Preparing to Live to 100

April 6th, 2008 by cgergen

Over the last few months, I have come to really enjoy reading the blog of Ben Casnocha.  Frequently insightful and thought-provoking, it’s a great view of life from a young guy making a big splash.  Today he had a real doozy of a column that I want to pass along.

Titled The Centenarian Strategy: Life / Career Issues When You Will Live to 100, Ben draws upon a 1996 Rutgers University commencement speech by David Mahoney, then chairman of the Dana Foundation – a brain research organization.

The commencement speech’s  premise is that members of Generation X and Y (and beyond) have a relatively strong chance of living to 100.  And that our “fourth quarter” is going to be an active one.  So, rather than working like a dog and preparing for “retirement” at 60 – we are far better served to “create a strategy for a lifetime of alertness that lasts a whole century.”

I encourage you check out Ben’s blog to get his take on this provocative speech but I wanted to share the top five ideas from Mahoney’s talk (and link them into our corroborative research from Life Entrepreneurs):

1. Diversify your career from the very beginning. 

In his talk, Mahoney advocates for creating a vocation (i.e. career) as well an avocation (a creative pursuit outside of your formal work).  This, he suggests, gives us more options down the line.

“Stop thinking of jobs in series, one after the other; instead, think of careers in parallel. That means planning your vocation along with your avocation, and keep them as separate as possible. If you want to go into business, plan an avocation of music or art; if you are inclined toward the law or the media, diversify into education or landscaping. If you want to be a poet, think about politics on the side, and study it seriously….a real avocation is a subtext to a career, and a part of your working week to pursue with a certain dedication. Why? Not only because it gives balance to your second quarter, but because it positions you for the time that will come, in the third or fourth quarter, to switch gears.” 

In a world where the majority of us will have multiple careers in an ever-changing world, this advice is right on.  Among many of the Life Entrepreneurs we interviewed, they pursued multiple passion and pursuits.  Billy Shore poured his heart into addressing global famine while he was managing Gary Hart’s presidential campaign.  When that blew up, he turned his avocation into his full-time job, launching Share our Strength,which has since become one of the largest anti-hunger organizations in the world.

2. Take advantage of your opportunity to wind up a millionaire.

Part of creating a long and fruitful entrepreneurial life is being resourceful and determining your long-term needs.  This includes your financial needs.  This requires setting goals and being strategic.  Mahoney encourages taking advantage of some of the investment vehicles we have at our disposal – as well being an aggressive saver: 

“Financial independence will take a lot of pressure off that fourth quarter and make it something to look forward to… To the centenarian, credit-card living is out, leveraged saving is in. Use your tax leverage to make your savings grow exponentially. In this savings race, the tortoise beats the hare; by taking full advantage of the plans out there now, and more sure to come in the next decade, you need not be a rocket scientist to become a millionaire – in real terms – by your fourth quarter. Especially if you’re part of a two-income family.” 

Speaking of which…

3. Invest in your family dimension.

“As life gets longer, young people are getting married later. Fine; that deliberation about a big choice should ultimately reverse the divorce rate. But make a commitment early in your second quarter; the smartest thing you can do in diversifying your life is to stop playing the field.  The wave of the future, in the Centenarian Strategy, is to frame your life in traditional family settings. Do your market research in singlehood, choose for the long term and then commit to marriage; have kids; avoid divorce; raise your likelihood of having grandchildren. Following this course, you can expect at least a couple of great-grandchildren to enjoy, to work with, and to help as you approach the century mark. If you plan properly now to protect your wallet and your intellect, you can be a family asset, not a liability, later; and your family, with all the headaches, will enrich your life.”

The Life Entrepreneur develops a vision for every aspect of his or her life.  Family is an incredibly important dimension of this.  Mahoney’s advice strikes a chord – and provides a an important reminder about where a long-term family plan fits into the larger scheme of things.

4. Pace yourself: it’s a small world and a long life.

For the Centenarian and the Life Entrepreneur, life is a journey.  It has many chapters and there are several important things to keep in mind: 1) Take time for reflection and pay close attention to your authentic self and discovering your core identity (especially purpose and values), 2) stay switched on to opportunities and pursue your passions proactively and strategically, 3) actively maintain a healthy support network, 4) have the courage to try, and 5) remember to have fun along the way.

Along these lines, Mahoney’s advice to the Rutgers grads rings true (particularly the last line):

The centenarian thinks about success differently, with a longer view. He or she measures success in getting to personal satisfaction, which does not always mean getting to the top of the heap. Making money is important, never derogate building an estate that you and your progeny can use. But developing long-term loyalties in all the strands of your career and avocation and hobbies and recreation pays off in that satisfaction. Those loyalties also make life easier later; you can get things done across the different strands, helping someone in your avocation who has helped you in your career.  Ask yourself along the way: Whose approval is important to you? Whose is not? The Centenarians do not stop to smell the flowers; they carry the flower along.”

5. Plan for at least one thoroughgoing discombobulation in your life.

Life happens.  It has its highs – and as Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas write in their book Geeks & Geezers – it has its crucible moments: moments in life when we are exposed to an extreme challenge (a death, an illness, a significant setback, etc.).  How we react to these moments can help shape who we ultimately become.  Throughout our book, we saw consistently how entrepreneurial leaders became stronger through adversity – or were able to seize upon new, life-changing opportunities through something we call “purposeful spontaneity.”  The key is to recognize that we can’t predict a lot of life, but we can be prepared for it.

In his closing, Mahoney shared,

“Success, or a resounding setback, in one career can lead to success, of another kind, in the parallel career. That, in a nutshell, is how to cope with a challenge no graduating class has ever had – the challenge of a life with an active fourth quarter. Medical science will give most of you the body to blow out a hundred candles on your birthday cake, and the brain scientists will give you the life of your mind. That active memory will be their gift to you…. You will be able, in the poet’s words, to enjoy ‘the last of life, for which the first was made.’ It’s up to you to make sure you have a varied life that’s worth remembering.”

And so – as we look to the future it is worth gazing at the distant horizon.  For we may just get there – and all the better if our journey has been as rich as it has been long.

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Posted in Leadership, Musings, Personal Development | 3 Comments »

3 Responses

  1. Ben Casnocha Says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Christopher! I liked how you drew the connections between Mahoney’s speech and the ideas in your book, which I will be reading soon!

  2. Thom Quinn Says:

    Thanks for the ‘executive’ summary of Ben Casnocha’s recent post. I have multi-tiered plan (financial, intellectual, health, etc.) to live to 100; however, always looking to augment my thinking on the methodologies.

  3. Paul Lightfoot Says:

    I plan to live to be 120. I’m about to hit the 1/3rd mark (40), at which point I intend to change my lifestyle to ensure that the second third gives me the chance to enjoy the third third.

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