Creating a New Stage of Life Print E-mail
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Tom Murphy

Some say 60 is the new 30, but Marc Freedman takes a more existential view.

"Sixty is the new 60, and the sooner we realize that the sooner we'll realize what the new opportunities are," said the social entrepreneur who founded Civic Ventures, a San Francisco-based nonprofit known for helping boomers make the transition into "encore careers" in fields as varied as teaching, cooking or farming.

Freedman with a fan in Marin County. (RedwoodAge)

Freedman's latest book, The Big Shift, views this "shift" from a curious perspective: the notion that we need to recognize a new stage of life between mid-life and old age.

Just as society once learned to recognize adolescence, Freedman says we now need to acknowledge there are adults who have finished a career, but have a lot more living to do before they are anywhere near ready for retirement.

At a standing-room-only book reading in Marin County, California - the grayest of the Golden State's 58 counties - Freedman found a receptive audience for this concept. He noted how that contrasted with his experience a week earlier in New York's trendy Tribeca district, where only a half-dozen people showed only a passing interest.

But the message surely resonates with the myriads of  fifty-somethings who've found themselves dumped from careers during the great recession. For them, getting back onto the career track, even at a lower salary, may not be possible. Yet, at 55 or 58, they're still a long way from collecting Social Security checks or registering for Medicare. What to do?

The nation's 77  million boomers have started turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day, and we may be on the verge of  social movement in which this post-mid-life stage will become more obvious, even imperative. With political pressures mounting on the right to raise the age for retirement as high as 70, this transition phase could last 15 to 20 years or longer.

Positive Alternatives
Much has been said in recent years about how a "silver tsunami" or "age quake" will undermine the economic foundations of the American society. Some other authors have event predicted an economic Armageddon. But Freedman offers a more positive outlook, suggesting 10 steps that could help make this stage mutually beneficial to society and those of a certain age.

For example, a new stage of education or "gap years for grownups" could offer chances to learn new skills or pursue one's inner yearnings. He noted anecdotally that the number of divinity students over 50 has doubled in recent years as this graying cohort seeks the meaning of life.

Other ideas include the growth of Experience Corps, a concept promoted by Civic Ventures as a way to tap into the job skills and experience of pre-retirees in a way that benefits people of all ages.

While talk of cutting retirement benefits and Medicare threatens to touch off intergenerational warfare, Freedman's solutions are gauged more towards finding win-win solutions that create a symbiosis between the old and young. Instead of the bumper sticker that reads "I'm spending my child's inheritance," he suggests ones that read "I'm living my legacy."

Social movements of such a scale don't come often, but they tend to last. Freedman compared the rise of this life stage to the women's movement of  the 1960s.

"I think 30 years down the road, we'll feel the same way about this segment of the population," he said.