This essay is written for my friend Linda, who told me last night a previous essay of mine depressed her for a whole week, and to my friend Janis, who recently told me my I had a morbid streak. It’s true, I find inspiration where many find depression. I dwell on subjects, sometimes in tedious detail, that others would rather not think about at all. For instance, aging is a fascinating topic for me, but I’m discovering it’s a downer with many of my friends, especially my lady friends. Now I feel challenged to write something uplifting about the last third of life.
Part of the problem I face making our years before dying appealing is our generation has always protested growing up. As children we dragged our feet about becoming teens because we loved the wild abandon of childhood and resisted discipline and work. We were passionate teens who rebelled against those on the other side of the generation gap, claiming never trust anyone over thirty. Hitting thirty was particularly hard for us. Psychologically we felt we had lost our youth. We tried so hard to pretend otherwise. When our forties came we refashioned thirty into something good, and pretended that forty was the new thirty. Then in our fifties we lied to ourselves again, desperately clinging to the belief we were just as good as we were in our forties. Then boomer marketers tried to sell our sixties as the new forties. It’s not.
Okay, I don’t think this is working. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be depressing Linda and Janis again. Where’s the positive spin? The trouble is I don’t want to be peddling snake oil words about getting old. To be true to myself I have to be realistic. My point in the previous paragraph is to show that we’ve always gone kicking and screening into any new phase of life. The other day a woman of forty asked me if she could pass for twenty-eight. I immediately said, “No way.” I don’t think she loves my honesty either.
See my point, how can I sell the virtue of living in our sixties when no one wants to be that old? Even though I’m being Pollyanna here and trying to make the new sixties as exciting as the old sixties, it’s a damn hard sell. It’s like I’m living in the Twilight Zone, and everyone is telling me this isn’t planet Earth when I know for sure it is.
Yes, I’m willing to admit that being old is bumming out many of my close friend boomers, but I’m asking what choice do we have? Linda said to the others last night that I was being existential. That’s true, I am. I’m also saying, suck it up and face the challenge. But that doesn’t sell either. How can I make a salable feature out of wrinkles, sagging folds and titanium hips?
The trouble is we judge ourselves by our bodies, and not by our souls. We worry about how others see us – not by how we see ourselves.
It’s not about what are bodies are like when we get old, it’s about what we do with them. It’s about pushing our limitations and finding success. But what is success? We can cheat and define success as being young, but that’s like wishing for extra wishes when a genie gives you only three. Everyone has to define their own success. We’re all completely different. I am reminded of Gail Sheehy’s Sex and the Seasoned Women, a book about post-menopausal life. She interviewed countless women who said that the first half of life was about their husband and children, but they wanted the second half of life to be about themselves. Often this meant radically reinventing themselves, and many started careers and businesses late in life and succeeded.
Getting old is a time to start over and reinvent ourselves. In past eras people mainly died before they got old. Now we live an extra thirty years, years that in history, were never defined with a set purpose. We are among the first generations to give the last third of life a purpose. Sure we all wish we were young again, but unless a rejuvenation technique is invented like in a science fiction novel, we have to remain old. Even if you get a facelift and look younger, your not.
My positive spin that I’m trying to sell is we can find all kinds of successes if we try, even successes never imagined before. We’ll have some very late bloomers, and maybe even some black swan new flowers.
Many successful people continue their successful lives well past sixty and on into old age. That’s not news. What I want to know is how many people who start on a new path after sixty find success? Studying the 2010 census tables shows 50 million people who are older than 62, and over 82 million older than 45. The last third of life is a new frontier, with two thirds of all people who have ever lived past sixty-five alive today. And many of those people wanting to do more with their golden years than just sit and wait to die. They want to reinvent themselves. They want to do all the things they couldn’t do when they didn’t have the time.
For most people who love their jobs, staying at work as long as they can is probably the best option. Fulfilling work is the basis for well being. But if you have decided to retire, or been forced to retire, then the final third of life offers the tremendous potential of time. What can we make with all this time? Most retirees, after a long hard working life, look forward to leisure time, hoping to have a quiet relaxing life with family and friends, pursuing their hobbies and traveling.
But what if you wanted to be more ambitious? What if you wanted to start a business, get a PhD, invent something new, program an app or write a novel? What are the odds for your success? Well, I got on Google to find out, and here’s what I learned.
