I’m sometimes called upon to give my take on so-called Mega Trends and ‘the Future’, and tonight I’ll be a giving a different version of that talk. Rather than forecasting the future, however, I’m going to discuss the long one you have in front of you. I’m going to show you how to plan for a 22nd-century life.
First, here’s the headline: the young people reading this are going to live to see 100. Let that sink in for a second.
Actually, with a bit of luck, even the old people, like me, will probably get to see 85 or 90.
For the non-oldsters, this means you will be 22nd century people. Think about that: you will be alive and hopefully thriving in the 22nd century, and we’ve only just begun this one.
If you think I’m making this up, think again. The big story here is not that this is happening, but rather that few people are talking about it and even fewer are planning for it. Obviously, this will have profound implications on how we live, work and age. Most importantly, how do we prepare for such a seismic shift?
This talk will focus on 3 key ideas.
First, you’re getting an amazing gift. But it’s also going to present a challenge – how to plan for a happy and successful 100-year life.
Second, you’re going to have to rethink the entire arc of your adult lives as a result.
Third, you’ll need to adopt a whole new mental model to flourish in this future. You have to invest in what I call your Reinvention Portfolio – a mix of tangible and intangible assets that will allow you to recharge yourself over a long life, be resilient to its ups and downs, and make possible the multiple career pivots that you’ll have to undertake.
But first, how is this possible?
Let’s get the stats out of the way. As long you take care of yourselves, you have a great chance to live to see triple digits. Scientists expect people to live routinely to 100 in the coming decades, and perhaps even older than that.
David Sinclair, a professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, even says that the first person who will live to be 150 has already been born.
This is a miracle a century in the making; in 1918, the average life expectancy was 48 for Men and 54 for women. Let me put that in stark terms: I’d be on death’s door if this were still true today!
This is all thanks to steady – and sometimes spectacular – breakthroughs in everything from hygiene and nutrition to medicine and technology. I won’t walk you through all the various ways our society has accomplished this. But trust me on this one point: you will live longer – in some cases much longer – than you ever imagined.
Our parents aspired to retire at 65 or even to enjoy “Freedom 55.” This was the typical path: you went to school for 15 years – mostly high school, some college for the lucky – worked for 40 years and lived in Florida for your last 15. It was a clear three-stage life of education, production, and retirement.
That world is gone. It went out with getting married in your early twenties, having half a dozen kids, the prospect of lifetime employment and the promise of a gold watch at the end of it. For those of who watched the TV show “Mad Men”, this was their life plan.
So that’s very old news. Yet we still operate under that mental model today, even it’s been slightly updated. This is yet another example of something that once was true but is no longer relevant, and yet it persists anyway.
What does this mean for you?
The traditional 3 stage life required only a limited amount of planning and little in the way of retraining since it had certainty and predictability baked into it.
Today, you’re looking at a 10 stage life that is neither regular nor linear. It’ll be sprinkled with work periods, mini-retirements, investment phases where you re-skill and reposition yourself, as well as professional sprints followed by restorative and reinvestment breaks. Long lives mean continuous change and transformation – which is why the notion of a Reinvention Portfolio is such a crucial new mental model.
This is going to happen, but it’s not going to happen favorably all by itself. You will have to actively plan and even shape your future.
If you’re 20 now, you probably have a good 80 more years to go. You will live to see the 22nd century. But you will also probably work into your 80s – which means that you ‘re going to change jobs – a lot.
What else will be different?
I’m on my fifth career. You will almost certainly have closer to 10 – maybe even a dozen – during your 60 years of work.
I recommend that you plan for regular transformation – or what I call reinvention – so that you can have these transitions occur at time and life stage of your choosing. I’m reminded of what an American General said: “if you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” Substitute unemployment for the word ‘irrelevance’ and you get what I mean …
So how do you prepare for regular Reinvention?
What you need to do: invest in your Reinvention Portfolio
In the old model, you educated yourself by going to university. You prepared for retirement by working continuously, contributing to your IRA or RRSPs, and hoping that your savings and pension would be enough. It was a pretty simple formula.
Today, you need to do so much more. Instead of one education phase, people will return to school, again and again, to refresh their knowledge and develop new skills. This will interrupt your working career, sometimes multiple times. As a result of those retraining breaks and your longer life, you’re going to have to work much longer to be able to pay for retirement. That’s the cold truth.
In order to successfully navigate these changes, you’re going to need three types of assets. Crucially, they’re a mix of tangible and intangible resources. I use the metaphor of a portfolio because like a financial planner, you will need to actively manage them. The 3 are Resilience Assets, Restorative Assets and Reinvention Assets. Let’s look at each a little more closely.
