Maintaining Relevance

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“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” ~ Satchel Paige

At a recent professional conference a keynote invited those present to publicly share what they feared. A colleague in her late 60’s responded “losing relevance.”

What would your response have been?

As a trailing-edge boomer, I cross paths with many people who are thinking about “retirement.” Note I said thinking about, not necessarily planning for it. What I find fascinating is that, more and more, those giving intentional thought to active lifestyle change are open to doing something besides playing board games or painting (not to disparage either). They seek increased engagement.

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I have yet to hear anyone at this life stage say they want to be bored. Or to become insignificant. Most people want to create and strengthen meaningful connections and to broaden their community. They have the energy and drive to explore and effect change; they’re just unsure what to do next.

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For those interested in doing something entirely new, the possibilities are boundless – often limited only by their own beliefs and stories. For those open to discovering and experiencing something unfamiliar, here are five popular gigs that “retirees” are stepping into and enjoying:

  • Tour Guide Operator – allows a coupling of personal travel interests with social interaction and exercise
  • Virtual Assistant – as the title implies, the work can be done virtually and you get to determine what assistance you provide
  • Uber Driver – an opportunity to meet new people, see new vistas, and you define your personal workload
  • Peace Corp Volunteer – seven percent of volunteers are aged 50+. A new adventure with a humanitarian focus where you can share accumulated wisdom and experience, often benefiting the less fortunate
  • Tutor – anyone, of any age. People love to learn. Sometimes they simply need another caring individual to help them navigate new subject matter.

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What you choose to do next could easily keep you pertinent. It need not be a complex undertaking. A willingness to play in some initial uncertainty might be the very stimulation you seek… maybe it could become vastly rewarding.

There are numerous ways in which to maintain one’s relevance. And not just as “retirement” approaches.  Here are three to consider:

  1. Stay curious. Welcome learning and acquire knowledge any way you can. Share your discoveries with others. In doing so, you show you are willing to try new things, even (gasp!) methods considered outside the box.
  2. Meet new people. Negative friends drain us. Positive friends propel us forward. Our possibilities can be limited by our current ‘network.’ Rejuvenating your network is an important part of staying relevant.
  3. Get your hearing checked. Seriously. Not being able to hear potentially puts you out of touch with people. As we age we tend to deny natural loss of hearing. Eventually younger people shut out the hearing challenged and move conversations elsewhere. One must hear to remain relevant.

The Third Age

“Experience is not what happens to a man, it’s what a man does with what happens to him.” ~Aldous Huxley

There exists an oft-overlooked developmental life stage. Yet, few acknowledge and plan for it. When people are putting children through college, still pursuing their career, and paying bills – retirement isn’t usually on their radar screen.

The Third Age, lest you be unfamiliar with the (European) term, represents a huge chunk of active adulthood. According to a Harris poll, 80% of U.S. Boomers desire and expect to work for pay well into traditional retirement age. They also expect to contribute their time and energy to address economic, social and political needs at home and abroad.

The Third Age brings exciting developmental changes and a greater understanding of ‘what really matters.’ It is frequently characterized by:

  • A search for purpose;
  • An increase in individuality and authenticity;
  • A new imperative to pass on values and wisdom.

In an (at least I think) interesting study, researchers have coined five stages that people experience before and during the Third Age:

  1. Imagination (15 to six years before retirement day): Retirement isn’t necessarily top of mind. People are focused on previously mentioned activities. As “the day” gets closer, they pay more attention to and define goals for their next life chapter. When a clearer vision emerges of what is next wanted, a sense of enthusiasm and excitement develops.
  2. Anticipation (up to five years pre-retirement): This is a time of hopefulness. Emotions intensify and requisite financial resources are aligned. People spend more time planning for their “new” careers and lifestyle.
  3. Liberation (“The” day and the first year thereafter): The honeymoon phase. People feel a sense of relief from worries and responsibilities. They miss their work connections but reconnect with significant others, families, traveling and (yes!) beginning new businesses. 89% of study respondents indicated they were “very busy” during this time.
  4. Reorientation (two to 15 years post-retirement): This is a significant stage, one I’ll elaborate on in a later post. This is a transition period, a time during which there can be a “let-down.” People will gradually reorient their priorities, activities and relationships.
  5. Reconciliation (16 or more years into Third Age): Many retirees shift into greater contentment, and acceptance. They begin to set their sights on moving into a new home, confront end-of-life issues with family and friends and find resting and relaxing more appealing.

Why do I choose to highlight this? In my collaborations, I encounter Third Agers who have given this major stage little more than passing consideration. And they wonder why they’re at a loss for an answer to the question “what’s next?”

In our First Age, life is pretty much determined for us by others. We’re along for a wild ride. In our Second Age, we plan, choose and are directly responsible for many of our desired outcomes. We develop goals and focus our experience and energy on their achievement.

By sharing the potential in and importance of planning for our Third Age, perhaps people will muster greater clarity about “what’s next,” they’ll seek out and accumulate more information, and they’ll better position themselves for living a fulfilling next chapter. Their Third Age.

And you?