Redesigning Your Life Map

I just re-listened to this episode of the Best New Ideas in Money Podcast, titled Redesigning Your Life Map. I think it’s worth 25 minutes of your time, both from a financial literacy perspective and from just a general life satisfaction perspective. You really need to listen to it to get the full context, but I’ll share some brief notes I took below. (All the quotes below are paraphrased and condensed.)

How do we plan a 100-year life? What would we want a century-long life to look like? How do we envision it because we can’t achieve it if we can’t envision it.

This is the heart of the matter, and it’s not a new idea, but I thought this podcast did a nice job of encapsulating it. Our ideas of retirement are relatively new, a 20th-century invention and, along with it, we created a three-stage model of life: education, work, and retirement. Given today’s longer lifespans, that means you might be living more than one-third of your life in retirement, and our current policies and structures just weren’t designed for that length of time.

This is not just about more old people; it’s about longevity. And longevity really isn’t just about living longer and tacking on more years to your life at the end, it’s about what you do over the course of your life.

I think many folks (myself included) have tended to focus too much on “more years at the end” and how to deal with them, both financially and emotionally. While I do feel that’s critically important, I think it’s just as important to rethink our entire lifespan. Longevity doesn’t just add years to the end of life, but to each stage of life.

The podcast talks a lot about focuses on two things: improving our health in order to improve the quality of our longer lives and to rethink what we do and when. I think the health one if fairly obvious, and one that most folks are generally aware of. It’s not just that we want a longer lifespan, but we want a longer healthspan; we want to live as many of those additional years in good physical and mental health as possible. But there’s a growing recognition that we shouldn’t just focus on preparing for those extra years at the end, but rethinking the years all along our lifespan.

Stop focusing on how old you are, on how many years you have already lived, and focus on how many more years you have to go. You have more time ahead of you, so you have to invest more in your future self, invest in your health, your skills, your relationships, your sense of purpose. We are moving from 3-stages (education, work, retirement) to multi-stage, and that has enormous implications.

If we are going to increasingly live well into our 90’s in fairly good health, many folks will increasingly work well into their 70s. For some (many?), it will be economically necessary. But for others, it’s because they want to keep working. We no longer are looking at working for one employer and in one career, but at multiple transitions throughout our lives (echoes of Did You Know?/Shift Happens.) We need to shift our focus from learning then working to continuously learning and changing our work from time to time.

Society needs ways for people to maybe transition in their late 50s into other form of work, still get paid, still be productive, but not doing the same things (and you don’t get pushed out). Also, we need to focus on not getting bored with what we are currently doing; how do we avoid that, how do you shift into something else?

And then, of course, there’s the financial aspects of this.

The model traditionally has been the three-legged stool: Pension, Social Security, and Personal Savings. But pensions have gone away for many folks, Social Security is less generous than before, and the reality of personal savings is much bleaker than the promise of defined contribution plans. How do young people get the financial security that was promised to older generations?

These topics are much of what I talk about in my books and classes (albeit not in as much depth as they deserve), but I think we all should be putting more emphasis on thinking this through. And, especially for younger folks, thinking more about designing their lifespan in a way that aligns with their values and goals, instead of just assuming there is a well-worn, pre-determined path that everyone follows.

I would like to see schools (particularly high schools and colleges) spend more time talking about this, and since the audience for this blog is mostly teachers, I would love for school districts (and/or more veteran teachers) to make more of an intentional effort to help young teachers think through this. Schools talk a lot about “learning targets” for their students, shouldn’t we be talking about “life targets” just as much?

(For more resources, you might explore The Stanford Center on Longevity’s New Map of Life website and research.)

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