to what we anticipate happens next.

In the first chapter of James Micheners captivating 1959 book Hawaii, he talks about how for millions of years, large tectonic plates were slowly moving and grinding against each other far below the sea that we now call the Pacific Ocean. As these forces converged, masses of land started to rise up from those plates and ultimately surfaced as beautiful Polynesia.

And so it is with the future of retirement. For thousands of years, medical, economic, social, and demographic forces have been shifting and often grinding against each other. From this interplay a new stage of life has been emerging and morphing. Worldwide, nearly a billion people are in or near retirement, and they enjoy many more options and opportunities for how to spend their newfound time affluence.

In 2004, we wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review titled Its Time to Retire Retirement, for which we were proud to receive a McKinsey Award (tied with the legendary Peter Drucker). We now believe the word retirement is reaching the end of its line. Its far too small and narrow for what is now emerging. Its positive connotations freedom, leisure tell only part of the story. Its negative connotations withdrawal, decline are increasingly problematic. The words retirement and retiree will most likely linger for another decade or so, but their meanings will evolve as the lifescape of retirement keeps expanding, disaggregating, and diversifying.

We believe its time to re-identify the Lifestage Formerly Known as Retirement to mean something far bigger and worthy of a new name.

The Third Age: Lifes New Frontier

It is from outside the realm of traditional psychology that we find a pivotal perspective on the new possibilities and lexicon of maturity. A compelling philosophy has emerged from the European tradition of adult education that provides a simple yet visionary orientation. Referred to as the third age, this point of view has three ages of man, each with its own special focus, challenge, and opportunity.

In the first age, from birth to approximately 30 years of age, the primary tasks of life center around biological development, learning, and survival. During the early years of history, the average life expectancy of most men and women wasnt much higher than the end of the first age, and as a result the entire thrust of society itself was oriented toward these most basic drives.

In the second age, from about 30 to 60, the concerns of adult life focus on issues pertaining to the formation of family, parenting, and productive work. The years taken up by the second age are very busy and filled with social activity; the lessons gathered during the first age are applied to the social and professional responsibilities of the second. Until the last century, most people couldnt expect to live much beyond the second age, and society at that time was thus centered on the concerns of this age.

However, with the rise in longevity and the coming of the age wave, a new era of human evolution is unfolding, the third age. There are new purposes to this third age of life. First, with the children grown and many of lifes basic adult tasks either well under way or already accomplished, this less pressured, more reflective period allows the further development of the interior life of the intellect, memory, and imagination, of emotional maturity, and of ones own personal sense of spiritual identity.

The third age has another dimension: theres plenty of time and opportunity to try new things. Not just to be reflective but to explore new facets of life. Not just to relax in front of the TV but to seek out new transformative adventures. Not just to share wisdom but to contribute directly to society in new ways. Not just retire, but maybe have an encore career, another modified go-round of lifes second age. The third age is now full of potential for individuals, families, and society. The scope of this potential is enormous and unprecedented. And from this perspective, modern elders are seen not as social outcasts, but as a living bridge between yesterday, today, and tomorrow a critical evolutionary role that no other age group can perform.

To get a sense for where were heading, Ken looks back to his close friendship with Gray Panther founder Maggie Kuhn. In 1978, Ken was interviewing her for New Age Magazine and she told him: Were the elders of the tribe, and the elders are charged with the tribes survival and well-being. We who are older have enormous freedom to speak out, and equally great responsibility to take the risks that are needed to heal and humanize our sick society. We can and should try new things and take on entirely new roles.

She went on to list what she thought were the most important of those roles: Testing new lifestyles, including living in more cooperative modes. Building new coalitions across ethnicities and economic conditions, because age is a universal. Serving as watchdogs of public bodies and guardians of the public interest. Monitoring corporate power and responsibility on behalf of workers and society. In short, using the power of wisdom and experience and attention to assess society, heal what ails it, and plan for its future. Maggies challenge and agenda were and remain ambitious but they seem to be even more relevant and needed today than when she outlined them decades ago.

A Great Age?

Will the Boomers use their experience and assets to help shape a future based on mindfulness and generosity of spirit? Or will they act only to promote their own interests #OKBoomer-style?If we are to live longer, on average, than humans have ever lived before, and if the global center of gravity is to shift from youth to age, should this be regarded as good news or bad? The answer is, It depends. It depends on whether or not we can:

Uproot the ageism that clouds our hopes for the future and replace it with a new, more positive image of aging

Replace the limiting confines of the linear life plan with a flexible, cyclic plan with periods of education, work, and leisure throughout life much more appropriate to the shifting needs of a longer life

Create a new spectrum of family relationships that are matched to the companionship, friendship, and caregiving needs of adults

Discover ways to grow old well, in the absence of debilitating illness, and especially the diseases of the aging brain such as Alzheimers

Create products, services, housing, and programs that will treat older men and women with respect and provide comfort, convenience, pleasure, peak experiences, and purpose

Foster a new era of cooperation and interdependence among people of all ages while creating a social system that is fair and equitable for everyone

A few years ago, when we interviewed renowned psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, PhD, he reflected, The legacy to the boomer generation wont be the me first image of their early years, but rather the potential huge surge in volunteerism that might characterize their later years. Its not how you begin the act, its how you leave the stage that people remember.

Its time to write the next act about reframing aging and enabling people to thrive in the Third Age.

This is the fourth in a 10-part series on The Future of Retirement that we are posting over the course of several months. If you are interested in better understanding whats ahead, we invite you to check out our new book What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Lifes Third Age.

View post:
Retiring Retirement: The Rise Of Lifes Third Age - Forbes

Related Post

Recommendation and review posted by Alexandra Lee Anderson

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.