Everyone knows the statistic: 78 million or so people born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964 have been labeled baby boomers. Entire industries were transformed to accommodate or appeal to this group. Their impact on society – especially in the 1960s and ’70s as they reached adulthood – was nothing short of astonishing. (Boomers gladly accept credit for the musical contributions made by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, while at the same time rejecting responsibility for leisure suits).
Boomers are proud to know they’ve played such a significant role in America since 1946, and they continue to do so as an estimated 10,000 boomers turn 65 each day and join the aging demographic. Half of the leading-edge cohort will likely live beyond age 90, while the trailing edge probably can add 10 or more years to that life expectancy if biotechnology and gene therapies fulfill even a fraction of their promises.
Recent polls of leading-edge baby boomers indicate that maintaining good health of body – and finances – worries them the most. Concerns over stock market volatility, low rates of return on savings, and loss of company-funded pension plans in favor of worker-funded 401(k) plans certainly are fueling their anxiety about having enough money to retire in comfort. The average 65-to-75-year-old has saved only slightly more than $50,000 for retirement – leaving only $10 in spending money per day during a 15-year retirement period.
Paradoxically, the more science promises to extend lives, the greater the fear of “outliving the money.” Whether maintaining good health or living the lifestyle to which they’d like to become accustomed, baby boomers’ real underlying imperative for the next 30-plus years is the desire to thrive. Many are asking how they can achieve this goal through midlife and beyond.
Authors E. Craig MacBean and Henry C. Simmons, in their book Thriving Beyond Midlife, suggest that having a “map” to help you understand the journey and its issues is one practical key to thriving. “Midlife” (or “middle age”) is identified as the first of three stable periods that probably start after the kids have been educated and are on their own. Midlife does not extend to a specific age but rather to a specific event they call “Ready or Not.” Ready or Not is a sudden life change that can include loss of a spouse, a significant illness and resulting care for a spouse, or one’s own prolonged illness. This event typically occurs in a relatively short period; it’s quite intense, and it’s more dramatic than the periods leading up to and following it.
Ready or Not leads to a stable time period called “The New Me.” Imagine the death of a spouse; after the grief and sense of loss have somewhat subsided, the surviving spouse must completely redefine themselves. For example, a widow is no longer “Mrs. Jones” in the context of having a husband. To thrive (and many widowed people do), she must move on and accept a new persona: herself as a single person.
The New Me is ideally a period of stability and thriving, but eventually another event comes along (sometimes many years into the future; sometimes just months away), and it’s called “Like it or Not.” While probably just as intense as Ready or Not, this event is more personal as it defines our own transition into frailty and dependence. The relatively stable period that follows is referred to as “The Rest of Living,” with emphasis on “rest.” It’s a time of expression in realms other than the physical, and can be brief or prolonged … leading to the last phase which is, of course, “Dying.”
One of the most valuable aspects of the map is that it helps to define the future in terms of phases and events rather than ages. Instead of contemplating when “old age” might begin, it allows one to see that most people will progress through the map’s stages, and to think in conceptual, rather than chronological, terms.
Discussion of the map also suggests that some notions (and vocabulary) about the next 30-plus years are in need of revamping. “Retirement” is thought of as synonymous with “old age,” but retirement is simply a transition from going someplace five days a week at 7:30 a.m. – and then not. “Retirement” is an entirely inadequate word to describe the richness of those many years. “Old” is certainly a relative term; everyone knows people in their 40s who seem “old” and others in their 70s who seem “young.”
Leading-edge and trailing-edge boomers are best served by financial service professionals who help them explore “beyond the money” by paying attention to their attitudes and resources in terms of the concepts defined in the map. This can be accomplished by engaging in conversations that focus on the common boomer aspiration of thriving in the experiences beyond midlife.