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The 100-year life – who wants to work forever?

Well – maybe we should!

I have just read ‘The 100-year life’ by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott.  It is a fascinating read.

Here are some of the salient, if somewhat scary facts:

  • A child born after 2014 has an estimated 50% chance of living to be 100.

  • We are not saving enough for our financial retirement.

  • We are not upskilling enough for a changing workplace.

  • We are not building enough intangible assets (well-being, self-knowledge and transformative skills) to support the development of our tangible assets (skills, knowledge and experience).


But DON’T STOP READING - it’s exciting too.  More time means more opportunities.

If you can get work to work, why wouldn’t you work forever?


Redefining life and careers.

Phases and stages vs ages.

The traditional model of career was one of learn, earn and retire. If you were born anywhere between 1950 and 1970, the chances are that this was your road map for a successful life and career.  Get educated, get a job, get rich (or a rich as you can) and then retire.  Generations after this are coming to realise that, if we are to live to 100, this model will not work. They will have to work longer, but hopefully work better. 

So what better model is there?

There are many, but one that I particularly like is the 4 Quarters Life model as proposed by Avivah Wittenburg-Cox .   She outlines four quarters to our longer lives:

Quarter 1 -  Growth (0- 24 yrs).

Here we move from infant to adolescent to young adult.  We grow physically, mentally and emotionally.  Ready to face the ‘big bad world’.

Quarter 2 - Achieve (26- 49 yrs).

Here we focus on building relationships, families and career.  Often referred to as ‘adulting’, by today’s generation. It’s the transition to some form of independence. Achievement is a constant thread underlining this quarter.

Quarter 3 – Becoming (50 – 74yrs).

Interestingly this is what the author refers to as a ‘new piece in our longer life puzzle’.  It is a kind of part two to an extended Q2, but more reflective and explorative in nature.  There are opportunities for new lives and ‘other selves’ to be experienced at this time.

Quarter 4 – Harvesting (75 yrs +).

This can be a time of ‘generativity, legacy and giving back’.  Or not!  The author argues that we ‘reap what we sow’ . A meaningful life in this quarter is very much influenced by our pursuits and intentions in previous quarters.

You can find more detail on this in her article 4 Quarters Life.

Reflecting on the combination of the 4 Quarter Life and the philosophy of the 100-year life, I find it useful to think of ‘phases’ within these stages.  Namely three:

A productive phase.

An explorative phase.

A restorative phase.

Not everyone necessarily goes through each phase, nor are the phases chronological.  But the importance of each phase is very pertinent to a longer life span.

The Productive Phase.

This is where we build, what Gratton and Scott refer to as, tangible assets.

We acquire new knowledge, develop our skills, build our contacts and make our money.  Traditionally know as ‘work’!  But even this is changing as we might choose between working for others in organisational life or being an independent producer, or indeed, shift between the two.  As there is less loyalty to organisations and no guarantee of a job for life, the role of the independent producer is becoming more appealing and more common.

The independent producer is about seeking work/customers rather than seeking a job.  Traditionally this has been more prevalent later in career or post-retirement as witnessed by the growing number of 55+ starting their own business.  But increasingly it is becoming the modus operandi for those starting out on their career.  A rising number of 18 – 30 are thriving in this stage. 

For the independent producer, reputation and exposure is everything.  Hence the importance of social media and engagement.  Building curating and broadcasting their capabilities is crucial for independent producers’.   In moving from the stage of independent producer to mainstream corporate life – employers can see them and their capabilities.  This will blend with new types of work and working contracts.

The Explorative Phase.

This is all about exploring options and possibilities.  This is where we build, what the authors refer to as, intangible assets. We are finding out about ourselves, what we like and what might be possible.  It is a playful time AND it is a very important time.  Typically coming in spurts in adolescence, early career, mid-career and post work, as we work out ‘who we are’ and ‘what we want’. 

Traditionally this phase has been most prevalent at mid-career (career change) and post career (retirement).  But interestingly, more and more it is becoming prevalent, and useful, at an earlier stage.

As the authors argue:  maybe we should re consider “the assumption that in our 20s we are meant to go immediately from schooling into a career. In the 100-year life we should consider taking a period of our 20s and dedicating it to a new stage, exploration”.


So perhaps we should rethink our thoughts on Millennials and Gen Y if we are frustrated by their navel gazing and apparent lackadaisical attitude to work!  

