26 October 2016
A long life can be a gift if people learn to be creative about their life plans. Photo: internet
A long life can be a gift if people learn to be creative about their life plans. Photo: internet

How to make a long life a good life

More than half the babies born in developed countries today will live 100 years or more, and over the last 200 years, life expectancy has increased by two years every decade.

That means that a long life is now in the grasp of many, rather than a few.

When we teach our students at London Business School about the 100-year life, often their first thought is the finances.

It doesn’t take the most mathematical students to calculate that if they want to retire on 50 percent of their income and plan to save around 10 percent, then they should be planning to work for more than 60 years.

That’s a lot of working time.

When we then ask them then to build a life plan that takes them through to working into their 80s, its obvious that such a long stretch of uninterrupted work is neither attractive nor perhaps even possible.

They begin to see it as a curse.

But as they think more about this, it becomes clear that this could be a gift if they are able to be creative about their life plans.

This creativity is crucial.

In the past, working lives had three clear stages – education, work, retirement.

This three-stage working life has gone, and in its place are many more possible stages and many more ways to sequence them.

As our students think about their life plans, we encourage them to imagine they are shuffling cards in a pack.

Historically, there have only really been three cards to play with – full-time education, full-time work and full-time retirement.

And since these can only be sequenced in one way, it doesn’t give much room for creativity.

People across the world are beginning to experiment.

They want to play with more cards, and they want to sequence them in their own unique way.

These new stages that are emerging will allow them to create multi-staged lives that will be a great deal more fun and exciting than the typical three-staged ones.

It will also provide many opportunities for a long life to be a gift rather than a curse.

What might these new stages look like?

We see three distinct new stages emerging.

The first is what we might call the “explorer”.

We see young people undertaking a period of exploration as they take time between school and university or immediately after university to travel and explore new ways of living.

For some, this will become a crucial opportunity for them to learn more about the world and also more about themselves.

But why should this only be for young people?

People in their 40s are also reaching out to take time out to explore and to take a break from their normal working patterns.

We think this is great, because it creates opportunities to build the broad, diverse networks that are so crucial to managing personal transitions.

We can also see an “independent producer” stage emerging.

For some, this could be the first step to becoming a full-blown entrepreneur, with rapidly building a company as the primary goal.

But for many, this stage will be an opportunity to hone skills and work with a small group to use their capabilities and resources to create a new product or service.

These independent producers will naturally cluster together as they support and encourage each other.

The “portfolio” stage has always been associated with the transition from full-time work to retirement, and while it may continue to serve this purpose, we see people at any stage of their working life deciding to build plurality into their working day.

Perhaps they are balancing working on a highly focused project with charity work and developmental work.

Perhaps they are using this portfolio stage to begin to build sideline projects that will give them an idea of what to do next.

Perhaps they will want to create balance in their lives and see this as a way of achieving this.

Whatever the reasons, we can see how this stage will play a role at any working age.

In the past many people only had three cards to shuffle as they thought about their working life – education, full-time work and retirement, and of course these could only be sequenced in one way.

As people grasp the potential of a long life, they want more cards to shuffle, and they will want to sequence them in a way that works uniquely for them.

That, ultimately, will be the gift of a 100-year life.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Professors at London Business School

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