We’d pace ourselves differently, and society would change
Recently I attended a conference in Cortona, Italy. It was on aspects of The New Map of Life™. Those two simple sentences conceal a lot!
The conference was scheduled over the US Memorial Day weekend, and put together by Russ Hill, the founder of the International Center for Wealth Advisory Excellence (or ICWAE for short: pronounce it as if it’s the start of “I see way into the future”), an affinity and learning group that is affiliated with Stanford University. Russ is also the Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Stanford Center on Longevity. But a week before the conference’s start date, the facilitator and some presenters got Covid, and so Russ made the difficult decision to cancel the conference, to preserve the holiday weekend at home for us attendees. Some of us, however, had already scheduled vacations around the conference, so we showed up anyway. And amazingly Russ promptly reorganized the event, and the 10 of us there had a day and a half of discussions that were much more intensive and personal than usual because our group was so small – an unexpected benefit.
The theme was The New Map of Life™ (NMOL, from now on) and its potential influence on the future of wealth management. That won’t mean anything to you, so let me explain.
It started with a 2011 book, A Long Bright Future, by Dr Laura Carstensen. Laura is the Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity (among many other offices of distinction), and one of the people I admire enormously, and from whom I have learned a lot. Among the several ideas she put forward in the book was one about pacing our lives differently. Our lives seem to divide into learn-work-retire (or learn-earn-burn, as it’s sometimes referred to). If we knew we were likely to live to 100 (something today’s newborns can anticipate), surely we wouldn’t just add the additional years to the retirement stage. It would be far more productive if instead we divide it into many more flexible stages, diffusing work across the lifespan. That would have the additional effect of departing from today’s age-segregated society (the young study, the middle-aged work, and the old volunteer or rest), and instead make it easier for generations to interact and for anyone, of any age, to find a better balance between families, work, community and educational opportunities.
So she presents future life as a five-act play.
In Act 1 (“The Show Begins”) – this appealed to me, given my professional background – we start a retirement savings account, at birth! More importantly, we encourage continuing education while the brain and emotional maturity are growing, until roughly age 25. Let the adolescent mind learn and explore, incorporating opportunities for travel, community service and interning.
In Act 2 (“The Action Builds”) education continues. We work part-time, trying out more than one job before settling on an employer, perhaps around age 40. This gives us the chance to raise a family in a shared, loving experience. Those who choose not to have a family can continue to learn about life, the world, and work.
In Act 3 (“Taking Center Stage”) our minds are already well shaped by life and work experience, and now we skillfully practice the trade we have chosen. This is where we shift from primarily consuming resources to providing them. Sabbaticals enable us to continue to learn or to do community service.
Act 4 (“The Turning Point”) would continue until perhaps age 80 (yes, 80!). Before then, we would wind down our working careers gradually, perhaps with an “encore career” for a second, deeply personal stage of work life. Perhaps it involves satisfying community needs.
After this “autumn crescendo” (what a lovely phrase!) we enter Act 5 (“Resolution”). We have paid our debts to society, raised our family, and are ready to enter a life phase in which we do whatever we want.
Laura’s ideas were the inspiration for the NMOL in 2018, and the Stanford Center on Longevity now has research fellows and faculty advisors devoted to it, and has prepared an initial report on it, in November 2021 (use the link at the start of this post). From it I have extracted the following ten principles:
- Make the Most of the 100-Year Opportunity: We are optimists, not dreamers. The NMOL is rigorously grounded in science, driven by pragmatism and seasoned with imagination.
- Invest in Future Centenarians to Deliver Big Returns: “Aging society” narratives portray the later decades of life as a period marked by vulnerability and dependence.
- Align Health Spans to Life Spans: While median life spans have increased dramatically over the past century, our health spans – defined as the years in which people are healthy, mobile, mentally sharp, and free of pain – have not kept pace.
- Prepare to be Amazed by the Future of Aging: Today’s 5-year-olds will benefit from an astonishing array of medical advances and emerging technologies that will make their experience of aging far different from that of today’s older adults.
- Life Transitions are a Feature, Not a Bug: While the conventional life course is a one-way road through pre-scripted stages, our new map features roads with forks, which take us in many directions through the roles, opportunities, and obligations that 100-year lives will bring.
- Learn Throughout Life: Given the strong links among education, health and longevity, the NMOL calls for innovation and more flexible options in our education.
- Work More Years with More Flexibility: Over the course of 100-year lives, we can expect to work 60 years or more.
- Build Financial Security from the Start: Financing 100-year lives requires new pathways for working, saving, and retiring.
- Age Diversity is a Net Positive: Never before in human history have so many generations been alive at the same time, creating opportunities for intergenerational connection that have until now been impossible.
- Build Longevity-Ready Communities: As a nation, we must start now to design and build neighborhoods that are longevity-ready.
How exactly will these ideas affect our day-to-day lives? We just don’t know, today. Chances are that changes will come gradually and in small pieces and in an uncoordinated fashion, rather than via someone or some country taking the NMOL as the basis for massive change. Our group tried to anticipate what changes would mean for wealth advisory firms and the industry as a whole. My own focus is going to be on how individuals can fund actionable ideas from the NMOL that can improve their lives today, regardless of wealth.
As you can guess, this conference was intended as a first exposure to these ideas about the future. That was exciting in itself: conferences typically focus on today’s issues and problems. But being there gave the ten of us a head start. Let’s see what we can do with it.
If we knew we’d live to 100, we’d pace life differently, our life’s path would have on-ramps and off-ramps, we’d have more interaction across the generations, and society would change to accommodate the very positive attributes that the New Map of Life™ would bring.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.