How many marvelous things would you like to do, see, experience, become, that you have postponed until retirement? If you are not yet retired, I bet you have a long, exciting list. And if you have retired, I wager that the list has gotten even longer.
As we get older, we are aware of one great truth. Life starts right now, and it keeps on coming until it is over. There is no intermission…no time out after which the future “officially begins.” We owe it to ourselves to be financially ready for that future as it becomes the present and before it is dissolve, bit-by-bit into the past.
For me, the highest prize of longevity is more time to correct mistakes…to say we are sorry…to love more…and to fulfill more dreams. So if you have an idea, even if a bit risky, go for it. You’re never too old or too young to be who you want to be.
If we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it. When I turned 50, I declared it “the best time of my life.” I had never been fitter, busier or more enthusiastic about the future. I found my friends and many of my law clients equally turned on by their mounting birthdays. But there was a subtle undercurrent of trouble that was tough to define in that very prosperous time. It was 1998, and we were still partying like it was 1990!
Although many middle-aged Boomers, like my friends and me, had the money to fulfill most of our lifelong dreams, we continued to tread water…to do more of the same, get more of the same. There was no adequate explanation, yet we weren’t fulfilling on those dreams.
For example, one friend went looking for her dream house by the Jersey shore and ended up sinking a ton of money into redoing her kitchen instead. An executive client, who had spoken of early retirement for five years refused a terrific golden parachute deal and kept working. My long-time buddy who swore she would start her own business as soon as her son went to college never got around to it.
My 50th birthday party took place in a fancy restaurant across from Lincoln Center in New York City. First, we all had cocktails in my new apartment. Afterward, I treated everyone to a wall-climbing experience in the atrium of the building. It was a brash statement from all of us—“We’re fifty, we’re headed upward, and we’re terrific.”
Less than four years later, the world had turned around. Five people at the party were out of work. One was struggling with office politics to keep his job. One couple had divorced, and one close friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer. With September 11 and the economic downturn, most everyone I knew was seriously hurting, and many of them were just plain scared. But what struck me the most was how all of them regretted not having taken advantage of the recent good financial times to realize their dreams. There were so many, “I should haves,” that I knew it was time to declare what I know to be true—“It’s NOT the economy, stupid!”
What we do with our lives is not a function of what we have in our wallets. It is a function of our self-created stop signs and red lights. No matter what your life is like right now, I bet you are making plans for tomorrow when the “really” good stuff will start. For big dreams, like traveling around the world or starting a business, tomorrow may mean sometime after retirement or when an early pension kicks in or when the kids graduate from high school or college. For other dreams, like pursuing a hobby or learning to play an instrument, tomorrow may be next summer or when the kids are in camp or when the slow season starts at work. Or if you are my age, when the HOA starts a club or your arthritis simmers down.
Longevity offers a massive opportunity. Today, we have a massive opportunity to create a secure retirement, even if we start from scratch. But we must begin. And I want you to feel the fulfillment and excitement that aging well brings.
I am concerned with articles like “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” published in The Atlantic in 2014, which encourages us to get off the stage of life sooner than later, as we have no business taking up space after a certain age.
Of even more significant concern to me is Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2019 book Natural Causes, which posits an “epidemic of wellness” and suggests that we admit we will die, so why burden ourselves with treadmills and Mediterranean diets?
These age-haters are compelling because they are articulate and know how to make a point—aging stinks, so why save for it, exercise for it or live long enough to experience it?
Don’t listen to them. We can live longer and healthier if we are enthusiastic about longer, contributive years. But living longer and being healthy is not enough to stop the ageism that sees elders as a burden. If our place in society makes us irrelevant, the ageists will win! We don’t fight ageism with money. We fight it with Gusto! We make things happen.
For my younger readers, I hope my generation will change the view of aging from a time of decline to a time of productive contribution. The best way to make that happen FAST is to postpone NOTHING! That’s why I end every episode of my radio show and podcast, Generation Bold, The Fountain of Truth, with these words… “Get out there kids, and make it happen!”