Christopher Plummer became the oldest person to win an Oscar, when he won Best Supporting Actor in 2012 for his performance in Beginners, at age 82. As he skipped up the stairs to receive his award I remembered Mitch Anthony’s prediction in his book, The New Retirementality. He anticipated that many people would reach the pinnacle of their careers much later on in life. That prediction has now become truth.
This new reality is driven not only by a general increase in longevity but also by the desire to extend purposeful living. Medical science now shows that purposeful living extends life expectancy. Purposeful, exciting life, after traditional retirement age, is no longer a prediction of a future reality. It is reality.
In the past week I met with three executives in their early fifties. All have reached the pinnacles of their corporate careers. All have enough capital to retire and live happily ever after (if current life expectancies are to be believed). But, all realise that they have perhaps thirty years left, for which they never planned. My own father (72) recently confessed that he had never anticipated living this long. Last weekend I witnessed him working as energetically as ever on our family farm. It dawned on me that I have been talking to our clients about this potential scenario, but that this ‘potential scenario’ is now the new reality. It occurred to me that perhaps our society needs career planning at 50 more than retirement planning. None of these ‘fifty somethings’ had any idea of what they would like to do with the rest of their lives.
I also realised that they were the lucky ones. The media is filled with horror stories of the unaffordability of retirement. Few will be able to retire, even at 60, and live off their capital for almost as long as their working years. The bleak prospect of continuing to work after normal retirement age is enormously depressing for most. Moreover, most companies have yet to adapt to this new reality. It is only a matter of time before employees, globally, will demand higher retirement ages. In fact, this week the Minister of Education conceded that the current retirement age of professors in South Africa, of 60, needs to be reviewed and could potentially be lifted to 80.
Increasingly, the questions financial planners will face, will sound more like life coaching or career counseling questions, than traditional financial advice. Even tax expert, Professor Matthew Lester, points to the increasing necessity of advice regarding spending patterns (transaction taxes will continue to increase) and lifestyle investments. Our future financial planners will have to be geared up to act as life planners and coaches.
This being said, most people are not eager to talk about these issues. They would rather talk to their financial advisors about how to invest what is available, than how to make more available for investments. Admittedly these new discussions are awkward. However, for many, buying small businesses and looking at second career options is crucial in this day and age.
Living your life, in a manner that prevents burn out at forty-five is also key. A culture of taking sabbaticals and making career changes will become the new ‘normal’. It is inconceivable to work for fifty years without taking a career break. Twenty year olds will need to plan for longer careers than previous generations. They will need to start saving for retirement early and aggressively. This will become extremely important as new trends arise.
Working after normal retirement age is only depressing, if the thought of work is depressing. The most important financial advice is – love what you do. If you do not enjoy your work, then your career will look more like an extended period of grief. What’s more, working this way generally does not attract wealth and promotion. I get the impression that a large portion of the population merely, grin and bear it, until retirement. I also suspect that most people are forced to stay in jobs they don’t like because of financial pressure.
Last year I left my employer of 17 years, and a very comfortable job, to take a sabbatical. Recently I started my own business. I felt compelled to follow my dreams, realising that my life would be sad and miserable for a long time, if I did not make these changes. The number of people who told me that they envied my courage to pursue freedom astounded me. I was shocked by how many people viewed their current work as imprisonment. Consumerism and the expectations placed on us by society and our need to conform will continue to keep us from pursuing the work we love and the passions we want to pursue.
I am not advocating that everyone should quit corporate life but I am advocating that we were each designed with a dream in our hearts. If we don’t follow those dreams, we will eventually be miserable. For some, this dream might be becoming the CEO of a corporate, for others, it may mean subsistence living.
Viewed from the new retirement perspective, our poor life choices could cost us dearly in the long run. Pursuing our dreams and passions, is no longer a luxury, it is imperative. Life is simply too long to be bored and sad and money will not last for the bored and sad.