That perception from Ken Dychtwald, psychologist, gerontologist, and founder and chief executive of Age Wave, a consulting and research company, speaks to the core of what has driven him for nearly five decades: to explore ways we can navigate longer life spans.
“I have spent much of my life as a student of human potential with a desire to make magic in the world, and I’ve sought out powerful teachers to help me learn how,” Dychtwald, a bestselling author, writes in “Radical Curiosity: My Life on the Age Wave,” his newest and 19th book.
Recently, Dychtwald discussed with Yahoo Finance his own curvy career and personal life journey — and some insights on the changing landscape of aging and retirement. He even delivered advice for young people on preparing for longer life spans.
Ken, you write about life’s third age? What’s that all about?
The idea of it is that there are three ages to life.
The first is approximately zero to 30, and the primary focus is growing up. You try to figure out which way you’re pointing and begin to make a life for yourself. Throughout most of human history, most of humanity only lived in that first age.
Improvements in health care…and pharmacopeia merged in modern medicine as we know it, and more and more people started living a little bit longer. All of a sudden, quite a large number of people began to inhabit the second age, approximately 30 to 60. That stage of life largely has to do with raising a family, trying to earn a living. Life was usually winding up at around 60.
This third age is not only a new stage of life, it’s beginning to flourish. There are role models emerging.
Harrison Ford just came back as Indiana Jones at 81, and there’s Martha Stewart on the cover of the “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit edition, and she’s 81. And I don’t think that anybody’s going to tell Oprah Winfrey that she is over the hill, or too old to do whatever she wants to do at 69.
This third age is not only relatively new, but it’s going to become increasingly populated between now and 2050.
Given longer lifespans, what are your suggestions to young people for healthy aging?
There’s a high likelihood that living to a 100 or more is going to become commonplace. Maybe not in my lifetime, but in my kids’ lifetime, they’re in their 30s. We may be able to do away with cancer. There may be an end to Alzheimer’s… So, if you’re going to live a long life, take really good care of your body.
Another primary ingredient that produces healthy, long-lived aging is your relationships. It’s having someone to love. It’s having people to care about and having people who care about you.
The third point is purpose … Overwhelmingly as people grow older, they want to be useful, and they want to have a purpose. You know, I am personally a little bit critical of my own field and my own demography. Consider this: For the last decade, the average retiree in America averaged 47 hours of television viewing a week.
Purpose is an evolving dynamic…Life is also that way. Somebody you care about gets sick, or a job that you love shuts down, or you get a good idea. And so understand that purpose is something that you may have to rethink and revisit multiple times throughout a long life.
Four, is what I’ve been sort of angling at, which is developing some flexibility to course correct, as needed, to be more fluid – it’s an important skill.
Last, when we didn’t live very long, you didn’t need that much money … [but] when we envision the possibility of people living to 90, a hundred years, then if you think you can stop working at 60 or 65, you’ve got to be Bill Gates to have enough money to live 25 years. And when I see the median amount of money that the average retiree that person has saved on their eve of retirement is $134,000, that’s not going to get you very far.
That’s a hard thing to fix when you’re old. My advice to younger people: Take 10%, 15%, 20% of every check you earn and put it aside and let it grow for your longevity.
What is radical curiosity?
It’s asking questions and trying to learn from people who are a little wiser and a little more experienced than you. Having curiosity has been a driving force in my life.
I have now spent just under 50 years digging around, asking around, being guided and doing studies and what I have found is that many people nearing retirement, or already retired, are unclear on who they could be, and whether to work or not, and how much money they’ll need, and how to find a new purpose and how to make new friends and where to live. These are all these aging issues that take radical curiosity.
Over the years, I have asked thousands of people from all walks of life who are nearing retirement what they hope to do in retirement, and they think small. Few have taken the time or effort to study the countless possibilities and the ways they can spend the next period of their lives.
Maybe that’s changing. In Age Wave’s latest study, “The New Age of Aging,” one of my biggest shockers was when we asked people 65 and over how important is curiosity in continuing to learn new things, 97% said it was essential. Now that’s a good thing.
Will you ever retire, Ken?
Boy, I ask myself that pretty much every day. I would like to work less. I’d like for the work part of my life to be less the main driver. I’d like to be able to remember how to have fun again. I’d like to have more enjoyable time with my wife and my kids. I’d like to be able to take more time for fitness.
And I wonder if maybe there aren’t some new activities and some new hobbies or some new possibilities waiting around the corner for me. I do like to work and you know, here I am, 73, and I’m still working full-time pretty much. But about half of the work I do now, I do pro bono.
Kerry Hannon is a Senior Reporter and Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a workplace futurist, a career and retirement strategist, and the author of 14 books, including “In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work” and “Never Too Old To Get Rich.” Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.
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