Approaching retirement early in the 21st Century

The world has changed dramatically in the last 20-30 years since the time our parents started retiring, and is totally different from the world that existed in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the concept of retirement was first widely implemented. As people are living longer healthier lives, the thought of 3 decades of leisure during retirement is not that appealing, especially to the active, progressive Baby Boomer generation facing retirement in the next 5-10 years.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are a unique generation.  They have pioneered new ideas and movements their entire lives, including growing up in the suburbs, working women, sexual freedom and unmatched prosperity, and they are now the first group of adults to enjoy a long healthy, active, non-child bearing season of adult life. Boomers are the group born between 1946 and 1964 who lived their teen years in the 1960s and 70s. These years were filled with causes and revolution, the witnessing of the assassinations of leaders, widespread protests and the development of the civil rights movement. Viewing these events and realizing that the world was not working, helped to shape this group into the world changers they are today.

Boomers have a deep desire to make a difference in the world. They also tend to be competitive and ambitious. Boomers have worked hard with passion and commitment during their careers, but are now questioning the lasting value of the outcomes they have achieved. Boomers have acquired both prosperity and position as signs of their success. By in large, as a result, Boomers have not had the discretionary time they would have liked as they needed to work so hard for their success and now feel they want time to make a difference in the wider world. Many seeking meaningful ways to make a contribution in the years ahead and to leave a legacy.

How the world has changed

Modern medicine has extended people’s life spans dramatically. While HIV and Aids are wreaking havoc with South Africa’s age expectancies, people living without the disease can expect to live longer than their parent’s generation.

The world has also become ‘flatter’, in other words, the playing fields have been levelled as individuals now have more access to opportunities through a proliferation of technological advances.  These include the personal computer, fibre-optic cabling, while the rise of Windows powered PCs has enabled individuals to create and share content with anyone in the world. Technology has also totally transformed the world of work with work-flow software, supply-chain management, outsourcing and sharing of information, all of which has enabled broader collaboration on projects.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, the release of Nelson Mandela and the riots at Tiananmen Square in China all occurring within 8-months of 1989 have all brought about a political change in the world.  Today, power has shifted to a large degree from governments and companies to individuals who now have the power to organise themselves and oppose systems and regimes that don’t abide by accepted norms.


The Boomer generation has approached midlife after 30 years of hard work in their careers. They are taking a look around and questioning their lives and their meaning. As their engagement with corporate work declines over the next few years, Boomers will need to decide what to do next. But the good news is that this new season could be a time of liberation and exploration, finding out what they have always wanted to do and having the time, energy and resources to do it.

No other group in history has ever had a non-childrearing period in their adult lives where they are free to pursue their dreams, while still healthy and wealthy enough to do so. This is a time to explore and discover the meaningful and productive roles and activities that you would like to pursue in the 20-30 mid-life years ahead of you before resting in your old age – and the options are as diverse as you are.

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