Aging is inevitable, bringing with it a barrage of changes that most of us would politely decline if given the option. We have less energy than we’d like, move slower, ache more, remember less, and constantly discover body parts we didn’t even know we had until they stopped working properly. Then we have to get out of bed and start the day.
So what’s really golden about these years, anyway?
The origin of the term is undocumented, but some sources trace it to a Merrill Lynch advertising campaign circa 1960, suggesting that having sufficient resources is what makes post-retirement “golden.” Perhaps the basis for that campaign came from the reference in Greek mythology to the Ages of Man. In the Golden Age, people lived at peace and in harmony, did not have to work in order to provide for themselves, enjoyed a long life while still appearing youthful, and died peacefully.
Some semblance of that Utopia is what most of us spent our adult lives anticipating. Retirement meant having a pension or savings to provide for our needs, and the time and energy, free of other responsibilities and obligations, to live as we choose. It meant precisely what the reference to gold implies: the pinnacle of achievement in a lifetime of conscientious effort.
Those who are firmly entrenched in the post-65 years, along with those who are fast approaching entry to the club, are discovering a different landscape than they had envisioned. But even though the future may appear a bit tarnished on the surface compared to our shiny fantasies, the gold remains. It’s just a matter of taking a different approach than we expected.
The WWII generation, and the Boomers to whom they gave birth, are both remarkable cohorts. Throughout history, we have proven our strength, tenacity and resourcefulness. Our inventiveness advanced the technologies we use to make life better and more productive; our research led the way for improved health and increased longevity; our vision sparked positive change in politics, environmentalism and human relations. We have proven ourselves to be survivors, and more than that, to be the creators of the future of our choice.
Being older than we once were does not change any of those accomplishments, nor does it take away the strengths that allowed us to affect such wide-reaching change. We are still survivors, still tenacious and strong, and still capable of creating the future we choose. The challenges look different than they did to previous generations of mid-lifers and retirees, but they are not insurmountable, and we have tools that expand our options exponentially.
Resources At Our Command
The internet alone has created possibilities for us that didn’t exist as our parents approached retirement age. Information on virtually any topic is literally at our fingertips. With a computer and an internet connection, you can learn anything, find answers to your questions, locate providers of services you need, handle your banking and bill paying, communicate with family and friends, find entertainment, and do your shopping – even for groceries.
Belonging to the largest cohort of older Americans in history is another point in our favor. Because our numbers are strong and growing daily, resources for Boomers and seniors are readily available. Municipal organizations, Agencies on Aging, and uncounted private services can help with virtually any need. Park districts and senior centers offer opportunities to meet people, participate in activities you enjoy, explore your interests, and expand your horizons. Many of these organizations, along with hospitals, health clubs and wellness centers, offer classes on every aspect of preserving and improving your health.
Senior living options have improved considerably, too, making it possible for our generation to have a broader range of choices. The Universal Design concept creates environments that are usable as we age, without the need for adaptation. Modifications can be made to older homes either to incorporate Universal Design characteristics, or simply to make the rooms of your home safer and more accessible. Senior living communities offer accommodations independent, active people as well as those who need a little assistance, and those who need more ongoing care. Many of these facilities are now located on a single campus, called Continuing Care Retirement Communities, so the level of care that your parents, you or your spouse may need is available in one place.
Extending The Working Years
For those of us who will continue to work beyond traditional retirement age – whether to supplement retirement income, to qualify for employer-subsidized health insurance, or because we still have something to offer the workplace – there are numerous possibilities. According to the US Census Bureau, 5.4 million people in the workforce are age 65 or older. Some of those people have simply delayed retirement, continuing in their current position. Others continued in their positions, but reduced the number of hours they work per week.
And for some of us, working past retirement age is a matter of choice rather than necessity. We do because we can, because we love what we do, or because we welcome the opportunity to explore a new career direction and share our much-needed gifts with the world.
Consulting is an option for those who attained a certain level of expertise in their field. Hiring consultants is beneficial to companies that require the experience and insight of a seasoned professional, but don’t have the need or resources to put full-time staff members in such positions.
Retiring from your place of work and then seeking casual part-time work appeals to those who want to supplement their income but don’t want the responsibility or stress of a full-time position.
Entrepreneurial efforts and encore careers are suited to those who enjoyed their working years and want to continue them, but in a different direction. If you like being in charge and having a long-term challenge, and have the energy and interest to explore a new field, entrepreneurship might be right for you. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 23% of new businesses started in the last several years were owned by people in the age 55-64 group, and there are twice as many entrepreneurs over age 50 as there are under 25.
Some seniors want to continue working, but their goal in retirement is to work toward a purpose. Harvard Business Review writer Whitney Johnson said many of us develop a commitment to mentoring, working toward an altruistic purpose, and making things better for the next generation. Post-retirement efforts sometime reflect this motivation to make one’s life count in a positive way, whether by working for a worthy cause, creating something new that brings value to others, or volunteering one’s time on behalf of those in need.
Show Me The Gold
I’ve had the privilege of becoming acquainted with people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond, all doing remarkable things and engaging in life in ways previous generations dared not tread. They are creative, productive, and in some cases, more involved in the world around them than many younger people I know.
They are not going gracefully into that good night. They are making their mark, and making the most of every moment. They, not time or social convention, choose what is appropriate and meaningful and right, every day, in every situation, in every moment.
Sociologists cite any number of reasons for this change in the way we experience our post-midlife years: longer life spans, better health care, greater resources than any previous generation has enjoyed. These are undoubtedly all contributing factors, but there is one other factor to consider. Today’s Boomers and seniors are pathfinders. We know who we are and make conscious choices about the future. It’s all in the attitude.
So what’s so special about these years? More than anything, it is the fact that the script for aging is being rewritten, and the outcome is limited only by the imagination of us, the authors.
And that, my friends, is truly golden.
Author’s Note: Life Transitions Coaching focuses on moving from one chapter of your life to another, ensuring that you’re working toward changes that are meaningful and come from the heart. Use the Contact form above to request information on how a coaching relationship might benefit you as you plan your pre-retirement/empty nest stage, prepare for retirement, or dream of beginning your life’s work beyond midlife.