Resilience Assets are for weathering the storms – and sadly, there will be some along the way. These include tangible financial assets like savings to finance re-skilling breaks. But they also include intangible assets like personal grit and self-confidence, as well as the emotional or financial support of others.
Restorative Assets provide you with the energy and motivation to transform yourself when required. Think of Friends, Family, but also personal Health & Fitness. These restorative resources, practices and places will keep you younger longer or simply help you regularly recharge your batteries.
This 10 stage life is going to be roller coaster ride, so you’ll need the energy to scale the peaks and survive the valleys. If you want to be healthy, vibrant and productive into your 80s, you need to start good habits in your 20s – and keep at them.
George Bernard Shaw famously said that “youth is wasted on the young.” Don’t waste your youth, and learn to extend it. It may be easy right now to find the time to stay fit and hang out with friends, but it will become even more important to make the time to do both these things when you’re older and busier.
Finally, you’re going to need one last set of resources.
Reinvention Assets are your network, your brand, your expertise and skills but also personal resources like self-knowledge and an openness to new experiences and calculated risks.
Let’s drill down on this last category of assets because they’re really important.
What do I mean by building your personal brand and network?
Your brand is what people think of you in a professional context. Think of it as your reputation, but also the skills and qualities others believe that you possess. It’s those 5 words that your boss or coworkers think of when they hear your name. That’s your brand, and it’s so critical because it’s personal, portable and hopefully permanent.
In a world when you regularly changes jobs, industries and perhaps even countries, your brand will the only thing you’ll carry from position to position and place to place.
Your network will also become an invaluable asset in the future. The friends and colleagues you collect along the way will alert you to opportunities that never make it to Monster.com. They’ll give you that little piece of advice that helps you negotiate a great package at your next gig. They’ll also plug you into a new circle of people when you get a new place. With a great network, you’ll never be “alone”, or lonely, or without options.
You also need to get to know … yourself
We’re going to have to make lots of choices. Most people don’t like to take decisions, and almost all of us tend to make poor ones about our future because we’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy.
So you will have to know yourselves better, sooner. One thing that I’ve learned is that self-knowledge is the key to being successful – however you define success.
Understanding – and accepting – yourself is an accomplishment too often reached late in life, if at all. Try to accelerate that curve and start the process of knowing yourself now. Ask yourself: What do you want out of life? Do you want it, or is society – or your social network – driving that need?
The great philosopher Socrates famously said that the “unexamined life is not worth living.” Building on that idea, I’d add that an unexamined 100-year life is not a life well-lived.
Speaking of knowledge …
You need to continuously invest in your knowledge stocks, too. Think about it this way School is a place; university is a life stage; education, skills and knowledge-building must be as regular as exercise in your future schedule. If you train your brain like you build your muscles, you’ll always be in great shape for whatever society throws your way. Finally …
Be open to intelligent experimentation
The future will be characterized by variety, choice, and more than a little uncertainty. We have to get used to that. Another way of putting this is that you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
You’re going to have take charge of your life. Succeeding in a 10 stage, 100-year life will require you to be bold – regularly.
Courage is contagious, as the saying goes, so I’m challenging you to make it a habit. Don’t crave certainty because it doesn’t exist anymore; embrace intelligent risks and approach life like a Venture Capitalist does – knowing that some bets will flop but that if you do your homework, one will succeed beyond your wildest expectations.
Writer William Gibson has a wonderful saying: “The future is already here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” He’s right, of course. This isn’t science fiction.
All of this may be a lot to absorb, but here’s what I want you to walk away with tonight.
You have an incredibly long life ahead of you. That’s amazing and exciting. But this extraordinary gift comes with a challenge: you don’t just need a life plan, you need a 100 Year Life Plan.
Get started now. Invest in what I call your Reinvention Portfolio – the mix of tangible and intangible assets that will give you the most options in the future.
Build resilience through savings, self-confidence and the support of others.
Develop your restorative resources by taking care of yourself now, but also by investing in your personal relationships with friends and family. If you think of life as a team sport, you’ll understand why you can’t do this alone.
Finally, prepare yourself for regular reinvention by getting to know yourself well, developing a higher risk-tolerance for making bold bets, and by investing in your skills, personal reputation and professional network. You have an astounding opportunity to live decades longer than any other generation in history. This may sound like a curse to some, but it’s a blessing if you plan and prepare for it. Start now, and you have a great chance to have a happy and successful 22nd-century life.