A Story for 8,000 Days

How would you spend 8,000 days?  Joseph F. Coughlin, Ph.D., the founder and director of the MIT AgeLab, has reframed the understanding of our lifespan by reducing it to a common denominator: a day.  He conjectures that from birth to college is approximately 8,000 days, college to midlife another 8,000 days, midlife to retirement 8,000 days and retirement to death a final 8,000 days. 

Using Dr. Coughlin’s model let’s discuss these life stages.  We can write a story for each stage.  The birth-to-college stage is all about growth both literally and figuratively.  College-to-midlife is about establishment of lifestyle and careers.  Midlife-to-retirement is stability and accumulation.  The essence of these stages has changed little throughout generations.  Stage four, retirement-to-death has changed dramatically in this generation.  Many of us are living longer, healthier lives. 

Ask a high school freshman what he or she will be doing at age 45. They barely know what classes they need, let alone what life will look like in 11,300 days.  And those of us who have achieved that goal will tell you that their life has no resemblance to their 14-year-old version.  I was going to be an artist.  I do occasionally pick up a paintbrush, but mostly to paint walls.  We are constantly rewriting the story of our life.

So why is stage four any different?  Can you envision your retirement?  A non-scientific poll of my friends and acquaintances tells us that family time, travel, gardening and golf are the most popular.  When pressed, they add volunteering and part-time employment.  According to Dr. Coughlin’s count, you have just spent 24,000 days growing, learning, striving and accumulating for this phase.  Broaden your horizons! You have 8,000 days!  One friend came to the shocked realization that she is planning a quarter of her life.  She decided she would take photography classes, file for social security and travel, capturing the world in images. 

My friend is writing a new story.  She’s looking at her time, her ability, and her resources, writing a story to suit her.  Many people delay retirement because they can’t imagine not working. So don’t stop, rewrite.  Don’t consider retirement an end, but a new story, with many exhilarating chapters to be written.  Set up an outline of your story; structure your stages two and three to move seamlessly to stage four. Talk to your financial planner.  A good planner can be your story’s financial editor, suggesting the enhancements that could make your story truly compelling.              

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