A tsunami of aging Boomers

At the end of the 2nd World War the returning soldiers caused a boom in the number of babies being born worldwide. That generation of babies (The Baby-Boomers) started retiring 3 years ago. Over the next 12 years about 200 million of us will retire in the Western world – and because of modern medicine, most of us will live into our 80s and 90s.

The financial impact of the retiring Boomers is going to be felt directly in Medical Aids and Pension Funds. Less directly, in world economies as a whole, as our skills are taken out of circulation and our contribution to the “bottom line” stops. What the social impact of that aging population will be has yet to be measured, but the effect of aging parents and still-living grand-parents on today’s 30 year olds, who also have their own kids to look after, is likely to be enormous.

However, all of this is based on an image of Retirement as our opportunity to “sit back” and enjoy our Twilight years. What if instead, we looked at retirement and old age in different ways.

As our Wisdom years – we’ve experienced and learned a lot in our 45 adult years – how to relate to people, how to take responsibility for our lives, how to balance the books at the end of every month, how to live with a partner and raise kids, how to dream and how to fail, how to get back up and how to make things happen. There’s some serious value in that wisdom!

As our Contemplative years – for the first time we don’t have to obsess about school fees, about taking the next step up the corporate ladder, about our status and keeping up with the Jones’. We can pause for a moment (or a day or a week) to consider the meaning of our life.

As our Eldering years – we can put our Ego aside, we no longer have to be the centre of the universe and we don’t have to watch our Ps and Qs. So we can sit at the right hand of tomorrow’s movers and shakers and we can hold the question “….. but should we?” We can frack the Karoo, “…. but should we?” We can buy a R4bn airplane, “….but should we?”

As our Service years – whether for payment or not, we have the opportunity to give of ourselves. There is considerable concern about how society is going to care for the coming tsunami of aging Boomers. But why are we waiting for someone else to come up with solutions; what can we do to care for the sick, the frail and the lonely, what can we do to ease the strain on single parents, what can we do to guide the youth, what can we do to make a difference in somebody’s world?

As our Gratitude years – have we said “thank you” yet? To those who made our lives a little easier, to those who got in our way so we had to come up with new ways, to those who brought us joy, to those who brought us pain so we had to learn to endure. Our gratitude makes us easier to live with and to care for – so we can be masters of our own destiny until death do us part.

And what’s with this obsession about staying young – everywhere you look there is some new product, medication or procedure that will stop me aging. Why wouldn’t I want to age? Would a 30 year old want to be 15 again – can you remember how self-conscious you were, can you remember some of the dumb things you wish you hadn’t said.

Would a 50 year old want to be 30 again – working long hours to impress the boss, going days without a decent night’s sleep because the kids are sick, worrying about how you were going to pay the bills this month?

So why would a 65 year old want to be 50? Terrified that every twinge is the start of the long downhill slide into decrepitude, that your dreams have just been dreams, that the answer to your mid-life crisis is a Harley?

Yes the financial impact of the retiring Boomers will be great – but if we start to see our old-age years as an opportunity rather than a death sentence, then our impact can be massively positive.

Getting old is like getting to the top of the mountain – you have a big view and can see the lie of the land. At last we can be who we are – and who we are is enough. At last we can do what feeds our soul – and not have to be a slave to The Man.

And anyway, who wants to listen to One Direction and Miley, when we had the Doors, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix?

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