New Thoughts

Fall 2010 – On Boomer Retirement:

Things have changed in our lifetime. And not just the expectation of longevity, but also the potential for a varied, engaged, dynamic time of life—perhaps the time of your life—well into and beyond your working life. People are living longer and living better, as the oft-repeated “60 is the new 40” proclaims. The Baby Boomers and those born since generally experience less hardship and more health care (whether provided by the medical system or self administered) than those who birthed the Boomers and their forbears.

While those born during the Boomer years continue to cross the 60-year-old line (we must not be “babies” anymore!), we’re witnessing a social phenomenon that may rank as a revolution, according to Theodore Roszak. In Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders (Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills Books, 2001), Roszak notes that: “Half of all the people who ever managed to live to the age of sixty-five in the whole of human history are alive today.… mass longevity will shape the course of human history for generations to come” (23).

What is likely to be foremost in the minds of those now cruising through “midlife”? Though now a moving target, “retirement” has traditionally awaited those in their 60s. But just how far back does that “tradition” go, where did it come from, and where is it heading?

The concept of “retirement” was a product of industrialization, corporatization, and Social Security. And when Social Security was enacted in the 1940s, the lifespan of men was projected into their 50s and of women into their 60s. There was no expectation of decades of living on the government pension plan. Prior to the depression era, folks continued working as long as physically able, depended on family when infirm, and died much younger. Those of the rapidly-expanded middle class who retired in the second half of the 20th century created and enjoyed the so-called “golden years.”

Now, diminishing Social Security reserves, a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, economic volatility, and the very revolution of longevity that has been unquestionably lauded as a benefit of medical technology are mandating that Boomers create a new vision of life from middle to old age that is not about retiring from purposeful engagement, but, in fact, transforming it.

Let’s be clear, however. The primary drivers of opportunities in the second half of life are health and finances. Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs remains relevant in every stage of life—survival supersedes all. This exploration of midlife opportunity is directed to those who are privileged by health or stamina and some level of economic viability. From my perspective, that very privilege endows some responsibility to offer a return to the social structure from which it arose.

Why would one choose to “retire” in the manner developed in the latter 20th century? Physical or mental-emotional conditions might preclude employment. Those who have attained financial abundance may choose to fulfill dreams of travel, luxurious relaxation, or the pursuit of self-indulgent pleasure. Those who can claim sufficient financial independence may pursue long-held goals of creative expression of service to others.

Increasingly, however, individuals in midlife are able, from that distinctive vantage point, to view a succession of many stages or cycles of life, and yet to recognize passion unpursued, potential unfulfilled, purpose undiscovered, and desires unrequited. The much maligned term “middle age,” actually suggests a place in which it is possible to “have it all.” We may still experience much of the health and energy of our youth even as we welcome the maturity and grace of our age, and embrace this rich, dynamic period of transition. We can appreciate the agonies and delights that accompanied being youthful, and revel in the opportunity to now relax into being “ageful.”

Fall 2010 – On HARVESTING:

To harvest the bounty of the seasons of your life is to engage in an ongoing inner process.

The Seeds of the process are the questions that begin arising about the next season, the desire to create new beginnings, the readiness for change.

The cultivation of the process is the willingness to stay with the questions, to search, to try on options, to allow an unfolding with no clear end in sight.

This requires time, spiraling, changes in direction, reversals.

Let go of the immediate solution, easy answer, quick fix. Allow space, time, openness…