Not Just the Future of Work… the Future of Life

Imagine living past 100…say, to 122. Now imagine doing it with your favorite drink in your hand, laughing with your friends, and making profitable business deals (true story). With each generation, super-long life is increasingly likely. The numbers beg the question: So how do we avoid what the Japanese call “death from overwork” (karoshi) and instead enjoy this long future?

For these big questions, I look to brilliant scientists for possible answers. So I was
(super-professionally) giddy to introduce Dr. Laura Carstensen at Stanford’s Redesigning & Redefining Work conference, and to hear her ideas about how we might work – and thrive – at different stages of our ever-longer lives.

Dr. Carstensen is the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, whose mission is no less than to “redesign long life.” What does that mean? Well,  people in the developed world are now living an average of 30 years longer than they did a century ago. But our culture is still set up for the lifespan – and work styles – of the past (sigh). We’re expected to devote the first 22 or so years of our lives almost entirely to education, followed by approximately 40 years of solid, nose-to-the-grindstone work and – if we’re lucky – 15 to 20 years of leisure.

But combine increasingly longer lifespans with changes to how, where, and when we’re expected to work, and it becomes clear that the old paradigm no longer fits. Instead, says Dr. Carstensen, we need to reimagine a more “blended” future in which work, leisure, and education weave together throughout life. (Here’s where I forgot to breathe from excitement: Wait, I built a business with that same framework!)

The data makes it clear: Generating creative ideas requires rest and leisure, and ongoing education is critical to staying relevant in our fast-changing economy. The new model also offers a smart, more sustainable – and frankly enjoyable – way of living:

The long, lovely, blended life

It’s this notion of the blended life that informs everything we do at Forshay. We believe that we’re more than our work selves; both play and learning are fundamental to who we are. And the more we can be our complete and authentic selves, the better we can be in our work – and in the rest of our lives.

So how do all these ideas translate into how we do business – or how you might think about your own work and life over time? Well, what if work were a stream that changed as you aged? Would it be longer, narrower? Would there be islands, locks, tributaries, periods of faster and slower current? What if you didn’t think about retirement as a defined event?

Seeking a roadmap for the transformation of work (and life)

It’s clear that we need new models for work, and that, whether we approach it consciously or not, work will look vastly different in 30 or 40 years. But how do we get there from here?

There are models that show what’s possible. In Canada, for example, schoolteachers can opt to stretch four years’ salary over five years, taking the fifth year off. Or, if you’re a designer for iconic rock stars’ albums (OK, there are possibly fewer of these than there are teachers), you could take a year off every seven years. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you do… taking occasional sabbaticals to go back to school, travel, raise kids, or care for aging parents is part of life, and can be looked at through a more modern lens.

What can you change in the pace and quality of your work to avoid burnout – and ensure you are not waiting to enjoy the full richness of life until retirement? And better yet, if we keep doing work that engages us, stimulates us, and helps others… what are we retiring from?

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