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The Longevity Revolution: We’ve Only Just Begun


The longevity revolution has resulted in the equivalent of a 30-year life bonus, according to sociologist William Sadler, director of research for the Center for Third Age Leadership. As a result, older adults are pushing to redefine life’ second half.

For many people, retirement is not a good experience, according to Sadler. "It fails to promote the creative growth possible in the middle and late years," he says.

The problem is that retirement today is unlike retirement in the past. And the over-50s have realized that the "old" retirement doesn’t fit the person they chose to become in the second half of life.

The study appears in the 2006 fall issue of The LLI Review, the Annual Journal of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes.

Sadler found that people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s redesign their lives in the third age and make it a time of vitality and fulfillment.

For example, older adults develop life portfolios and third age careers to suit the way they want to live.

Similar to a financial portfolio, holistic life portfolios diversify personal investments: work, love, play, community, selfcare, creativity, service, learning, and spirituality.

Third Age Life Portfolio

Dr. Sadler’s plan for creating a life portfolio includes the following components:

Redefined work: third age careers for or without pay
Redefined play: hobbies, creative expression, and leisure activities
Family relationships: marriage, parents, children, and grandchildren
Friends: new and old friends, neighbours, and mentees
Service: community, politics, and environment
Self-care: health and spirituality
Learning: self-discovery, new information, and new applications

For example, Ed, a physical education teacher and coach didn’t retire from his work. "He retired to a new career that involved making his hobby of raising bees into a challenging endeavour for greater meaning and profit," Sadler writes.

And Ted, a landscape architect, was able to negotiate a half-time position, so that he could continue to contribute his creative talents to the firm and provide mentoring to younger architects. The reduced workload meant he could enjoy family weekends with his three married children and eight grandchildren.

At 70, Ted and his wife still golf and ski, but the big change has been his devotion to drawing and painting.

Growth in the second half of life differs from growth in the earlier stages, according to Sadler. It begins when people start asking probing questions such as, "What’s most important now? What do I want? What kind of future can I plan for?"

While becoming more reflective, study participants who experience second growth, are not afraid to take risks; they experiment and take on new challenges.

Most of these people have experienced hardships and overcome loss. They expect to encounter obstacles. But they have a realistic optimism and are committed to realizing their dreams.

"They turn inwards to get in touch with previously ignored or pushed aside aspects of the their personalities," Sadler says. As a result, they often discover new talents and interests that lead them in new directions.

Sadler says the good news is that the longevity revolution offers "new life options". These include an opportunity for second growth, if it’s planned for.

William Sadler is author of The Third Age: 6 Principles of Growth and Renewal after 40. He co-authored Changing Course: The Cure for Common Retirement, soon to be released.