A third age, which spans the period from sixty to ninety (and longer), is unfolding ahead of us. This is a less-pressured period in which we can further develop our intellect, imagination, emotional maturity, and wisdom. This is also a period when we can give something back to society based on the lessons, resources, and experiences we have accumulated over a lifetime. We need not be social outcasts, but instead can assume the role of a living bridge between yesterday and tomorrow, and in this way play a critical role that no other group is as well suited to perform.
In recent decades, a small but growing number of older adults have been rejecting the social pressure to "act their age." They have been rebelling against ageist stereotypes and seeking to remain productive, involved, and late blooming well into their mature years.They are everywhere—within our families, among our friends, and in our communities: the executive who becomes a high school teacher; the grandmother who goes back to college or who writes her first book; the accountant who becomes an artist. Ask them when they think they'll start to feel elderly inside, and they'll probably say never!
In his book The Virtues of Aging, Jimmy Carter lit the repowerment path in a single phrase at the end of this telling passage: "In one of her hour-long special interviews, Barbara Walters covered all the aspects of my life, from the farm to submarines, from business to the governor's mansion, service in the White House, and from president back home to Plains.Then she asked me a question that required some serious thought: 'Mr. President, you have had a number of exciting and challenging careers. What have been your best years?' After a few moments I responded with absolute certainty: 'Now is the best time of all.'"
If the past fifty years of boomer evolution have taught us anything, it is this: as we enter each new life stage we keep what we like and replace the rest, like remodeling a house.
We'll be moving and experimenting with new lifestyles. As we stay in the game longer both socially and economically, we'll reshape family and community life. One breathtaking finding from the Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey surfaced when we asked boomers how they would describe themselves. Ten times as many survey respondents said they "put others first" as said "put themselves first." A far cry from our rambunctious teenage years and our swinging single period, we're now focused on keeping our marriages strong, on trying our best to raise healthy and happy children, and on caregiving our parents (the average boomer now has more parents than children to care for). The me generation has grown up to be a we generation.This attitude shift will reshape philanthropy and volunteerism and may very well be the cornerstone of the new retirement values.Today's retirees have the lowest volunteer rate in the country, while those our age who are actively helping out in our kids' schools and in community churches/synagogues through various philanthropic activities actually have the highest volunteer rate. If this desire to make a difference continues into retirement, we may see a huge change in the role of retirees overall -- from taking to giving.