In the 20th century, we added more years to our average life span than in the previous 1,000 years.
In a single short span of human history, the length of time we have to live has doubled. Most babies born today in the world's developed countries can expect to live to at least 100 years old. If you're already an adult and in good shape, you have a good chance of living into your 90s.
We have more "extra time" on our hands than we realize, and here's why that matters.
Ever since the Industrial Revolution, we've been conditioned to run on life's treadmill, to put our heads down and be busy all the time. As Maureen Gaffney, author of Your One Wild and Precious Life: An Inspiring Guide to Becoming Your Best Self at Any Age, the period between the age of 20 and 60 has become known as "the rush hour of life," where we find a career and establish yourself on the ladder, find a life partner, settle down and start a young family.
But then, once that period is over, you encounter all the challenges associated with what society calls "middle age."
The problem is that we insist on cramming all the "main events" into a third of our lives, ignoring how much longer we still have to live. And this strategy no longer works in a nonlinear world.
Suppose we could characterize the 21st century as a long, straight, predictable single-lane road with three exits (education, career, and retirement). In that case, the 21st century is a multi-lane highway with overlapping lanes, full of exits and intersections. The "map" we used for so long to navigate the highway is no longer of use to us.
And here's why:
Living longer introduces a nonlinear concept of time. As Lynda Gratton writes, "we're younger for longer and older much later." We have more time to experiment and explore business, life, and career options in early life. And this pushes out all the other traditional life "stages" to start and end later.
In a long life, young adulthood now starts when you're in your early 30s and lasts until your late 40s. Middle age can be redefined as lasting into your late 70s, and being "old" doesn't really happen until your 80s.
The real gift of a longer life is that it allows us to tear off the chains of linear thinking, an outdated philosophy that says we must do certain things at a particular stage of life before time runs out. As my friend Daniel Vassallo recently tweeted, "Life is a discovery process, not a compounding game."
Free of those chains, we can rethink and reimagine our entire journey in many different ways to step off the beaten path, explore, discover, make new friends, and start new projects - at any age.
Die young as late as possible and remind yourself that, in the words of George Elliot, "It's never too late to be what might have been."
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