Most professionals have long held the belief that at the age of 65 they would retire from their lifelong careers and get to do all the things they never had time to do when they were working so hard. Some people, especially those in high-paid stressful jobs, planned their retirement for an earlier age, perhaps at 60 or even while they were still in their fifties. If there was sufficient income to live on then a man or woman could expect to spend his or her golden years traveling and enjoying the fruits of his or her labors.
That, of course, was until the recession that never seems to end hit us all. Now articles and books abound about working past 65 until 70 or beyond. For people who enjoy their work, this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you aren't really sure what you're going to do with all that extra time in retirement. But if work has become a burden, perhaps due to the cutbacks and layoffs of the last few years, then thinking about carrying on and on may be depressing. Not to mention that many companies aren't so happy to hold on to their higher-paid, older, boomer workers and would rather make room for younger, more energetic, less expensive and more techo-savvy generations like X and Y.
Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School's Center for Digital Business had some interesting thoughts on the subject at his Harvard Business Review blog entitled "The 15 Minutes that Could Save Five Years."
In his blog Schrage says flatly that it's "the end of retirement as we know it." And rather than moan about it, he says, "Start dealing with it. Now." Everyone needs to start thinking about working at least another five years past normal retirement age, he contends. Retirement planning, as we know it, "is obsolete," he adds.
What does he recommend? Everyone should take "15 hard minutes to ruthlessly reassess the reality of the ‘new' final years of their future career," he says. Then he asks you to think about what your workday will look like when you're 70 and what new skills or experiences you might need in this role. Most importantly, he suggests focusing on role models or those 70+ year olds who could serve as benchmarks for your own career.
I can think of various people past the age of 70 in the public eye who impress with their achievements and energy, but generally they are people who have achieved extraordinary success in their respective fields, whether it is politics, academia, entertainment, business, music and art. It's a lot harder to come up with regular people that you know or are related to who fit that bill. Reassuringly Schrage says you won't have all the answers now, but you need to start asking these questions and seeking role models.
Businesses too need to start asking questions, such as: What will your workforce look like if people don't retire before the age of 70? How will organizations transition older workers into roles that they are best suited for that play off their experience and wisdom and don't penalize them for their diminished energy or memor?
If people start living a lot longer, we'll really need to rethink the various stages of our lives. If you live to 100+ and are healthy well into your 90s, then what does that do to careers and to relationships? It's hard to imagine staying married to the same person for 70+ years and it's hard to fathom sticking with one career for 50+ years that you picked when you were in college.
Reinventing yourself as you age is a good thing. What appeals to you in your 60s is different from what attracted you in your 20s, 30s or 40s. Will being an IT professional for 50 or so years be your preferred choice or would you like to have multiple career paths that take you down new roads? It's never too late to start thinking about this and planning for a new future. Letting go of one path to transition to a new one is not easy, but it holds the promise of something potentially more satisfying and creative.
What's your retirement plan? Are you focused on the nest egg that you need to make it happen (which is becoming increasingly hard to do) or are you thinking about how you might fill your later years with some meaningful work?