Se­niors ask­ing ‘what’s next?’

The Hamilton Spectator - - YOUNG AT HEART - SPE­CIAL TO TORSTAR

When we are chil­dren, all we want to do is get big­ger, to grow up. It might start with want­ing to get on the bus with the other kids go­ing to school. Then we look for­ward to rid­ing a twowheeler. And on it goes.

In high school, we might an­tic­i­pate mak­ing the team, at­tain­ing good grades, or at­tend­ing our first prom. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, we seek out higher ed­u­ca­tion or learn skills to aid us in our ca­reers as young adults.

Al­ways we are yearn­ing for the next big step, the next ex­cit­ing and new change, to achieve the next goal. For many of us, our lives fol­low a some­what pre­dictable course with ed­u­ca­tion, re­la­tion­ships, mar­riage and chil­dren. One day we re­al­ize that we are grown up. We have at­tained our goals and are liv­ing grown up lives. We may have ran­dom thoughts about re­tir­ing “some­day” and we might won­der about our fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity. We may even par­tic­i­pate in a sem­i­nar about re­tire­ment plan­ning.

It is only re­cently that older adults have be­gun to wish for more.

Fol­low­ing the Great De­pres­sion and the Sec­ond World War, a dra­matic time of change and trans­for­ma­tion oc­curred in North Amer­ica. This new life stage known as “re­tire­ment” was not nec­es­sar­ily a pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion. It sug­gested the end of more than just paid em­ploy­ment and older peo­ple were con­sid­ered a huge so­cial prob­lem.

Per­spec­tives be­gan to change with the baby boomers. This co­hort doesn’t want to get old, but if it has no choice, it wants the very best old age can of­fer.

To­day there is a pe­riod of time that comes be­tween mid­dle age and old age. This gen­er­ally oc­curs be­tween age 55 and 80 and usu­ally be­gins with re­tire­ment, or the end of paid em­ploy­ment. For peo­ple with rel­a­tively good health this rep­re­sents an ex­tremely large por­tion of time. It has been said that to­day’s se­niors may be re­tired for more years than the length of time they were part of the paid work­force. It’s no won­der that peo­ple are ask­ing: “What’s next?” There are so many pos­si­bil­i­ties for older adults that didn’t ex­ist for pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. The Grand River Coun­cil on Ag­ing call these the “golden op­por­tu­ni­ties.” To­day there is a spirit of op­ti­mism, hope and ex­pec­ta­tion that sug­gests new and en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ences as we age. Peo­ple are wak­ing up to the fact that the up­side of ag­ing is the gift of time.

Barry Rand, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of AARP in the U.S., once said: “We are trans­form­ing our ideas, at­ti­tudes and prac­tices around ag­ing. We are see­ing the emer­gence of a dif­fer­ent set of ex­pec­ta­tions, and of prac­tices, skills and pur­poses, that will mas­sively al­ter the land­scape of life af­ter 50.”

To­day’s re­tirees have the tal­ent and time to make a dif­fer­ence and many are search­ing for en­gage­ment and com­mit­ment that will al­low them to re­main con­nected with their com­mu­ni­ties.

A few years ago, peo­ple plan­ning for re­tire­ment were ad­vised to fo­cus on their an­tic­i­pated fi­nan­cial needs for the time pe­riod fol­low­ing their paid em­ploy­ment. Re­tire­ment sem­i­nars sprang up around the coun­try, and banks and other fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions be­gan to of­fer fi­nan­cial plan­ning to their cus­tomers.

The fo­cus then was to en­cour­age peo­ple to “save for a rainy day” to en­sure ad­e­quate funds on which to live when they re­tired.

Now, those plan­ning for life af­ter paid em­ploy­ment can fo­cus on what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

For some, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to em­bark upon a sec­ond ca­reer. For some it might be a chance to spend more time with grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren. For oth­ers, it’s time to travel and see the world.

Many re­tirees to­day spend count­less hours vol­un­teer­ing their time and tal­ents to count­less non-profit, char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions. There are in­ter­gen­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties and events on of­fer. Oth­ers go back to school or find part-time em­ploy­ment to learn new fields of study or ex­plore other emerg­ing in­ter­ests.

Ex­perts re­fer to this gift of time as the “sec­ond act” or the “en­core act.” It can be a time of ex­cite­ment, en­rich­ment and en­hance­ment. For per­haps the first time in their lives, older adults can spend their time do­ing what they want to do.

What­ever choices you make through your mid­dle years, we hope you have fun. You’ve worked hard all your lives and now it’s your turn.

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