Fulfilled living in later life
It’s not your age, it’s your ‘stage’, says longevity expert

Tuesday 23rd August 2022

It’s not your age, it’s your ‘stage’, says longevity expert

Louise Morse

People over 60 are viewed as a monolithic group, says longevity expert Susan Wilner Golden, yet they are the most diverse, fastest growing, and most dynamic market in the world. They’re also the most frequently misunderstood, including by themselves. Ms Golden has published a book, suggesting that companies make them a target market. She also encourages those in their 60s and 70s to become entrepreneurs, identifying business opportunities from gaps they experience in their own lives. Chronological age no longer defines people in the second half of life, she insists. It’s not your age, it’s your stage in life. But she says that some people over 60 fall into society’s trap of assuming their usefulness and ability to enjoy life are fading fast.

A former venture capitalist and medical school professor advising companies about their longevity strategies, in her 60s Ms Golden was a Fellow of the Distinguished Career Initiative (DCI) at the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, engaging with experienced professionals who were directing the next chapter of their lives on innovations that have both social and economic impact. She says it was the most vibrant period of her life. “I looked around my DCI cohort – we ranged in age from 50 to mid-70s, but we were in the same stage. We were rethinking; what do we want to do next? What were our life priorities? That’s when I started thinking it’s wrong to think about age defining you. It really is stage.”

‘People are going to need more money if they’re going to live to 100, they going to need to rethink when, and if, they retire.’ [i] That chimes with the situation in the UK, according to Data from over-50s community Rest Less. The Office of National Statistics has found that older workers are starting to ‘unretire’ in the midst of the cost of living crisis.

Not only are many returning to work but large firms are actively encouraging them. Dame Sharon White, the chairman of John Lewis and Waitrose, last week urged the Government to motivate more over-50s and McDonald’s latest recruitment campaign posts advertisements of a grey-haired man who “isn’t the retiring type” enjoying a McDonald’s job on its social media pages.

Life used to be seen as in three stages: learning, working, and retirement, says Ms Golden, but longevity means that now there are five, and everyone should think about the impact more carefully. The fourth quarter can be the most innovative, but the financial aspect of the fifth is the greatest challenge, as most people are not saving and investing enough and there are poor social safety nets.

Use life experience to start a business

Ms Golden advises people to think of themselves as someone with many capabilities and many ways of contributing to society, to their family, or to their company. Rethinking what to do and knowing what you’re good at and what you are not good at can be a Renaissance period in life. People who want to start a business in the second half of life can look at areas where their needs haven’t been met, because that’s where they’ll see gaps and get ideas. In America Ms Golden believes that an area to expand is that of ‘care navigators’. Getting through the medical system in the United States can be complex, as it can be also in the UK.

Older adults can become career coaches and life transition planners because of their experience and their wisdom. Or they could volunteer with people of different ages. She says, ‘don’t get locked into ‘I’m-in-my-retirement’ stage or ‘I’m-in-my-body hurts-and- everything-is-falling-apart’ stage: there’s so much more than you can enjoy.’

In her book she insists that better language is needed when describing over 60s because “there’s ageism in referring to them as senior or elderly”. She insists that over 60s are not in ‘elderhood’ or ‘seniorhood’, but in ‘Furtherhood’.

‘Real Business’, an online business advice centre for small to medium companies, tells the story of Sam Taylor age 71, a successful businessman who retired at the age of 63. But he got bored in retirement and together with his wife founded The Creative Art Gallery in Scotland, promoting online the work of Scottish artists, designers and makers. It now shows more than 200 individual pieces by over 30 Scottish contemporary artists.

He says that his age and his wife’s played a pivotal part in their success. “What you bring to the party at that age is your experience and contacts,” he explained. “… To us, age is no barrier at all. If you’re mentally alert and physically fit, there’s no reason why you can’t do it.