What Are You Going to Do With Your Extra 30 Years?
So you’re 40 or 50, big deal. The only question that counts is “What are you going to do with your next 30 years?”
Nobody in the history of man has lived as long as you—and ended up in such good shape.
Your ancestors had kids, but rarely saw their kids have kids. Most women never knew menopause. Men died when their legs, eyes, or ears failed.
In 1900, the average life expectancy was 48. Now it’s 78, scarcely a hundred years later. For most, 30 extra years! What a wonderful problem!
So here you are, feeling fine, looking good, full of ginger, all gussied up and historically with no place to go.
You might as well make a plan that will use all your knowledge and experience, your values and laughter, in those “new” 30 years.
Your parents, certainly theirs, subscribed to the “declining philosophy” that said that from midlife on it was all downhill, that the party was over, dreams unrealized were just that. But today that’s as out of date as your prom dress, ball glove, or 8-tracks. People now don’t just curl up and die when they hit the 50-yard line. In fact, most bloom like never before. Better yet, they have the skill, strength, wisdom, and experience—sometimes even the money—to make their second half the joyous completion of what the first half prepared them to do.
Of course, whether that happens to you is pretty much your choice. Just sitting around waiting to die can take a long time, if curling up is your thing...
You at least deserve some options to use between then and now. Plenty of books tell you to save billions for your “retirement.” Others urge you to volunteer 26 hours a day. But none shows you how to take your future by the reins and make it go precisely where you wish.
This book has that goal: to help you plan the rest of your days.
You can use it to map out the great unknown—your Great Sec-ond Life!
Then you will have a hundred options, a
hundred alternatives, and maybe a hundred new friends.
What the book is all about
Of all the people who ever reached 65 years of age, one half of them are alive today!
If you lived to half that age during the Dark Ages, you were very, very old. Living too many years has hardly been a historical problem!
The miracle is that most of us will live into our 80s, and some far beyond 100. We may even know a person who will live to 200.
How valuable are those extra years? They’re only
worth having if they are worth living.
No strings attached
We get 30 more years just for being alive shortly after the end of a century rather than at its start—a gift with no strings attached!
That’s how much life expectancy has increased since 1900. Years to do with as we wish. We all get them, or at least the chance at them.
But who reading these pages has a plan for them? We didn’t plan our first life, and when we hit the 40s and early 50s, when the gift kicks in, we have no plan for the extra years either.
I’m not scolding. I’m 65 and never gave a thought to any of this: extra years, a plan, a gift-horse, until I learned about that life expectancy in 1900 and realized that my grandmothers lived to about 90, and it hit me that I’m spending my gift without even knowing that I’d gotten it. Just frittering it away, for the most part.
Yet if you and I had a plan we could take this gift, this jewel, and cut it and set it ourselves and make it shine. If we considered these extra 30 years our second life, our gift life, we could finally do what we wanted to do by intent, free from the toil and expectations and often the sheer nonsense of our first life.
Thirty free years. A gift horse. With a plan, that’s found gold.
All we need is an Action Plan
So let me help you, and me, do that. Let’s start creating Action Plans for our own Great Second Lives.
This book, then, is not about “retirement.” Most of us reading it will not retire in the way our parents did (and the way the government wanted, so we would open up jobs for the young). We won’t be throwing down our hod or rug beaters at 65, bent and shot.
When the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck, in the late 1800s, plucked a retirement age of 70 out of the air, thinking it so old that the German state would hardly have to pay pensions at all, it was far beyond the average life expectancy.
When F.D.R. created an old-age retirement
system in the
Nor is this book solely directed to the 40 plus. In truth, it should be mandatory reading in high school, or college at the latest, so the readers could plan both their first and second lives—and make each far better.
But that will never happen. Kids in their
late teens and 20s are too juicy and jumpy, invincible, and all-knowing. They
might agree that there’s a kernel of truth to what these
pages say but they’d consider it about as applicable as
a Byzantine grunt.
The best time to start planning?
This is a book designed to help you use your
gift to its fullest by creating your own Great Second Life. That’s when the very best living
takes place, or can. But for that to be so requires thought, some
planning, decisions made, and some dreams dreamed and action acted.
So I chose 40 as an arbitrary time to start planning and suspect that most of the readers will tune in between then and 55, an age when thinking about going backwards to become a kid again makes your fewer hairs stand straight up in horror. You’ve outgrown that posturing and madness. Anyway, nature won’t let you.
The problem is what you think you see ahead: less power, less beauty, less passion, less money, and less years.
You need better eyes. The truth is, the second half of your life will be better, more exciting, and much more in your control than the hard half you’re escaping.
You’re in midlife, and as soon as you stop yelling “Crisis!” and waltz through it, you’re going to pop out a new, calmer, stronger person.
And since you had the wisdom to buy a book
telling you how to create a “Great Second Life,” not only are you going to be
ready to leap into your new body and mind to enjoy your second journey, you’re also going to be able to extract every last drop of
joy from it.
