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Are You Ready for the Power Years?


The bulk of the population is now hitting 50 and most people are focused on just one thing: how to make the coming years as vital and rich as possible.

The timing couldn’t be better, according to gerontologist Ken Dychtwald. In his new book The Power Years, written with Time magazine journalist Daniel Kadlec, he argues society is poised at the beginning of an evolving trend, where people between the ages of 50 and 70 could experience “the most vibrant, exciting period of their lives – the “power years.”

Here are four reasons why:

First, those hitting 50 today are rejecting the old retirement model, and refusing to be classified as “out of the game” or as a problem that society needs to solve.

Recently, HSBC Bank with the Oxford Institute on Aging polled more than 21,000 people in 20 countries and territories, including Canada. Overall, 72 per cent of respondents rejected the idea of mandatory retirement. Their reasons for wanting to keep working include:

Money (25 per cent)
Having something meaningful to do (22 per cent)
Keeping physically active (21 per cent)
Connecting with others (13 per cent)
Staying mentally stimulated (9 per cent)

Say the authors: “A big pile of money shouldn’t be your primary goal. Who you want to be, what you want to feel, and what you want to do with your power years are the critical considerations, and from these spring the types of choices and trade-offs you’ll need to consider.”

“And with more people living longer and healthier lives, using 65 as the marker of old age simply doesn’t make sense,” the authors add.

The downside of longevity, however, is that chronic health problems will also increase.

“An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” according to the authors of The Healthy Boomer, A No-Nonsense Midlife Health Guide for Men and Women.

Beyond physical and psychosocial health, Peggy Edwards and her co-authors emphasize the importance of spiritual well being. “Midlife experiences encourage us to move on, to recognize that we are but a small part of something much greater than ourselves.”

According to Dychtwald, the second reason people between the ages of 50 and 70 could experience the most exciting period of their lives, is that 50-somethings are replacing the outmoded linear life model by a cyclical life plan, in which education, work and play are interspersed repeatedly throughout the life span. It will become normal for 50-year-olds to go back to school and for 70-year-olds to reinvent themselves on the job or through new careers.

In fact, many older adults are already living this new vision. Take for example, the recent Ontario municipal elections. Hazel McCallion, the 85-year-old mayor of Mississauga, was re-elected for an 11th term with 91.5 per cent of the popular vote.

Following her re-election, McCallion told City News, “I’m just as excited today as I was in 1978 about being mayor for the next four years of this great city.”

Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, the defeated incumbent, Bob Chiarelli, 65, told The Ottawa Citizen, he was looking for a new job. “I have a high energy level. I have a lot to contribute,” he said.

Thirdly, according to Dychtwald, as boomers become the largest elder generation in history, business will introduce a variety of services to meet the needs of a mature market including:

“Retirement zone stores” featuring products and technologies appealing to older adults with free time.
Silver seals – “for hire” teams of elders with various problem-solving talents who are deployed to “fix” difficult community or business issues.
University-based intergenerational housing for people who desire lifelong learning.
Experience agents – similar to travel agents – that can be commissioned to orchestrate any type of request, whether it’s a party, learning program, psychotherapy, sabbatical, travel adventure, spiritual retreat, introduction to new friends or business partnerships.

Finally, those hitting 50 today are looking to begin a whole new life chapter. They are focusing on a program of life-enrichment, including giving back. The 2005 Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey revealed 10 times as many boomer respondents said they "put others first" as said they " put themselves first."

Indeed, as the authors conclude: "We believe the purpose of a longer life may not only be to remain young longer – it may also be to have more time to give back."

The Power Years: A User’s Guide to the Rest of Your Life is published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.