Since the generation hitting retirement age right now is the same group that marched with Martin Luther King, staged antiwar protests, promoted women’s liberation, gathered for Woodstock and practiced free love in San Francisco, it’s no wonder that attitudes about retirement and aging are changing radically.
People are living longer and healthier, and are forging new, adventurous paths into old age, finding themselves more involved, more creative, more original, more fulfilled and more excited about life than ever. (Consider Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Woody Allen, Robert Redford and the Rolling Stones.)
The quest for meaning seems to have fueled this generation from the beginning – and could be the key to why this group is daring, once again, to be different. Habitually questioning authority, even in their middle years, these new elders reject labels and pigeonholes, instead reaching deep within themselves to find new aspirations… and then follow them.
A sixty-four-year-old activist who cut off his pony tail and went into government consulting in his early thirties has this to say: “I view retirement as breaking out of an adult mold into new endeavors without the bindings of ‘being an adult.’ Be radical again! With maturity you lose your chains. You stood up to be counted in your youth. Now do it again! And if you were never radical, then now’s a good time to start… Most of the elder-oriented commercial messages I see are oriented to play. Why not stress teaching, mentoring, working with others – sharing back what we have learned?”
A seventy-year-old marketing consultant-turned-actress-and-author explains, “For a long time I was overly obsessed with the changes in my body. But here I am. The body may be going, but, to my amazement, I am in the best place I have been in years. I have discovered recently that I am an inspiration. I always looked up to others. Now others are looking up to me.”
One woman who taught high school and obeyed the rules all her life decided to write a book on aging with style, and began her quest by joining a nudist camp and parading about in nothing but high heels and jewelry. Now in her mid-seventies, she’s having too much fun to stop and write.
A former mortgage banker comments that at fifty-four “I used to believe I was liberated. Now I really am. I say let’s kick the ends out of our coffins and re-think all that age/death/dying stuff. Let’s have a party or a concert and all learn to ride motorcycles or sky dive instead of sitting around and discussing our ailments like our parents did.”
“Historically, the elders were caretakers and teachers to children,” notes a sixty-year-old writer. “Today we can’t afford to retire at sixty-five, and some statistics say we’ll be working right into our graves. So it’s time for society to change its habit of shuffling older people off into corners, ‘cause we’re gonna be active and involved for a long time! I actually think there are more of us in the U.S. than there are thirty-year-olds… we started movements before, and we’ll do it again, because one thing we definitely know how to do is create change.”
A private detective adds this about her own process of sixty years: “The journey has become the goal. Before, the destination was the most important thing. Now, the destination is an afterthought… the journey is everything. I think as you get older you begin to understand what is genuinely important in your life,” she concludes. “Priorities change radically, and importance shifts from what you can do for yourself to what you can contribute to the world to make it a better place for future generations.”
And a seventy-seven year old painter and glass artist sums up the essence of the journey: “The past is myth and the future is illusion. We have only this present moment, and this moment is timeless. So Be Here Now!”