Part Two of this book
In the second half of this book I’ll walk you, step-by-step, through a straightforward process of planning, then implementing, for those years. It starts with a Dream List and ends with a detailed Action Plan for the coming stages of your life. (If your dream machine has gotten rusty, I’ll even share 200 rather generic dreams in the Appendix from which you might choose.)
But in this half let’s
talk about that dreaded “midlife crisis,”
nature, liberation, what you did right, and what you want to shuck as soon as
you can. Then we’ll discuss the business of staying
healthy and a different look at staying solvent, before we figure out how to
spend that vigor and cash!
Why plan at all? Why not just let it happen?
The best answer may be that since you didn’t plan for the first half and you’ve only got the second half left, do you want to be planless your entire life?
I know, you did plan the first half—without my book.
Malarkey. You’ve been led around by the hormones for most of the last 40 years, and when they didn’t drag you from school to marriage to babies (all in the name of sex, and maybe love), then society kicked in and picked the order and the rituals while delineating the restraints. Don’t fret: nature and society enslaved us all, and it wasn’t so bad. We’ve paid our reproductive dues, have kids we love, and despite ourselves half the time, built up a kitbag of knowledge and skills. We even pocketed some coins and slipped in some fun.
Sure, you chose your spouse, picked your job, and have been in control of every facet of your life from the time you were six. Yep, and there’s a gold bar glued to the back of this book.
See Chapter 4 for more about those early
years and what we will gladly leave behind.
The point is: whatever the past, you survived it and came out ahead.
got 30 more years and this time you are in charge. So why not take all those
street smarts, school learning, and people skills and put them to full use to
design the kind of life you want, then make that
The last days of your only life
In Chapter 8 you will be asked a simple question: “If you had all the money, time, and energy you needed and were free from any outside constraints, what would you do in your extra 30 years?” From the answers, you create your own Dream List. What’s left is the defining and doing.
It’s your life and your last days. You get one life and a lot of last days. Why not look through new eyes and plan a new path, which likely includes much of the old path but cleaned up, straightened, and with a higher purpose? Why not make certain that what’s important, or exciting, or flat-out incredible is yours—by intent, not happenchance?
The alternative isn’t dreadful. It’s just more todays forever. It’s what 99.98% of all people have done since the discovery of fire and ashtrays. And what almost all of your friends will do (unless you’re kind enough to share this book with them).
But why would you leave something as important as 30 years of your only life to fate, chance, or fortune? Or, worse yet, your memory!
Why wouldn’t you congratulate yourself for all of the good things you’ve done, take a long look at what you’ve yet to do, dip into your dream bag to see what more you could add to the roster, factor in your health and coffers, touch base with your mate, then put all that down on paper, creating a clear map of where you intend to go to finish the journey that was earlier interrupted (by sex, confusion, frustration, mayhem, at least one incredibly daft boss, and bad music) but is now open to completion?
Before we delve into planning, let’s address two related concerns, in reverse order of importance. The first asks, “If this planning a Great Second Life is such a hot idea, why didn’t my folks do it?” Of all the dumb stuff they did do, they never mentioned it.
The second is more important. It simply says
that it doesn’t matter what we plan, we’re going to lose or forget about the plans, give up on them,
or just laugh at the exercise a few months after it’s
finished. Heavens. More on that in a
So, why weren’t our folks as wise as we are when it comes to creating a specific plan for the second half of our lives? Four reasons come quickly to mind:
1. Their expectations came directly from what they’d seen their parents do. In our grandparents’ time, few lived beyond 60 and they were patterned into a life of working until retirement, then hanging on until death.
2. Our grandparents probably lived at home (or within a mile) and in effect were dependents again, so there was no reason to plan. They usually had chores to perform and were a vital part of the household.
3. Even if they wanted to work longer or lead more active lives, the number of available service jobs were extremely limited, travel was much harder, and as long as they lived at or near home and spent within their pension or Social Security allotments, there was little incentive to do more.
4. And they were just plumb tired. Labor
then meant manual, at work or at home, and jobs demanded plenty of it. The key
part of “retirement” was “tire.” Add
a “d” and any stimulus to a vital, active post-work life
was gone. Medicines and treatment were still relatively primitive, nutrition was
sub-standard, and one’s stamina at 55 was like a 75 year-old’s today.
We’re on our own!
Today, our lives now are markedly different. At 55, we still have those extra 30 years to live. Even if our kids did expect us to return home, there’s no room. Instead, they more likely expect us to be independent as long as we can, then slip into some sort of aided-living home before we die in a hospital. They would be grateful if we did this without interrupting their schedules; doubly grateful if we simply told them what we had done after the fact. Except death. If we die without pre-warning them, they’ll never forgive us. A few day’s warning is perfect.
They presume we will patch together the government support—Social Security and Medicare—and add our pension, insurance, and savings to it to have enough money to take care of all future needs, including medical and burial. If we don’t do this, we are irresponsible. (They wouldn’t refuse a small inheritance either.)
Not that we’ll be completely detached. The telephone can keep us in touch if we have emergency needs. And we aren’t nearly as isolated as our grandparents were, with radio (we still listen to radios), television, computers, and sometimes accessible public transport (after driving becomes difficult).
