If you knew you were likely to live to 100, would you live your life differently?
I was recently inspired by an episode of The Future of Work with Jacob Morgan podcast, titled “How to Live & Work When We Have a 100-Year Life” (listen to the full episode here). This is based on a book called The 100-Year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew J. Scott.
In the episode, host Jacob Morgan discusses ideas from the book, pointing out that living for 100 years does not come without its challenges (health, finances, relationships, etc.) And yet, it also presents a world of opportunity that can inform the choices we make today.
The chart above shows us that babies born in the U.S. in 2007 are predicted to live to the age of 104, on average. This really brings it home for me: my son was born in 2006, which means he could still be alive in 2110! That’s a long life, and it is bound to have many twists and turns, exciting subplots, and intriguing developments. How can you successfully parent a human being who will live that long? How can we prepare our children, and ourselves, for such long lives?
This is where some fascinating ideas come into play. It’s time for a new approach to life! Let’s dive in.
Gone is the Three-Stage Life
Here’s a familiar concept that most of us have looked at as a model for life: full-time education, full-time work, full-time retirement. This is the idea of the three-stage life, and it pretty clearly divides up a lifetime into age-appropriate tasks.
According to Gratton and Scott, in the three-stage life, you can easily look to your peers and ask yourself, “Am I on the right track? Do I have the right degree? Am I at the right place in my career? Is it time to get a house?” “Is it time to retire?” The actions of others our age indicate checkpoints we “should” be hitting, and when.
But the three-stage life has been going out of style for some time now. You may be already thinking of examples of people in your life who have deviated from the three-stage track. Some common modern-day deviations include:
- High school graduates taking a “gap year” before going to college in order to travel, get work experience, and enter college with more clarity.
- Adults taking a break from work for several years to travel, raise children, or retool skills.
- People of retirement age starting businesses, volunteering, or keeping jobs (full retirement, it turns out, is not very enticing for many people. Loss of purpose and meaning from work, missing their work relationships, and the loss of income and benefits can be very challenging for the majority).
As a society, we have been gradually outgrowing the three-stage life. It just so happened that the COVID-19 pandemic has made those gradual shifts suddenly seem glaring.
So if the three-stage life doesn’t necessarily apply any longer, what does?
Introducing the Multi-Stage Life
Even before the pandemic, we needed a new way to think about work. Given technology and the lack of fluidity/stigma attached to returning to work after a break, many parts of the “three-stage life” concept weren’t working. Now that people are living longer, and the warp speed with which the pandemic has fundamentally restructured our work lives, we have more flexibility than ever.
Gratton and Scott introduce the concept of the “Multi-Stage Life,” one where we move in and out of the three stages throughout our 100-year life, and one where “retirement” is renamed “leisure.”
In this model, you can start college when you’re in your 40’s, you can enjoy a leisure phase when you’re in your 20’s, and you can wait until you’re 60 to buy a house or start a business. You can do whatever you want!
There is so much for us as a society to consider in this new model. How will workplaces and governments adapt? The authors address this in one of the chapters of their book. At 60, 70, or 80 years old—a period that was formally considered to be “retirement age”—there are people who still can and want to make a significant impact; so how will Corporate America respond to that? How will we address ageism, both toward old and young people?
Will financial institutions reverse the penalties currently in place for pulling money out of a 401k or Roth IRA account earlier than the standard 60-something? How will the Social Security Administration adapt? And what about student loans, which are currently aimed toward the 18-22 crowd. Will it look different to get a loan when you’re 45 years old?
There is much to look at on a big scale, but on a smaller scale, let’s talk about how you can make adjustments in your life, today.
How to be Successful in the Multi-Stage Life
Now that the Learn/Work/Retire trifecta is officially defunct, the skills of flexibility and adaptability have become even more critical to living a successful and happy multi-stage life.
We each need to be able to maneuver through transitions on a more regular basis. In a multi-stage life, there is no model to follow. Each of us gets to write our own story, and one person’s story may look very different than another’s. The authors write, “At any point in time, you could be something different.” This quote brings excitement to some of us and dread to others. Notice what it brings up for you.
Here are some thoughts to consider as you wrap your mind around a 100-year life. You don’t need to be 18 to spend a little time pondering these questions. Start where you are, at age 35 or 55 or 75…
- What is the new story of what you want your life to be about?
- How would you work differently if you knew you had 100 years?
- Would everything still be a fire drill?
- Would you be less afraid?
- How would you live differently if you knew you had 100 years?
- Who and what would get your time and energy? Consider your family, friends, health, finances, etc.
After reflecting on the questions, above, I invite you to share what you’ve discovered about yourself and your vision for your (very long!) life. Feel free to reach out to me via my contact page if you’d like support in bringing your new vision to fruition.