Travel seems to be the dream ambition of most retired people. I must assume most people secretly wish they had the time to roam the Earth. Luckily, becoming a successful world traveler isn’t age dependent. If your dream is to become a NFL quarterback after 60 the odds are zero in your favor. That’s just how the cookie crumbles for some dreams – they are age related. However, if you’re dream is to fly, sail, drive or even walk around the world, it’s still possible after you retire. Recently the New York Times ran “Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road,” about seniors who have given up the comforts of a home to become international gypsies. They report that between 1993 and 2012 the percentage of traveling retirees went from 9.7 to 13 percent, many of which finance their travels on a social security budget, with 360,000 Americans receiving their SS checks at overseas addresses.
These wandering oldsters use everything from CouchSurfing.org, VRBO, AirBnB, to HomeAway.com to find places to live. Many Americans choose to live abroad and find support on the net like GringoTree.com for living in Ecuador.
This is a huge topic, and common one on the internet, like these at Forbes, Wall Street Journal, RetirementCafe, Huffington Post, Home Free Adventures, New York Times, and many more. Just start looking.
Travel is an ambition common associated with older folk, so what’s a little more ambitious?
Starting a New Business
Most new businesses fail. And it helps to start a new business that’s based on years of personal experience. So it’s hard to judge if late blooming entrepreneurship is age related. Starting a new business after sixty that’s totally unrelated to your life’s experience is going to be hard, but not impossible. Most people think of retirement as leaving work, but many people want to leave a job and work for themselves as a creative endeavor. Sometimes this endeavor is based on work experience, but other times it’s doing something completely new.
I worked with computers, but I’ve often daydreamed of having a bookstore. I love shopping for books, and now that selling books on the internet is a big business, I realize I could make extra money by hunting down rarer books and selling them online. ABE Books and Amazon allows anyone to start a virtual bookstore. I think many people have similar dreams. Other people are far more ambitious. Maybe they’ve always loved cooking and want to open a restaurants, or they loved animals and thought running a doggy daycare would be great. The Guardian wrote about people like this with “How to change your life at 60.”
Searching Google for late bloomer entrepreneurs often comes up with the same old suspects, like Colonel Sanders, who started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65, although he had previous business experience along those lines. Most famous businessmen started early, but if you search hard you can find stories of smaller big successes, like Antia Crook who invented the Pouchee, and turned it into a multimillion dollar enterprise.
Yahoo’s Small Business Advisor profiled several “Older Entrepreneurs.” Colonel Sanders again shows up. Obviously, he’s the poster child of late blooming business starters. I found many journalists and bloggers who have written about the idea I’m working on here, and often come up with the same people. So I went looking for demographics. I found “Demographic Characteristics of Business Owners.” It doesn’t report and people starting a business after 60, but it does say that 50.9% of all small business are owned by people 50-88, with a 4.9% growth since 2007. In other words, over half of small business owners are old, and get older. It also implies that running a business isn’t impacted by aging.
According to Forbes, 65% of new jobs have been created by small businesses since 1995. 543,000 new businesses get started each year, and 52% of them are home based, which seems to imply that working for oneself is a popular goal. Intuit offers “Intuit Future of Small Business Report” that does suggest that Baby Boomers will be a major factor in new small business creation in the coming decades.
Famous tech started wizards might be young Turks, but they’re not the norm.
I’m satisfied that we’re never too old to start a business. But what about something more creative.
My dreams has always been to write a science fiction novel. While I worked I rationalized I didn’t have the time. That was bullshit. Now that I have all my time free, I’ll have to face the fact this was just a pipedream, or go to work.
There are some careers that if you don’t start early, you don’t start at all. Of course, child prodigy is the obvious one. But being a chess champion, musical virtuoso, or math genius requires making your mark when young. Other creative endeavors like writing and painting are often taken up by people late in life. For example, Frank McCourt, who wrote Angela’s Ashes, didn’t start writing until 65, yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first book until 65.
Yet, to be honest, coming up with hordes of examples is hard. Most people who are successful at writing start out as natural born storytellers, yet there are enough examples that suggest that it’s never too late to start writing.
For this essay I’m satisfied I’ve come up with enough examples to be inspirational. However, if you prowl the web there’s a whole world out there devoted to exciting 55 Plus living. Millions have been doing it for decades. The idea of retiring is just new to me and my friends, especially the ones who haven’t retired. And it’s especially scary for those people who haven’t financially planned for retirement, or spent much time thinking about it. On the net when I make friends with older people, most tell me they are having the time of their lives. Maybe they are lying to me so I won’t be scared to go where they have gone, or just maybe, they are telling me the truth.
JWH – 9/7/14 – Happy Birthday Charisse