The gift of time: Note to my 90-year-old self

The gift of time: Note to my 90-year-old self

By Sally Evans

It is a fact of life - we are all living longer. And whilst children born today are 50% more likely to live to over 100, the news is full of this being a problem. We will be working longer, with lower pensions and poorer health. But I’ve been reflecting on this and wondered if there is a different way to look at it – how about appreciating the gift of time?

If we think in terms of a gift of time, then maybe we would question more what we do now and the choices we make? Would we choose to live differently, if just for a moment we could force ourselves out of thinking in the traditional three stage model of life - education, then work, then retirement?

If we did, it might mean that we would need to be far more prepared than ever to adapt and change, but it could be a life of wonder and possibility if we could just step outside the traditional model we have been brought to believe is the only way. (Which, the more I think about it, feels like it is a social / economic construct designed to organise us and keep us moving along through life, unquestioning! Who was it that decided a working day was 9 till 5pm; three weeks holiday and two days off a week was just the right amount?).

Yes, people will need to work longer as we age as a population, but that could be an exciting prospect, if you’re doing something you enjoy.What would be important is that it need not and must not, be as frantic. But this starts with us challenging the three-stage model of life.

Clearly inflexible and unworkable long term, we must reorganise our way of living and working si that we can create a greater number of transitions throughout our life exciting, yet straightforward. So, I decided to ask my 90-year-old self (forty or so years away), what this shift has meant for my life.

It meant that during my life, I had to focus a lot more on my health and ensure I was active, maintaining my strength, flexibility and fitness as I grew older. I didn’t necessarily keep the same friendship groups. I had to learn to let go of old associations and to create new social networks. This took courage, confidence and effort.

Just as technology had changed the way we work over the last 30 years, I had to find a way for it to work for me (not exhaust me!).

The introduction of artificial intelligence removed some of the more routine jobs I might have performed, but technology means I work more flexibly in different places and some interesting roles.

I realised that the skills learned in my 20s wouldn’t last forever and so throughout the years, I will have made some fundamental investments in learning new skills. But to do this, meant I had to take charge of my life and make some very clear choices about how I spend my time.

With the gift of more time and a longer life, comes the responsibility of how to use it, so my plans needed to be dynamic and flexible. I changed jobs more frequently, went back to college and dipped into self-employment. The development of the Gig economy and the greater flexibility this offered got me thinking!

And all of this has meant I have had to question my identity as a wife, a mother, a worker. Because a life well lived, requires careful thought, an element of non-conformity and balance. Getting our finances right to manage through a longer life takes much more consideration and planning. But of course, that’s no good without great relationships, good mental health and happiness. So, all these had to be worked on too.

Getting the ‘life balance’ right, as opposed to the work-life balance, is crucial through the longer life multi-stages.

So, how did my 50-year-old self change her life to report back, fit and happy as a 90-year-old?  Well, I took a leaf out of my two 20 something sons book! They’re living as pioneers of this massive shift in our approach to life.

We are already seeing this under 30 group, behaving differently from our ‘norm’; keeping their options open, challenging the status quo, moving jobs, living with increasing debt. To many, the fact that marriage, family, a mortgage are being delayed is down to the economic situation, but I am assured it is not.

These young people can clearly see that they will be living for longer, so why rush into these things, if at all. Why can’t they be younger for longer? Indeed, why can’t we?

I am already seeing the seeds of change in my life. As I attend my Masters course, I love the fact our group is a mixture of ages from 22 to 55; excited to explore new opportunities and knowledge together, age is no barrier to enthusiasm and curiosity as we learn together. Reverse mentoring, where the young mentor the more mature, will need to feature in our new world.

But what will be a barrier is the response of business and the workplace. For years, employment policies and practices have been designed around the three stages of life, and organisations must change if we are to facilitate the ‘younger for longer’ ethos.

If the future is about creating and facilitating exciting life and work choices, we and our employers need to become super flexible, maybe allowing sabbaticals or alternative contracts, and I don’t doubt that many businesses may resist. But those businesses that want to continue to be high performing and attract the brightest and the best, will see a real commercial advantage to offering flexible approaches to the life-long career, whatever that may look like!

Ok, so living longer and the gift of time, won’t all be fairy-tales and unicorns. For many people, choices about how they live their life are still limited. But I do believe, that the generations before us didn’t have many of the choices we have today. They didn’t develop the capacity for change, that we now must. And as we move towards living longer, will our life, work choices and health decisions, stand up to scrutiny by our 90-year-old selves? Simply following the three-stage life model isn’t working and whilst it requires some risk, don’t live with regret.

So, with the gift of time and a longer life, when we look back, did we make the rest of our life, the best of our life?