by Paula Usrey
When I ask people what they want their lives to look like in the future, almost everyone I’ve talked to will tell me they want to be happy, healthy, and free—at least once they retired. But when I ask people how they are going to make that vision a reality, very few have a realistic plan or are currently taking appropriate action.
You see, most people don’t plan to age—it just happens. And that’s the problem. Without an awareness of what our lives could look like after fifty, without preparation, and without concrete action, it is quite likely we will not live our best lives in the future.
Risks that Can Be Avoided or Minimized
I don’t know anyone who wants to spend what could end up being more than half of their adult life living with one or two chronic diseases. Yet the CDC reports 78% of adults over 55 have at least one chronic health condition and nearly half have at least two. Clearly a strong majority of people are not adequately preparing for the healthiest future possible.
I don’t know anyone who wants to end up struggling financially as they age. But as reported in Ken Dychtwald’s and Robert Morison’s new book, What Retirees Want, the reality is the average sixty-year-old only has about $135,000 saved for retirement even though the average cost of retirement is estimated at about $1,000,000. Unless we belong to the 16% who still have a defined pension plan, we could be in serious financial trouble in the years ahead.
I don’t know anyone who wants to end up depressed, alone, and perhaps diagnosed with dementia. But folks, that’s a reality for a significant percentage of older adults.
The good news is that many of the risks ahead can either be avoided or minimized. How? We must be aware of the challenges and possibilities ahead, we need to be prepared, and we need to be daring enough to act.
If any of us were going to take a lengthy trip to an unfamiliar country, my guess is that we would do a significant amount of research. Our research might include talking to other people who have been where we were going. The same holds true for life beyond fifty. Trust me, life after fifty can feel like you have landed in an unfamiliar country. We will want to know everything you can about our journey.
Fortunately, there is a plethora of research, information, and other resources available to all of us on aging. So far, I’ve read hundreds of articles and research reports and at least 45 books on aging and retirement. If you don’t want to become a student of aging and retirement, check out some of the resources listed on my website menu: (https://boomerbestu.com)
Synthesizing what I’ve read so far, here are just some of the areas and issues that we need to be aware of as we look ahead:
- Importance of having a purpose
- Life-long learning and the cognitive benefit of past education
- New strengths and abilities that shine as we get older
- Aging today is different than when our grandparents were our age
- Overall health—maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, movement, stress management, health care, sleep, etc.
- Age discrimination and workplace challenges and opportunities for adults 50+
- Retirement realities (including the transition period after leaving a career)
- Likely physical changes and ways to adapt
- Financial management (including an estate and end-of-life planning)
- The need for social connections
- Family communication and changes
Vision: Based on our understanding of several areas and issues related to aging, we can start making realistic preparations for our future. Part of our preparation work is to develop a clear but fluid vision of what we want our best life to look like. For example, if we know that most adults 55+ develop at least one chronic health condition, part of our vision might include living a healthy lifestyle to minimize the risk of some diseases.
Plan: Once we have a vision of how we want to grow older, we need to start planning how we are going to make our vision a reality. If, for instance, we envision ourselves as being healthy for as long as possible, part of our plan would include steps we could take to become as healthy as possible. To become more aware of our own health habits, some of us have used health diaries to identify areas that need improvement. I personally like to keep track of actions I take that move me towards my ideal self.
Daring to Act
We must be bold and daring enough to take action—not action sometime in the future, but action today, now. Action is the hard part—we all tend to be creatures of habit. It’s going to take some accountability. Whether we choose to track progress in different areas, enlist family or friends to help us, or we use some other tools, we’ve got to keep working at becoming who we want to be in the future.