Better health, increasing freedom, higher costs of housing, health care and for some of college, the scaling back of pensions and the uncertain future of social security, changing definitions of family responsibility and expectations, poor saving habits, lifting restrictions on age and retirement rules, fewer jobs and more independent contracting (we could go on) make a deliberate, honest and careful rethinking of our futures essential. Retirement (we need a new and better word) planning is essential.

There is much good news. Opportunities and choices that were not available are here and will be helpful. In addition, there are many of us. We are demographic bulge that continues to redefine, for ourselves, public attitudes and to introduce to respectability and broad acceptance new possibilities. Through change and accommodation of we will redefine the way forward for ourselves.

P. B. Baltes and J. Smith in a book entitled Toward a Psychology of Wisdom and its Ontogenesis  (1990) liken wisdom to a software achievement that culture uses to outwit biological limits.

And there is a need for wisdom. You can see evidence of that everywhere. Take a look, for example, at a cutting-edge book Trust Agents, Using The Web To Build Influence, Improve Reputation And Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julian Smith. You may be surprised by the “rediscovery” in this book of ideas for regaining trust and for building relationships. Old wine in new bottles. Sometimes you will find yourself asking “how can the authors not know that?” or “Isn’t that obvious?”.

The difference between them and us is experience. With experience comes wisdom. The challenge here and all around us is going to be bring together wisdom with the need for it. There is no doubt that “… in an age of increasing longevity and an unpredictable technological future, wisdom will be strongly needed.”

The hope is, that as Peter Senge in the Harvard Business Review recognized as long ago as 1997, that “Our responses [to the business challenges] may lead us, ironically, to a future based on more ancient — and more natural — ways of organizing communities of diverse and effective leaders who empower their organizations to learn with head, heart and hand.” This is a return to an older model of community, he writes, where traditional societies that gave equal respect to elders for their wisdom, to teachers for their ability to help people grow, and to warriors, weavers and growers for their life skills. Our new world of technology requires an abundance of, and proficiency in, wisdom, human relations skills, and sound judgment.

The work of Dr. Helen Harkness through Career Design directly reflects and integrates her own multidimensional career. She is a successful entrepreneur in business and investments, a former academic dean/provost, college professor and director of human services.

In this article we borrow heavily from Harkness with the intention of introducing her and her excellent book Don’t Stop the Career Clock: Rejecting the Myths of Aging for a New Way To Work in the 21st Century (1999). This book is an eyeopener. It blasts the negative beliefs and stereotypes of aging currently pervasive in our culture, shattering the myth that growing older automatically spells physical, mental, creative, and psychological decline. Written 10 years ago it issues that are all around us today, part of the social fabric.

One of Harkness’s themes is that we should be living a coherent life, one that involves having an identity, a story to tell. We should strive not to see ourselves as trapped, hurt, wounded victims, but to move and shift from that story to the present time, to a unified perspective on self and life. Those who arrive at retirement with conflicting internal and external identity pressures suffer the most ill effects.

Good examples of  Harkness’s presentations are available at:

The epilogue toDon’t Stop the Career Clock makes a series of particularly valuable points. Ponder this:

“As we move to the twenty-first century, from the brawn to the brainware era, a new breed, the free agent who can adapt and deal creatively with complexity and change, will thrive. To make this 180-degree shift at midlife, many must radically rethink their current beliefs about how to age and work.”

And here are some of Harkness’s more thought-provoking points:

  • Find your purpose and passion and pursue them.
  • Focus on active, functional aging by gaining insight into a new concept of time and aging and forgetting rigid chronological passive age.
  • Stay optimistic and maintain a sense of humor — age is much more a state of mind than a number of years.
  • Realize that life and work satisfaction based on meaning and motivation is a major factor in increasing longevity.
  • See the aging process as a positive time of continuing growth and ascent, focusing on our emerging freedom, options, and choices rather than the current popular image of decline, disarray, and decay.
  • Avoid the “victim” mentality and stay in control of your life as long as possible.
  • Distinguish your “glass balls,” which cannot be dropped without lasting, permanent damage, from the countless “rubber balls,” which are only clutter. Know that understanding yourself and your purpose will anchor you in this age of uncertainty.
  • Constantly ask meaningful and thoughtful “grail questions” to seek and sort out what is really happening in your life and in the world.
  • See aging and career planning as a continuing lifetime process.
  • Recognize that you have options and choices for aging successfully. Practice becoming adaptable, alert and active now and you will grow old that way.
  • Know that the creative spirit, far from declining with age, may actually gain in strength and vigor if you concentrate on doing what really matters to you.
  • Value and cultivate wisdom—the greatest gift of the human life cycle.
  • Live long, die fast. We will have an additional 20, even 30 healthy years: we will be “old-old” for a shorter period of time.
  • Remember that biological age responds to psychological age. For example, longevity studies reveal that job satisfaction is the most reliable indicator of low risk for heart attack.
  • Understand that staying youthful is not about staying chronologically young. The pursuit of youth blinds us to the possibilities of age.
  • Realize that aging is a lifetime “work in progress”: we learn how to grow older just as we learned how to grow up.
  • Know that the sense of community—the rootedness, belonging, and satisfaction we get from work we enjoy and where we live — is absolutely essential at any age.
  • Trust your instincts: beware the tyranny of conventional authority.

Working as you get older, especially if you become an entrepreneur or contractor, increases the significance and importance of different characteristics: