Retirement : the new life stage

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It is becoming clear to me that now I am 50 my idea of retirement is changing. Its not just me though. It seems we are living longer and feeling healthier so the idea of retiring when we are 65 seems a little premature.

The old road maps we used to plan our lives are out of date. Life is becoming re-imagined. We observed our parents and noted the pathways they took at different life stages. It all seemed scripted. Predictable even. You spend roughly 20 years getting an education and training, roughly 40 years of family and work, and then ……the golden years. The carrot on a stick for all the hard work. Retirement.

A career was to be for life, so we were lead to believe. You remember the concept of long-service leave, retirement gratuities and superannuation don’t you. They seem long gone now. Replaced with ….. nothing.

Some people recognised there was another way to do work early on and began taking charge of their work lives and changed employers and even occupations from time to time, seeking new challenges.

Then in the 1980s along came a new phenomenon-restructuring (downsizing- call it what you like). This shocked a few people and they found themselves without jobs, or in jobs they were reassigned to (not always by choice). It was not what they had planned or expected. Loyal long-serving workers were being tossed aside, having to apply for jobs with no experience in writing CVs and cover letters, job searching or being interviewed. Some retrained and changed careers, others took lower-paying roles, or exited the workforce altogether. As time moved on and organisational change became a regular feature of the work environment, many older workers found it increasingly hard to retain jobs or gain a new position post-redundancy.

Somehow, despite all the changes in the world over the last 40 years, retirement has remained the dreamed-for destination, the reward for 40 years hard work, something to hang on for. But things are changing fast and the very concept of retirement is being redefined.

But the landscape in our own lives has changed.  Many people are staying on at work well beyond the traditional exit points. We are healthy and want to continue to contribute through work. Why shouldn’t we? Sadly, there are also many mature-aged people who aren’t in work but would like to be. They are facing an enforced and premature retirement.

The statistics reinforce things: Life expectancy has increased from 58 ys in the 20th century to 80 in the 21st century. It is projected that by 2050 the average life expenctancy will be more like 85. If you haven’t reached 60 yet, just think, when you achieve that milestone you could still have  another 25-30 years of productive life ahead of you. Work could well be part of that. At 60 you may have only lived 2/3s of your life.

The potential to live a longer and healthier life has thus created new opportunities and challenges for people in their 50s and 60s. It has created a new life stage. Very little in our upbringing has prepared us for this new life stage. We are largely in unchartered territory, so how will we to navigate it?

It will be the life skills we have acquired, how we think about ourselves and what we think about the world around us that will give us a frame of reference for the way forward. In addition to our good health (if you have made that investment) we will need to be resilient, flexible and adaptable, because this will determine the quality of your life in this new life stage. The final frontier. Unchartered territory.

The question for you is: will this life stage be how you imagined it?

I enjoy travelling and have learnt that anticipation and planning are important. I first research about my destination, I talk to others who have been there and I dream about it.  The anticipation of what I will do, the weather, what I will see, eat and the places I want to go are rehearsed in my mind. But is not till I get there that I find out if it is anything like I imagined. Maybe things are like what imagined, maybe there are more choices when I get there than I thought, maybe it is not what I thought at all. If I am going to have a good time I will need to resilient, adaptable and flexible. Life has a way of throwing up curve balls but it also could be better than I imagined.

This last life stage could well be like this too. You can choose to stay close to what you know, remain safe and not engage with your imagination, or you could imagine the possibilities, anticipate and dream about what life after 50 could be like for you.

Will it be exactly like you imagined? Probably not. When you get there, circumstances are likely to be different. Life does from time to time throw a few curve balls at you. You cannot always anticipate these.

 Victor Frankl, endured 3 years in a Nazi concentration camp and wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. He chronicles his time in the concentration camps and attempts to make sense of his and others experiences. He concluded that the way in which we imagine the future affects our longevity and that meaning in life is to be found in every moment of living. That life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering, and death. So, as you contemplate the next stage of our lives we must draw meaning and purpose from it.

Let me summarise. We are living longer and healthier lives. We are working longer because we feel healthier and are looking to find meaning and purpose.

As you contemplate the next stage of life, the key will be in discovering you ‘why’, or reason to live. This may mean a challenging shift from a life preoccupied with what you do, your role and position, to discovering a purpose, cause or belief that inspires you. I admit this can be a major challenge if we have largely defined our identity through what we do.

Its not over at 65: start creating your future

The shape and meaning of this new life stage beyond 50 is changing in ways we don’t yet fully understand. What we do know that we are redefining what it means to age and are doing this life stage differently to the previous generation. It is certainly different from the way my parents have done things. If you are like me, in your 50s, you are seeing a new norm unfolding. It is fast becoming the new normal.

Dare to dream.

Create your future in this new life stage.

Kerri Bainbridge

One half of the Anywhere Team NZ

www.anywherebusiness.co.nz

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