What will you do with your 100 year life?

Written by
Emma Birchall

06 Mar 2018

06 Mar 2018 • by Emma Birchall

When my grandmother was born in 1918 in Rangoon, Burma, average life expectancy was below 45 years of age. This year, she will celebrate her 100th birthday.

We’re living in a time of unprecedented gains in longevity. Around half of babies born today in advanced economies can expect to live to 100. And for other generations too, life will be far longer than our parents and grandparents.

Consider that if you were born in 1967, you have a 50% chance of reaching 91; and that if you were born ten years later this increases to 93.[1]

With this gift of longer life, comes the need to fundamentally rethink how we live and work. In particular, we will need to completely disrupt the traditional three-stage life that has defined us for generations. That is: education, work, and retirement.

Rethinking the three-stage life

Let’s start with retirement: These three stages worked well in previous generations when it was feasible to retire at 60 years of age with around a decade of leisure ahead of us. However, this simply doesn’t work if we are to live to 100. Few people can afford to, or will want to, spend 30 – 40 years in retirement. Instead, we need to be more thoughtful as individuals and organisations about how we build in opportunities for leisure and recuperation throughout our lives, rather than storing them all up for the final phase.

Next, work: living longer will surely mean working for longer – careers will extend into the 70s and possibly even 80s. However, the current ‘up-or-out’ culture in many organisations is not well suited to this reality. When careers become 50 year marathons rather than 30 year sprints, there must be flexibility to dial down as well as up, responsibility.

Finally, education: learning will need to become a life-long endeavour. Over our longer careers, we will experience more disruption to skill sets as we are increasingly augmented by technology. The ways in which we add value to organisations and within society, will continually shift. And we need to be ready to adapt in the moment. This calls on individuals and organisations to make learning a continuous endeavour and one in which we invest time and energy throughout our lives.

Join me at the Changeboard Future Talent Conference on 22 March 2018 to explore what you will do with your 100-year life.


[1] Human Mortality Database, University of California, Berkeley and Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Germany