With more people living longer and acting like they’re ageless, it’s time to kick the preconceived notions of what it’s like to grow old. At the top of that list of aging clichés is the bucket list, i.e. all the things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” As we live longer, worry about the end of life is getting pushed farther into the future. Instead of ends, Baby Boomers remain focused on new beginnings, accompanied by an eagerness to make the most out of the next stage of a life that seems limitless.
If you were an adult living in the U.S. in the 1950s, you were looking at an average life expectancy of 66 years. The typical arc of life meant having kids in your teens or early 20s, having an empty nest in your late 40s and, if all went as planned, a comfortable retirement at age 65. Life was fairly linear, with clear beginnings and ends. Since retirement and the end of life weren’t that far apart, it’s not surprising that folks had a bucket list mentality and took pleasure in checking as many things off their list while they could.
Since the post-war decade, we’ve been adding to life expectancy at impressive rates. Between the years of 2000 and 2016 alone, global life expectancy grew by almost six years! Not only are we living longer but thanks to improvements in nutrition, physical fitness and medical science we’re living better, too. Back in the day, if a hip or a knee failed you, that was it -- a part of your body had run its course with age. Today, it’s common practice to replace ailing joints for people in their 80s who still have a lot of good road ahead. When quantity of life and quality of life are growing at the same time, life is good.
With this type of wind in their sails, we can see why Boomers are living longer lives at full speed without an end in mind. Here’s what you can expect:
More Middle Age Mentality
As life expectancy and longevity increase, are we extending old age or are we expanding middle age? If you ask a Boomer, the answer is clear: They are expanding the best years of their lives, living in their prime longer. As they reflect, the beginning of adult life was hard. The challenge of passing in college gave way to the pressures of launching a career along with the demands of parenting and paying the mortgage. Now, they’re at a stage of contentment, striving less to climb the ladder and seeking more pleasure in the moment. The end of life will have to wait because prime time is too good to waste.
The Rise of “Super Age-chievers”
There are achievement-oriented people and then there are super achievers -- those who are driven to excel and are relentless in their pursuit of praise and recognition. Enter the “Super Age-chievers,” Baby Boomers who are exceeding the expectations of what’s possible at age. In the bucket list era, achievement was largely associated with successfully raising a family and being accomplished at work. Retirement was the prize for being an achiever and the reward was being able to finally stop, rest and smell the roses. But in our new era of “no ends,” one’s passion for achievement not only continues, it accelerates. Stopping or settling for less is simply not an option.
To get more out of life, Boomers are realizing that they need a more spontaneous approach to life. That, in turn, means mastering “the art of yes and no.” Earlier in their lives, saying “yes” to something required consideration and planning, and “no” was something they regretted not saying more often. With the growth and learning that comes from experience and the freedom that comes with age, they’re now acting more instinctually and enjoying a more spirited, spontaneous existence.
What’s more revealing, however, is what the participants in the Longevity Economy are doing differently to trigger economic expansion. Let’s start with aging itself (that subject again). One has to ponder the existentialism of aging, i.e. as life expectancy and longevity increase, are we extending old age or are we expanding middle age? Since there’s no real right or wrong answer here, the only way we can answer this question is to identify the activities that used to be associated with middle age (e.g. working, peak productivity) and then assess the extent to which these activities may be continuing longer and at an older age. The ages that correspond to the middle age life period are generally 40-60. Middle age was seen as ending at that point one’s productivity began to yield diminishing returns. One simply retired and, at that point, they knowingly and willingly opened the door to old age.
The prospect of aging well is getting shinier every year and with it, the concept of the bucket list is getting ever rustier and less relevant. It’s time to kick that bucket down the road while thinking about a more contemporary substitute. I’m thinking it’s the "ageless list." When you dream, you’re ageless, and anything is possible at any time. Why wait?
Photo courtesy of BoomAgers
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