Longer Lives, Continuous Learning, and New Career Trajectories

A century-long lifespan may become commonplace, which will have many economic implications. Further, it becomes increasingly evident that the classical life trajectory—education, employment, retirement—is losing relevance [1]. The roadmap well trodden by the baby boomers, like me, and Generation X appears to be ill-fitted for the navigational needs of the Millennial and Generation Z cohorts.

Instead, the future points towards a multi-stage life, as Professor Andrew J. Scott and his team argued in their research grant from the UK's Economic and Social Research Council investigating the economic longevity dividend. The concept of a single career until retirement is becoming obsolete as longevity increases, and this profound shift has far-reaching implications for our approach to work, lifelong learning, and retirement.

Longevity and Life Stages

As we live longer, we must better understand our aging and its implications. As Scott's research indicates, we are moving from a life dictated by chronological age towards a life of continual transitions, each with its challenges and opportunities.

In an era of increased longevity, managing morbidity and maintaining the quality of life as we age are now important considerations. Achieving 'healthy longevity', where our extended lives are longer and more productive, is key to unlocking the economic longevity dividend. There are plenty of books published on the topic, which I have shared a few below. [3]

The Traditional Three-Stage Life

The world of work is evolving more rapidly than ever, with the concept of a fixed, stable career no longer guaranteed. The demand now is for constant growth, adaptation, and reinvention. As we move further into the era of the 100-year life, skills learned early in life will no longer be sufficient for a longer-term career.

Simultaneously, the traditional concept of retirement is transforming. A long period of inactivity poses cognitive and social health risks. Hence, older professionals considering self-employment could maintain their cognitive abilities and contribute valuable skills and experience to the economy. It's also an opportunity to step away from traditional employment for a year or two to explore self-employment and reskilling opportunities before re-entering the workforce. It also allows individuals to pivot for personal growth and career reinvention.

Assets in a 100-Year Life

For a balanced life, we need to reassess what a diverse portfolio of assets might look like, more than just financial, as we live longer. Skills and knowledge, intangible yet productive assets, will be more important than ever. Vitality assets, including relationships and health, and transformational assets, such as self-knowledge and adaptability, will be equally significant.

Financial planning also needs to adapt to the realities of increased longevity. We must either save more or work longer to ensure financial security. Insufficient planning in this area carries significant risks—poverty, illness, and regret—that can derail our life's later stages.

The Multi-Stage Life: A New Model

Instead of the three-stage model, a flexible, multi-stage life that acknowledges ongoing transitions and career shifts is emerging. With the advent of technology, work is becoming more flexible, creating new opportunities for older professionals to continue contributing and growing.

The multi-stage life requires continuous reskilling and learning, which is already becoming the norm. As the report suggests, those skills learned early in life will no longer be sufficient for a longer-term career. Depending on your circumstances and family situation, you may find this a difficult transition at this moment in time, so you may like to engage in this transformation in small bites. I have added a few suggestions below. [4]

The Future of Employment Landscape

The traditional employment model is changing dramatically due to technological advancements, necessitating resilience and adaptability. There are increasing opportunities for specialists who can offer sophisticated services. Large firms recognise the innovation potential of smaller groups and individuals, heralding a change in the corporate landscape.

As we navigate this new landscape, models like the gig economy, the sharing economy, and the freelance economy are gaining prominence. These models offer increased autonomy over one's career, blurring the boundaries between work, leisure, and home.

The Future of Work

While AI and robots are gradually replacing many repetitive tasks, often at the low skill and surprisingly at the high skill level, there are still areas where human skills will be in demand. The future of work lies in leveraging these unique human capabilities. Older professionals must consider re-specialisation, focusing on developing soft skills and cultivating a strong professional reputation. There will be casualties.

Society, businesses, and individuals will have to prepare for a future where our work lives and life stages will drastically differ from those of the past. The prospect of extended longevity necessitates an enduring commitment to personal and professional growth. Leveraging your distinct skills and wisdom is crucial to unlocking a rich, rewarding, and 100-year-long life. And I will not be holding my breath to see governments or employers tackling this. It will be up to you.

[1] Lynda Gratton and Professor Andrew J Scott The 100-Year Life, living and Working in an Age of Longevity

[2] Longevity Dividend: The Economics Of Longer, Healthier And More Product Lives

[3] Dr David A Sinclair, Lifespan: Why We Age - and Why We Don't Have To
       Dr Peter Attia, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity

[4] Books & Courses

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
Ayelet Fishbach, Get it Done
Zena Hitz, Lost in Thought
Dan Martell, Buy Back Your Time

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