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Older for Longer? Or Younger for Longer? The Choice is Ours

Older for Longer? Or Younger for Longer? The Choice is Ours

By Gary Allen Foster

Chances are pretty good that you may live 20 or more years longer than your parents. If you hit 65 without major illness, you have a better than even chance you will live to 90 or beyond.

So the prospect of 25-30 more years beyond the average retirement age puts us in a territory we haven’t been in before. And we find ourselves with no roadmaps. Where mom and dad, or granny and grandpa had a few years of bingo, bridge, and bocce ball, we now face the prospect of multiple decades of – what?

Just being older longer? Who wants that? But that’s what happens when there is no plan for this extended longevity.

Without a plan, that’s what it often turns into for those who refuse to give up the traditional learn-earn-retire model that we’ve bought into for the last several decades. You know the one I mean – that old, aging elephant in the room, the one that has those golden years of “every day is Saturday” at the end.

Well, we’re getting smarter now and discovering that “every day is Saturday” or “I have plenty to keep me busy” is not a healthy plan for this extended longevity period. There is this thing called “boredom” or “stifling sameness” that sets in when every day becomes the same people, place, time, combining to yield the same result.

Mitch Anthony, author of “The New Retirementality”, puts it this way:

“Every day is Saturday’ quickly becomes a life of those Mondays you used to dread.”

He goes on to say:

“You need to have realistic expectations regarding retirement. Thinking that going from working full-time to a life that involves focusing on only leisure activities gets old quickly—and makes us older in the process. Most of us will be disappointed once we find out that our vision of retirement is not the nirvana we thought it would be.”

It’s rare that I hear a recent retiree use the word “bored” in describing the current status of their retirement. I get it – who’s going to admit that their retirement isn’t sailing along as presented and expected?

The “no structure” trap

I’ve had lots of conversations over the last year with newly-retired hospital and large medical practice executives. These are highly-educated, highly-compensated folks stepping away from very time- and stress-intensive positions. They created and thrived in a very structured environment – a necessity in an industry which, at its core, is often akin to herding cats and just simply keeping the wheels on because of the ever-changing world of government intervention.

One common theme I see emerging from these conversations is the visceral “I have plenty to keep me busy”. Catching up on delayed home projects, more family involvement, resurrecting moth-balled hobbies, trying new activities (pickle-ball comes up more often than I expected!).

Being busy soon after retirement never seems to be an issue.

But, I’m also hearing that the move from structure to non-structure is wearing thin. Several have expressed a sort of “drifting” or “ping-ponging” nature to their retirement and feeling that “there is more that I can do that has more meaning.”

Steve is a former hospital CEO that is three years into his retirement. He recently shared this with me: “I enjoy being by myself and with my family. But I need intellectual stimulation, a new challenge, something that uses my expertise, experience and leadership abilities.

He laments that he didn’t give thought to, or have someone to help him with, things to consider post-career – a method for “finding himself” or a path to more purposeful use of his time at this stage.

His financial goals were achieved early. But nowhere in conversations with financial advisors was there any conversation about “what’s next” from a mental, physical, social or spiritual perspective. Nor did anything along the path to retirement “hook” him and steer him toward something that would ignite dormant passions or a greater sense of purpose in how he was living.

Like so many, this very talented, experienced executive walked from a structured environment into an unstructured environment with the assumption that retirement would “take care of itself”.

This new terrain can be a bit like trying to negotiate the city of Chicago using a map of Des Moines.

Steve, at 66, understands he probably has a longer roadway ahead than previous generations. That’s part of his angst, I believe. Perhaps fear of a meaningless, dependent post-career existence. In other words, just being “older longer.”

We’ve agreed to work together and experiment with some techniques to help him get on this “purpose-path” that seems to be simmering in his psyche. It’s interesting to note that, even with his successful career experience and education, he is most interested in starting that process by going all the way back to doing some basic strengths and talent assessments and tests.

With this reminder of how he is “wired up” and some guidance on the development of a flexible, written plan for his post-career life, I believe we will carve out that roadmap that he feels is missing for the remainder of his days.

I am confident that we will see a Steve that is “younger longer” with no fear of being “older longer.” More importantly, I believe, will be a focused transfer of skills and experience back into the marketplace in a way that will allow him to leave a more meaningful footprint.

It’s a discovery path that is an option for all of us if we are willing to stare down that “aging elephant in the room.”

Gary Allen Foster is executive recruiter, retirement and career transition coach, writer, and speaker. He shares his thoughts about aging and retirement on his blog – Make Aging Work.

This post was originally published on Make Aging Work and reprinted with permission.

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