Retirement as we know it is a relatively new concept. Previous generations didn't live long enough or couldn't afford to retire. Most people had to keep working to survive. When the concept was institutionalized 70 years ago, the shelf life of retirement was only a few years, because life expectancy was much shorter. If you could make it to 65, and most people didn't, then retirement gave you a period of leisurely withdrawal to enjoy the last days of your life without labor. Of course, this arrangement applied basically to men; women were mostly kept working in the home. If work was drudgery, retirement offered a well-earned respite for years of labor. But work has changed drastically. The idea of retirement has not kept up with changes in work and human longevity.
The Longevity Revolution has not only increased life expectancy by 30 years, it has changed the life course as we have known it. A new Third Age offers unprecedented opportunities for creative growth and vital living after 50. But traditional ideas about aging and retirement fail to account for this creative life potential. And conventional retirement ideas offer few practical ideas to exploit this creativity. People today are challenged to redefine retirement as a period for creative third age living, with boundless opportunities for adventure, productivity, and personal fulfillment. With greater life expectancy, this period could stretch 30-40 years.
How can you tap your creative potential to redefine retirement as the best period in your life? Nearly 20 years of longitudinal studies of front-runners of the Baby Boom generation demonstrate how new, vital third agers initiate and sustain a second growth. This research has uncovered six principles of growth and renewal, which these people have been applying to their lives and retirement. The core principle is creating a positive third age identity that responds to profound questions: Who do I want to become? Where am I headed? How do I find meaning and purpose?
As one man in a third age retreat commented: Now that I am retired, I have time to pursue some big questions. Who am I and what kind of person do I want to become? Where do I want my life to go next? How can I find the work I really want to do in the next phase of my life? What legacy will I leave? These are important questions that really should be addressed in pre-retirement planning. The people in this research have been creatively redefining retirement by developing third age life portfolios and third age careers. These topics will be explored in later articles.
© 2004 By William A. Sadler, Ph.D. All rights reserved.