It’s an uninformed and inaccurate assumption to think about the period between age 50 and elderly as one single period. It’s as naïve as assuming all boomers are alike, needing and wanting the same things at the same time. It is naïve because it sets us up to be surprised and less adaptable when change —voluntary and involuntary —arrives.
The period between age 50 and elderly is best described as three overlapping periods, not defined by age. They are defined by life situation, and different people arrive at them at different ages and from different circumstances.
The first of these periods, New Freedom, often begins with becoming empty nesters around age 50, totally unaccustomed to the new discretionary space, income, time and possibilities.
It’s an individual experience, so age is not an absolute predictor of this period in our lives. It also includes people whose career ambitions are significantly met so that their relationship to work and ambition has been modified. They stop being consumed by their work like a man who looks up and suddenly realizes — to his surprise — that different priorities are emerging.
The reverse is also true. Someone who has stayed at home for decades when suddenly faced with freedom may want to consider exploring options. Discretionary life space is suddenly available. Priorities shift. It can take some getting used to
People in this period often find themselves at least temporarily disoriented by having or taking additional time, space, and planning after years of incessant commotion and action. It is kind of like pushing on a rock for years and it suddenly moves, changing all assumptions.
Period 2: New Horizons
The second of these periods, New Horizons, usually begins after New Freedom has been around for a while and we’re comfortable with having some open, uncommitted life space. New Horizons involves greater focus and clarity about where we want to take the freedom, what we’re curious about, how we want to spend our energy and how we’re going to move into being good at this new phase of life.
Period 3: New Simplicity
The third period, New Simplicity, is that period when we decide we don’t want (and maybe cannot handle) so many complicating things in our lives. Large houses and their maintenance; too many relationships that don’t nurture us; excessive volunteer commitments that used to be meaningful but aren’t anymore; physical clutter we’ve held onto for too long and dreams and intentions that no longer hold appeal or punch for us.
Surprises and Curves Happen
There will always be straightaways and surprise curves on our life’s roadway, sometimes a hairpin turn and sometimes a switchback and sometimes a road so straight and clear that it’s obvious why no speed limit is required. Like it or not, we’re all in a transition. We’re all pioneers.
Imagine you just stepped off a sailing ship onto a beach with a large rock. You don’t know the territory. You don’t know the culture. You don’t know the topography. You don’t know the rules. What you already know and have experienced may or may not be applicable and useful.
How do you find out? You pioneer your way through transition after transition. This is increasingly what our world between 50 and elderly will require.
Text based on How Do I Get There From Here? Planning for Retirement When the Old Rules No Longer Apply by George H. Schofield, Ph.D.