Graduating to older life is cause for celebration
Recently I gave the commencement address to the Class of 2017 at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. I was struck by the looks of eager anticipation as they waited for me to finish up so they could receive their coveted, hard-earned degrees and get on with whatever would come next.
In my remarks, I encouraged the students to seek and celebrate opportunities that would manifest in many forms and stressed the importance of developing life-long habits that would contribute to their career and, by extension, to their financial well-being. Many of the students were of what would be considered traditional graduation age, some were not.
Graduation celebrations at any age mark the beginning of a new life phase. Graduations are happy, forward-looking celebrations. I like that idea so I’ve decided that I’m not going to celebrate birthdays anymore. Rather, I’m going to mark the annual event as a graduation to my next year. I’m going to celebrate graduating to being older.
Just as graduation from college is a milestone event that prompts actions such as concentrated attention on career and financial planning, graduating to being older can prompt actions such as ensuring retirement and estate plans are in order and that decisions are intentional and focused on building financial, social, and family well-being. Graduating to being older can involve identifying your bucket list, gifting strategies, legacy planning and much more.
Ashton Applewhite’s book and blog, “This Chair Rocks,” provides some thoughtful insights into the political, societal, economic and other aspects of being older. She also dispels some myths — such as how older people disproportionately draw on financial and other resources that are then limited for those who are younger. I heard Ashton speak at a conference on aging I attended last year and her ideas on policy and attitudinal changes are compelling.
A few years ago I watched my granddaughter at the tender age of 10 interacting with a friend of mine who was in his 80s. “You’re cute,” he said to her at one point. “So are you,” she replied. Nowhere were the words “for your age” uttered by either of them. It didn’t matter.
In my work helping clients with their financial and elder life plans, I’m reminded by her example to listen attentively, hold them in high regard, respect their life’s journeys and help them be intentional about their decisions regardless of age. Some come ready to retire; some are many years away from it. Some are in post-traditional work years and living a great second act of productivity in volunteer or reduced work capacities. Some are enjoying a period of relaxation after many years of building financial reserves. All, regardless of chronological age, are graduating to being older. That is the inevitable; we might as well embrace it.