So many of us think of life in the classic 3 stages mode: School – Work – Retirement. How unrealistic is that now?

The Boomers have made ‘60 the new 40‘. Once anyone having a 100th birthday made national TV news, now it is not unusual. If you were born after the late 1960s, you have a very good chance of living that long yourself.

What does this mean for your career?

Surprisingly few people have thought about the impact of longevity on their lives and careers and how that differs from  their parents or grandparents. Many still assume that they will retire in their 60s. Recently articles have focused again on people who want to retire in their 30s. But investment companies and economics think tanks regularly report that retirement savings are not adequate for living beyond 10-12 years of retirement. The current average is 18 years in retirement and that is increasing.

The Great Recession of a decade ago brought changes as more people worked into their late 60s and mid 70s. Retirees returned to the workplace in temporary, seasonal, and lower-skilled jobs. Today there are more people working past 55 and into their late 70s than at any time since before WWII. But companies have not fundamentally changed their practices.

The book, THE 100-YEAR LIFE: LIVING AND WORKING IN AN AGE OF LONGEVITY by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, offers ideas and insights for our future. Businesses which begin to adapt now will have an advantage. Longer lives  mean different patterns of working and education. Yet most of us still build our career ideas around a three-stage life notion of education in youth, 30-40 years of work, and then retirement.

No-one can really save enough to retire for 30 – 40 years in a 35 – 45 year work life, especially now that pensions have become so rare. One of the early illustrations in the book is a scary look at this point. Someone born in the early 1970s, who works for 44 years to age 65 and lives to be 85, and does not have a company pension, would have to save over 17% of their gross income in a retirement savings plan EVERY YEAR during their working years. Born in the 1990s, same assumptions — but a 100 year life span, and that retirement saving need every year goes over 25%. Not likely!

Think about what this means for you going forward. Our own planning must support continuous education and development. People will get more education and training multiple times across their lives.  Personal sabbaticals will become a more common way to refresh and renew oneself.  Life may have five or more stages.  Companies must recognize people will leave the workforce periodically to renew their education and themselves or change work focus and that these people will make great employees at many life stages. Individuals must be prepared for longer careers which are likely to involve several more career changes than in the past as new technology implementation continues to change what jobs exist.

What You Can Do Personally and for Your Family

Step 1:

Begin to think about your career as an evolving plan over time. What are you doing to grow new skills, to investigate the future of your current work and other areas which might appeal to you. What do you want to do now, mid-career, and through your 70s? How do you get there?  How will you integrate your need for added knowledge and skills as well as time away from work into your planning?

Step 2:

Look at your own retirement plan, both financially and timing, to ensure you can meet your goals.  Make sure you take advantage of any retirement savings your employer offers.  Learn the financial basics of investing and saving.

Step 3:

Educate yourself and your family on these changes and ways work and education must change to deal with longevity. If you are in a management position, do the same for your company.

Step 4:

Free your mind of the expectation of retirement in your 60s or earlier, unless you are already 55 or older, and seek to model that change for younger family members and friends.  Look forward to more years of contributing to our society and economy and seek out ways to keep yourself ready to do so.

Just a reminder. We think we are dealing with rapid technological changes that no-one ever faced before. But consider this: Many of the American ‘doughboys’ who went off to World War I in 1917 had never been more than 20 miles from their birthplace. Suddenly they were riding on trains and then ships to a country whose language few knew and fighting with mortars, planes, trains, trucks, and tanks which they had never seen before, instead of horses and rifles. And for most, their lives included both the new threat of nuclear war to the beginning of the space age!

Change is a constant in most modern lives and this one offers great promise as well as peril. Which way forward will you choose?