Start with Vision

longevity planning May 18, 2022
planning for the future

Through my book, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people across the country and better understand their perspectives on planning for a long, healthy, financially secure life. These interactions have come in form of speaking to large groups at conferences, smaller groups in local symposiums and as part of online discussions and workshops. I’ve had good one-on-one dialogue with people over email, on the phone and at coffee shops. I’ve learned a lot.


One of my key lessons is that finding the right place at the right time is a challenge at any age. Many people struggle to pull the trigger to move to something better (the inertia of life and fear of change can be big hurdles!) and a sizeable percentage of those who do move have regret. However, the biggest challenge I have found is that many people lack a broader vision for a longer life. In some cases, people haven’t thought enough about the future. In other cases, people don’t know how to think about it.


This can all lead to a rudderless feeling. This is how I found a handful of recent retirees in their 60s at a recent event. This group of men found purpose in their careers but didn’t know where to find purpose afterwards. They agreed it wasn’t moving to be with their kids and grandkids, but they weren’t sure where to turn.


 A Long Life Creates New Pathways for Living (Source: Stanford)


Start with Vision


Laura Carstensen, the founding director of The Center of Longevity at Stanford University, is a trailblazing psychologist. She has conducted research on aging and longevity for decades and her team recently released a report as part of the New Map of Life initiative. A key point in her research, also incorporated in this new report, is that longer lives – keep in mind that babies born today in developed countries have a 50-50 chance of living to at least 100 years of age – afford us the opportunity to think differently about the traditional three stage of life: childhood and education, work and raising a family, and retirement. She argues that we may be best suited to think of life as a range of different stages that are based upon the unique circumstances of one’s life. The three-stage narrative need not be the defining arc.


While it’s nice to have the freedom to set a path, it can be daunting and overwhelming. Not everyone is wired to be a pioneer. Most of us are followers. Fortunately, life coaches and programs run by Third Half Advisors and the Modern Elder Academy can help people think about ways to map out future life chapters, particularly in the second half of life. With millions aging boomers, there will undoubtedly be more life navigation resources in the future.


It’s also important to be optimistic about our future. Unfortunately, ageism — the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age — does not help. Ageism makes us look down on getting older and overlook the benefits of longevity such as increasing happiness as shown through the U-shaped happiness curve. Anti-ageism activist Ashton Applewhite points out that with ageism, “we are discriminating against our future selves.” And it’s an awful lens to look through when mapping out a vision for your future life stages. In fact, ageism can damper our desire to plan (“why think about something that is inevitably awful”) and research shows that people who are pessimistic about aging live 7.5 years shorter than those with a positive aging mindset.


Some Broad Questions to Consider


As you think about future life chapters, here are some questions to consider:


  • What will give you purpose and meaning on a daily basis?
  • With whom do you want to spend time? What friends, or type of friends, do you want to pursue? How often would you like to see family? How often would they like to see you?
  • What type of lifestyle are you pursuing? How active would you like to be?
  • Are you financially prepared for a longer life? What are your financial needs and goals?
  • Do you love where you live? Are you rooted in your current community (a somewhere person) or are you open to a change (an anywhere person)?


Asking these and other probing questions can help you understand what you may wish your future life chapters to look like. Campbell Gerrish, co-founder of Third Half Advisors, encourages people to think about their life as a portfolio with allocations of time and activities that vary by stage of life. What does your ideal portfolio life look like today? How might that change in the future?

If Being Active is Important, Consider a Place where Hiking is Accessible  


Form Following Function


Place has a key role in supporting your vision. The right place makes it easier to live out the life you are seeking. For example, if seeing friends on a regular basis is important then living near friends is critical. If being active is a priority then living in a place with good weather and access to the outdoors can be key. If saving money is important then be sure housing costs are manageable.


When people solve for place without first having a vision for the future, they are unlikely to find themselves in the optimal place. This is one of the challenges for those committed to age in place. Such people can be so committed to their current place – typically their single-family house in the suburbs – that they are not open to consider visions for their future that involve a move to a different place. As a result, options for a better life are not given proper consideration.


Do yourself a favor: get the order right. Invest in a vision for your future and then solve for place. This is the only way to be sure that you are truly in the right place at the right time.


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