As long as we don’t mortify our kids (tiptoeing, out of sight, is best), we can even do “young” things and no one seems to care.
In fact, we’re not as old as our counterparts decades back. We eat better, do less physically taxing work, keep working more years, pay more attention to our health, have more information at our disposal about maintaining a healthy life, exercise, have more seniors to mix with, are far more open about mental health, and have a stronger web of services we can draw upon.
So why shouldn’t
we plan our own best lives for the second half? Society is indifferent (though
it will try to sell us anything it thinks we’re
addled enough to buy). Our kids are permissive; turnabout is indeed fair play. It’s our money, what there is of it, and our time, which is
more abundant. And, to repeat, “here
we are, feeling fine, looking good, full of ginger, all gussied up and
historically with no place to go.” May as well mortify the kids and do what we want
when we want. The meter’s
ticking. If we plan it right, we can be a constant 30-year mortification
We’ve still got plenty of marbles!
The supposition that whether we plan a “Great Second Life” or not, we’ll be incapable of carrying out the plans or will lose interest sounds suspiciously like saying that we begin the mental and attitudinal slippery slide sometime in the 50s (or sooner), and it gets progressively faster and steeper until we’re lucky to find our shoes, much less tie them, when we reach antiquity. (Go Velcro!)
Sometimes that is true, and then it’s not at all funny. There are mental disorders, but they hold steady at about 5% of the populace at every age. Seniors have no edge there. And there are forms of latter-life dementia and illnesses, including, of course, Alzheimer’s. They are tragedies for all involved.
But most folks don’t change much during their later years, beyond the usual physical aging and decline in short-term memory. The fear of mental incompetence is for most groundless. The danger is that we will accept the false assumption that all mental functions decline with age, then act out the stereotype, withdrawing and losing self-esteem and becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Intelligence tests show little change as one
ages, although one gets slower (and more cautious). We
do process sensory information slower and take longer to perceive a stimulus,
and slower yet when the task is complicated or a surprise. “We
continue to gain rather than decline in our ability to manage our daily
affairs; it is usually only in times of stress or loss that our mechanisms may
be pushed beyond their limits,” says Dr. Mark E. Williams in The Complete Guide to
Aging and Health.
Even better, our response to physical stimulus needn’t change at all—and will actually be faster if we take part in regular physical activity.
Three second life components deserve
comment: learning, satisfaction with life, and personal control.
Our capacity to learn continues throughout
life. That capacity is divided into three phases of information processing:
encoding, storage, and retrieval.
Encoding is mentally registering information. We get worse at it as we age, but that may be linked to hearing or vision—barriers to having the information understood. We are best when we can link visual information to its audio component.
Our recall ability, to search and retrieve information from storage, worsens over time, but there is little decline in our ability to match our information in storage with information in the environment.
While our short-term memory is the biggest change with aging (what did I say?), our long-term memory declines only a bit, and that is probably due to poorer encoding. Very long-term memory gets better from 20-50 and holds steady until about 70. Maybe it is overwhelmed after 70 because we’ve gathered up so much to remember!
Mostly we compensate and get along fine (as
long as we pin our keys to our sleeve and write where we’re
going on our hand). What throws us off is a new challenge, like new
surroundings, or major stress, like the loss of a spouse.
Satisfaction and control
One imagines that the older we get, the less
satisfied with life we become. Except for the extremely old, life satisfaction doesn’t decrease with age, despite all the factors that could
influence it, like poorer health, loss of a spouse or friends, and less money
or activity. People simply adapt to those situations that can’t
be changed. And elders report less stress: they cope better and expect less.
A lot of it has to do with attitude. “The attitude we take about aging will be very important in affecting the success with which we age,” says Dr. Williams. “Meaningful participation in family and community activities is a major source of personal satisfaction and is the product of cultural attitudes and decisions made earlier in life.”
A plan for a purposeful second life could play a key role in that later level of personal satisfaction.
A sense of personal control is critical to our overall well-being. Personal control is the ability to manipulate aspects of our environment, and the inability to do that results in feelings of helplessness and depression. A loss of perceived control can happen to older folk, particularly when they have a disability. It can produce adverse affects (rage, depression, violence, abuse), even death. They simply give up.
Which is, again, where a plan for life built of choices is useful. Even if all of the plans fail to materialize, just the ability to predict events may be a form of control in that it allows us to adapt to the situation.
Dr. Williams adds,
The acceptance of limits and a finite future is a quality of maturity, not a matter of resignation or defeat. With years of rich experience and reflection, some of us can transcend our own circumstances. We call this ability to see the truth in the light of the moment, wisdom. So as we age in creativity, in deepening wisdom and sensibility we become more, not less. And we realize that aging confronts us with the tension between ourselves now and ourselves in the future. We have an enormous amount of choice regarding our own aging. What are we sowing, and what is it we wish to reap?
More about our
physical and mental health in Chapter 6.
Planning and choice, then, is what this book
is about. Plan and choose how you will best use this 30-year gift; how you will
keep your body and mind tuned and in control of a life loved and fully lived.