They are the first generation to acknowledge the 100-year life and the need to embrace a new model to succeed in it.  To embrace different stages.  Yes, they will have to work longer, but they can work better.  Periods of productivity and periods of exploration.  Building tangible and intangible assets.  Work as a way of life rather than a means to an end.

My eldest has just graduated.  Herself and several of her classmates have all negotiated 4 day working weeks so that they ‘can have a life’ as well as a career.  

The Restorative Phase.

This is when we build the resources that we need to keep the other two phases going. This is nicely phrased by the authors as ‘vitality assets'.  This phase is about building networks and investing in physical and mental well-being.

Traditionally we might have referred to this as work life balance.  But it’s a little bit more nuanced than that.  It’s more than just chill time at the end of a busy week.  It is about well-being.  About caring for our mind, our body and our sense of connection to ourselves and others.  Think of the analogy of switching from a fuel driven car to electric.  The electric option is better, but it needs re charge.

What’s important about this phase, is the intentionality of it.  It may well run alongside the productive phase as we become aware of the dangers of burnout, and the need to manage stress and focus on well-being.  Even the ‘corporates’ have bought into the sense of well- being at work.  It may be that at later stages of life (our Q3 and Q4) we need more focus on this stage.  To keep the mind and body well for all the stuff we still want to do.  


Enter the Portfolio Career.

The wonderful teacher and author Charles Handy first talked about ‘the portfolio career’ in his book  The Empty Raincoat.

He advised his children to look for ‘customers’, not jobs.  Find something that you like doing, get really good at it and then find someone who will pay you for it.

A typical portfolio work week might look like this:

A couple of days of paid work, maybe one day working in the community, one day developing a hobby and one day on ‘home’ work or a side hustle.  Similarly, the portfolio stage might see a scenario of working for 9 months of the year and exploring for the other 3 months.

Of course, in the real world, it's not always that easy.  There is the rent to be paid, the children to be fed and a boss to keep happy.  But if we play the long game, embrace the 100-year life, then the portfolio career allows for us to do different things at different times and create or embrace different ‘selves’.

Traditionally the portfolio career has been most common in the later stages of career (eg retirement).  But can be at any stage.  Charlie Rogers of Mastery in your 20s  has created a whole community of young people who are pursuing a ‘multi-potentialites’ view of work and life.  



Why does all of  this matter?

In a longer life, multiphase career, what we do is more important than the age we are.

A first-time father at 50 has more in common with a 32-year-old mum juggling work life balance, than their peer at 56 who is contemplating retirement.  An empty nester at 62 setting up business has more in common with a 26-year tech grad launching a new app, than their retired colleague who is travelling the world post-work.

This is good news because what we do vs how old we are will help us find our tribe.

We need purpose at EVERY stage of our lives.  And because our lives are longer, we need to continually ‘re-purpose’.

I quote from the authors of The 100 Year Life:

“Our need for fulfilment and purpose in what we do has more importance to our sense of well-being than ever before.
Humanity at its beginning in pre-agricultural revolutionary times had a very simple and clearly defined life plan; stay alive and reproduce, and help others do the same.
There was no concern about deciding what to do with your life, no time you felt was wasted in dead end jobs, no existential crisis of identity and meaning. The trade-off of course was that survival was hard and life was often dangerous and short.”

But that is not our life now.  We need meaning for the extra life bestowed on us by the prospect of a 100 year life.


What should I do, what could I do ?

So thank you, if you are still reading and not put off by the prospect of ‘working’ forever!


There is of course great news in all of this.  A multiphase, varied staged career allows for much opportunity when not shackled with the constraints of traditional boundaries.


But it requires a new set of skills and a rethink on our attitude.


In their book the 100-year life, the authors highlight two key skills, which I would totally endorse:


1.    Self-awareness.  Knowing stuff about yourself is not actually that easy.  It doesn’t always come naturally, and it needs a bit of effort.  As periods of ‘exploration’ are keys to the 100-year life, then we need this skill.  (more on this in an earlier blog )


2.    Transformative skills . Quite simply this means our ability to be open to change, to embrace change and to manage ourselves through change.  People don’t often think of this as a skill, but it really is a career superpower if you can develop it. (more on this in an earlier blog


To conclude:

Redefining work and career is at the core of the 100-year life.  (link to last blog).

Young people entering the workplace today will have a new way of looking at work and career.  They will value stops and re starts and times of re learning and recreation.  Yes, working longer, but hopefully working better.  They can have several careers in a lifetime.

Career redefined is one which accounts for stages and phases, irrespective of age.

If work is working, why wouldn’t you work forever?


Thanks for reading.


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