Thanks to the gifts of longevity, science and technology, people are living longer. As the Stanford Center for Longevity notes, “The 100-year life is here.”
Unfortunately, some people are afraid of the longevity economy. Those who ask, “Who wants to live forever?” ignore advances in health and technology that enable adults to lead long, fulfilling lives, including centenarians who run marathons. Further, some take a negative perspective of career opportunities: “If we’re expected to live longer, we’re going to have to adjust some life goals and work longer, too." Thinking that the current 40-year career becoming a 60-year career (registration required) can be daunting.
However, trailblazers are already moving from one job to another as they stitch together a series of adjacent and non-linear careers that enable them to pursue income, passion and/or purpose at different times. Rather than climbing a corporate ladder, they’re changing directions, with stops and starts along the way as they go to school for more expertise and/or take sabbaticals to reassess goals and enjoy the world’s wonders. The focus is on continuously developing yourself and contributing to society for as long as you want.
It's time we celebrate the opportunities offered by a 100-year life for ourselves and our teams. That begins with developing the right mindsets and upgrading our businesses.
In my experience, professional longevity benefits from three key growth mindsets.
1. Engage in intentional planning.
We can’t develop concrete plans for everything that can happen during our adult lives, but we can develop a general path for how to navigate the almost infinite options ahead based on experiences and interests. Identify your passions (e.g., engineering, health care, teaching) and purposes (e.g., social justice, climate control). Always be learning so you’ll have the necessary skills and experiential intelligence to navigate new career opportunities that excite you. Adopt a holistic life perspective: Don’t neglect your need for good health, financial security and strong relationships.
2. Learn from role models.
Seek out role models in industries adjacent to your own who have experience with taking on new roles. For instance, Tom Mihaljevic (MD) joined the Cleveland Clinic as a cardiac surgeon in 2004. When the company decided to expand and “imprint Cleveland Clinic’s DNA” into a new Abu Dhabi facility in 2015, he took on the assignment. While there, he learned how to use digital tools and restructure health delivery models, and later became the company’s CEO.
Other role models to consider include leaders who've lost corporate jobs and chosen to start successful businesses or give back through teaching and social causes. They can provide valuable insights into what obstacles to expect and how to overcome them as you maximize life.
3. Help others recognize the trailblazers.
Young adults grew up learning about the three-stage 65+ year life model: early education, focus on work and family and retirement for a few “golden years of leisure." Show them that there are many ways people can lead an intentional, fulfilling 100-year life. Inspire them with stories about trailblazers who've continued their careers as long as they wanted (e.g., Justice Ginsberg, 87; Henry Kissinger, 99; and Iris Apfel, 101), engaged in sports and arts passions (e.g., Fauja Singh, 100; Tony Bennett, 95) and committed to purpose through teaching and philanthropy (e.g., Ray Dalio, 73). Even better, be a role model and share with your family and friends why your choice brings life fulfillment!
The pandemic awakened people’s desire to lead holistic, integrated lives that address their needs for personal and career fulfillment. Today, business leaders are responding with a variety of hybrid office options designed to increasingly meet these needs. Here are several ways you can transition your business from the work-to-retirement-around-65 model to the 100-year integrated-life model.
• Seek out corporate trailblazers.
Some companies are addressing talent recruitment challenges by providing training programs to older workers. Others firms are rethinking how best to enable their entire workforce to maximize opportunities for work, learning, leisure, family, passion and purpose during their 100-year life.
Unilever is an excellent example. They have committed to changing the Future of Work in the company by recognizing that workers "want to move beyond the traditional 40-hour/40-week/40-year employment. Older and more experienced workers are increasingly choosing to work for longer.” They are implementing a variety of programs and evaluating the impact for themselves and sharing insights with other businesses.
• Harness the expertise workers have developed throughout their long careers.
Many companies recognize the value of DEI for workers and improved performance. One special area of focus is encouraging workers who've developed experience and expertise over many years to share it as mentors and advisors. Seek out the skills your employees have acquired outside the company, too (e.g., attending computer, law or writing classes). Remember, Ray Kroc was a salesman for a vendor when he identified the business opportunity that became today’s McDonald's.
Also, eliminate restrictive “retirement-focused” policies. When a company pension plan financially penalizes employees for any reason (e.g., phasing out full-time employment), you are encouraging workers with expertise to leave when they otherwise might have stayed.
• Cultivate lifelong learning by all workers.
With age and experience, people develop new interests, including a desire to adapt new tools and skills that will enable them to grow personally and professionally. For example, people engage me almost daily in conversations to explore the capabilities for artificial intelligence. Is your learning team capturing workers' curiosity and cultivating their contributions to achieve your corporate mission?
• Use flexible models that facilitate collaboration and customer loyalty
To facilitate working together and learning about other careers, adopt a flexible and fluid organizational model like the team-of-teams approach. Unlike traditional silos, this makes it easier for workers to collaborate and support one another in hybrid situations. This can generate greater customer trust and loyalty.
In sum, the true gift of longevity isn’t more years—it’s the quality of those years that counts. We can achieve that quality through intentional planning and strategic execution. As individuals and business leaders, let’s embrace these opportunities.