As we navigate life in the 21st century, the trend that will have the most profound effect on the future of our society is the “Age Wave.” In other words, Americans are living longer and the number of older adults, as a percentage of our population, is growing at an unprecedented rate.
An important factor contributing to this demographic shift is the aging of the Baby Boom generation—a whopping 76 million individuals who are steadily marching through middle age and into the ranks of senior citizens. Because of their numbers and collective force of personality, the impact of baby boomers on American life has been likened to “a pig in a python”—a distinct bulge that refuses to pass through history unnoticed! Just as they have redefined every stage of their lives, baby boomers will also redefine retirement.
In contrast to the proposition of not working, retirement for most boomers has come to mean emancipation—freedom to do the kind of work (paid or unpaid) they as individuals find most meaningful. In Working Through Demographic Change, authors Elliot Jaques and William Zinke wrote about this remarkable trend:
Instead of considering themselves to be old and over the hill, they may realize that a whole new stage of active life is open to them, with untold opportunities for continued intellectual growth and accomplishment.
Career development expert Helen Harkness, Ph.D., applauds this perspective and believes that the need to link work to our desire for fulfillment and purpose has been a natural evolution. In her book, Don’t Stop the Career Clock, she wrote:
For the generation following the Depression and World War II, a “job”—stable lifetime work that pays the bills—was the goal. Later, the achievers focused on a “career” in a particular profession such as law, banking, medicine, teaching, or management as the means to success. Today we are adding another dimension: discovering our “calling” or “vocation”—work with a deeper purpose or meaning, assuring us that each has something unique to offer.
In addition, Harkness believes that we are in a new age of learning how to live and work throughout our life spans:
By knowing what we want and doing what we love, we can continue life’s journey with creativity, wisdom, power, and purpose.
Implications for Financial Planners
As a financial planner, it is important to embrace the fact that your clients’ concept of retirement is in metamorphosis. Boomers, in particular, are rejecting the goal of a traditional retirement lifestyle. And, although they are very clear about what they don’t want, many boomers do not have a clear vision of what they do want. Therefore, as you help your clients to prepare financially for retirement, you will do them the greatest service if you also help them to clarify what will make that stage of life a truly rich and rewarding experience.
For many, retirement will be your clients’ first real opportunity to choose how they will spend their time. This new found freedom marks a huge transition that can be both liberating and terrifying. Therefore, your retirement planning service should offer more than number crunching and portfolio management. In addition, include a process that will help your clients to create a compelling vision of the future—one that includes and emphasizes soul satisfying “work.” In his book Changing for Good, Dr. James Prochaska wrote, “Our fullest freedom emerges when we have the opportunity to choose that which would enhance our life, our sense of self, and our society.”