By Sandy Burgham
When I was heading toward 50 I decided to live by a beautiful mantra penned by poet and essayist Diane Ackerman. “I don’t want to live the length of my life but the breadth of my life as well”. It has served me well over the past handful of years as I have skied more off-piste than in previous, completely career-focused decades, and embraced a far richer and fuller life featuring a lot more study, personal and professional development, and adventure.
It was the driving reason why I loved the idea of writing a column dubbed “The Second Act” — reflections on how we might live in the second half of life. Our second act is the chance to reinvent, focus and really live life like we were meaning to after the flurry of the first act. Things were going swimmingly well until I was recently recommended a new best-seller to read, The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.
It’s all very well living like there’s no tomorrow as indeed this could be the case, but then again one might, at 50, also have another 45 years of life to fund. Hmmmm. Because of advances in science, life expectancies are rising by two to three years a decade. It’s been happening at the same rate over the past two centuries and it has a radical impact on how we must view the idea of life and work. Who knew longevity would present such a financial burden?
Authors Gratton and Scott are two professors from the London Business School whose combined work encourages us all to make intelligent choices now so that increased life expectancy is a gift not a curse. For them, there are not just two acts to consider, nor even the three-stage life of education, career, then retirement, but perhaps four, five or even six acts to really get ready for if one is to embrace the possibility of longevity.
I am fortunate that I have reinvented careers around four times, which is probably a reason why part of my work portfolio includes helping mid-lifers reinvent themselves. Most mid-lifer parents have already cottoned on to the fact that their children may be working in jobs that have not yet been invented, but have not yet grasped that this might even apply to them as well. They have spent years developing skill sets, when it’s mindset that will future-proof their capacity to earn.
The new frameworks for thinking about work are lateral not linear, lattices not ladders. Apart from a healthy curiosity, the ability to adapt to change will be a critical attribute for the workforce, as will creativity, a human factor that is unable to be replicated by a robot. And to ensure the wisdom one gains with maturity is actually relevant to the world, it is essential to keep learning and developing, which is why continuing education is a growing trend. Keep that mind open!
My career shifts have never been by linear design or followed a carefully constructed path, but have happened by simply following my interests. Those interests either developed over time or became too urgent to ignore. One of those callings was to finally indulge, through part-time university study, my deep interest in gender constructs. While some have commented that being a part-time student is at the expense of my “career”, I see it differently. Aside from the deep sense of fulfillment, it is also a long-term work investment, as I am already applying my learning to my day job in leadership coaching. It keeps me curious and stretches my mind far more than doing a daily crossword, and ensures I am active in a vibrant, inter-generational community.
As Mahatma Gandhi reportedly declared, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever”.
— Sandy Burgham
The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott is published by Bloomsbury. See 100yearlife.com for further information.
This post first appeared in The Hobson April, 2017