By Mark Clure, CFP®
What do Anthony Fauci, Betty White, and Warren Buffet have in common? Among other things, they each continue to work far beyond the traditional retirement age. They clearly love what they do and by rejecting what I call “the retirement ritual,” they have remained engaged and found the secret to a longer, happier, and healthier life.
Neuroscience agrees. In his book Affective Neuroscience, neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp notes that of the seven core emotions in the human brain (Seeking, Play, Lust, Care, Anger, Fear, and Panic/Grief), Seeking is the most significant. The Seeking System is responsible for our motivation, urge to explore, and yearning to understand. Additionally, the science also shows that seeking in and of itself, instead our accomplishment, is a key to satisfaction. Though the Rolling Stones couldn’t get satisfaction, they tried and they tried. It’s the striving that keeps us going.
But my 25 years as a financial advisor and Certified Financial Planner® indicate that the vast majority of us are following the path prescribed and broadcast by culture and tradition. Custom tells us to seek, strive, and create until we’re middle aged, and then coast, compromise, and disengage. It tells us to give up a lifetime of experience, wisdom, and influence and to shut down our seeking system. If we choose to follow cultural norms, we begin to run out the clock – life’s clock. “It’s the biggest waste of potential in the history of man,” says Mark Pace, founder of the Vital Longevity Institute.
Retirees often feel a loss of purpose and report an increase in anxiety and dissatisfaction. A 2019 survey of 1000 newly retired Londoners found that the words they most commonly used to describe their lifestyle were boring, lonely, and quiet. Not exactly the golden years we have imagined.
So how did we get here? It begins with an enormous misunderstanding of life expectancy and actuarial science.
In the U.S. today, life expecting at birth is 79.6 years. But that’s only relevant if you were born this year. The actual life expectancy for a 65-year-old is 85 years, and for selective demographics, it’s 98. That’s only the mid-point, half will live longer.
Indeed, studies by the Brookings Institute indicate a relationship between how long people think they will live and how long they actually do. Believing that you’ll live only until 80, for example, will influence retirement planning, asset accumulation, investment choices, and decisions about health. Buying into the retirement ritual will most certainly slow your seeking system and jump-start your mental and physical decline.
Expectation plays an enormous role in longevity. Clearly, there is a huge gap between expected and actual lifespan. The game of life is going to be played much longer than we think. The key will be to reset the clock rather than to run it out.
Ironically, we boomers have never listened to anyone. Why start now? Instead of running out the clock, how can we make the stretch from age 55 to age 85 the most productive years of our lives? Can we create an army of octogenarians being all they can be?
As I prepare to ask what you plan to do with an extra 5, 10, or 20 years, I can hear you saying, “I’ve seen 90, and I don’t want to go there.” Here’s what science says about physical and mental decline. You reach your physical peak at about age 40 and decline at about ½ % per year. If you take care of yourself, the decline can be reduced ¼ % per year, translating to a 15% decline over the 60 years from age 40 to 100.
The 3 components to mental capacity are cognitive capacity (which plateaus between ages 40-45), experience, and wisdom. Less is known about cognitive decline, but keeping active and intellectually stimulated has been shown to reduce its trajectory. Because experience and wisdom continue to grow, expect mental capacity to continue to grow as you age if you continue to engage your seeking system. There is no reason that we won’t maintain 85% of our peak performance all the way to age 100.
So, how do you create a longer, healthier, and happier life? Here are the keys:
Invest in yourself. Be a lifelong learner, including unlearning some of what you already have learned. Don’t think old. Invest in your health. It’s funny that it’s difficult to convince someone who is adding $2,000 per month to a retirement plan to spend $100 per month on their health. Invest in your ideas – write that book, explore South America, start a business or non-profit.
Have a sense of your life’s purpose. Purpose inspires a positive outlook, improves your resilience, and has been shown to add seven years to your life. Need help getting started? Visit www.TrueWealthGuide.net for a step-by-step guide to finding your purpose and unlocking your potential.
Reconsider retirement. You get to choose when you retire, but evaluate what adding years of earnings will do for your economic engine. Perhaps repurpose yourself, and then, why retire at all?
Lastly, pay attention to your pace. In her soon to be re-released inspirational book, Summit, successful Everest climber Laurie Bagley advises us to manage our mental and physical resources. “Going too fast in the beginning phases of moving towards a goal, can lead to burnout. But if your pace is too slow, the possibility of losing motivation can occur and stop your progress.” Great advice from somebody who has been there.
About the Author: Mark Clure, CFP®
Mark Clure, CFP®, is a principal at Enso Wealth Management. Clure offers the Financial Guide Service (www.truewealthguide.net/FinancialService) to clients in California and points beyond.