What does work look like for you in The Age of Longevity?

For those of us born in the West today, living to 100 will be the norm not the exception — how does this affect our relationship to work?

Laurence McCahill
8 min readNov 16, 2021

“If we operate with a belief in long sweeps of time, we build cathedrals. If we operate from fiscal quarter to quarter, we build ugly shopping malls.” Stephen Nachmanovitch

In their 2016 book The 100-Year Life psychologist Lynda Gratton and economist Andrew Scott paint a picture of the changing landscape of work as we live longer.

Many of us have been raised on the traditional idea of a three-stage approach to our work lives which goes like this:

Education > Work > Retirement

However this well-known pathway is already beginning to collapse — life expectancy is rising, pensions are vanishing and increasing numbers of people are juggling multiple careers.

Whether you are 18, 45 or 60, you will need to do things very differently from previous generations and learn to structure your life in completely new ways.

Gratton and Scott’s work – including their follow-up The New Long Life – is a wake-up call to prepare us for what to expect, considering the choices and options that each of us will face in the coming decades. Not to mention the growing uncertainty that pandemics and climate change will have on the way we live.

At the heart of their work is the concept of human ingenuity, where rather than being passengers, we’re called to become social pioneers in order to make the most of new technologies and longer, healthier lives.

However this means navigating a new life story – where we explore by learning and transitioning, and connect more deeply to others, but also to ourselves.

This means thinking more like a designer. Where you are more intentional about your work and life – treating it like a design project – rather than reactive to whatever comes your way.

Illustration by the wonderful Ayse Birsel

A fundamental redesign of life

Whilst this process will be gradual — it has already been going on at the edges for many years (just ask any entrepreneur or freelancer) — it will culminate in a social and economic revolution.

Just as technology and globalisation have transformed the way we live, so the changes needed to make the most of a 100-year life will do the same.

Here’s how:

  • 👴🏾 People will work into their 70s… or even 80s – If you live to 100, save 10% of your income and want to retire on 50% of your final salary you’ll need to work into your 80s.
  • 📚 There will be new opportunities and skills – all of which will require re-learning and re-skilling.
  • 💰 Money will be important, but not the most important resource – family, friendships, mental health and happiness will become even more crucial as we live longer.
  • 👩🏼‍💻 Life will become multi-staged having 2 or 3 careers will be standard over a lifetime. Often this will look like one where you maximise your finances and work long hours; another where you balance work with family, or want to position your life around jobs that make a strong social contribution.
  • 𝌡 Transitions will become the norm – when life morphs from three stages to multiple stages, there will be more transitions. This means being flexible, acquiring new knowledge, exploring new ways of thinking, letting go of old ties and building new networks.
  • 🧪 New stages will emerge – these new stages create an opportunity to experiment, to build the life you want. Just like teenagers and retirees are relatively new stages of life constructed in the last century.
  • 🌱 Re-creation will be more important than recreation – and the need to invest in shifting identities as you take on new roles. There’ll be less focus on consumption and leisure, and more on investment — in skills, health and relationships — and re-invention.

The growing importance of intangible assets

Tangible assets such as housing, cash or savings in the bank have a physical existence and so tend to be relatively simple to measure and define. Which is why they are so attractive to measure our life by — they are an easy metric.

Intangible assets on the other hand such as friends and family, physical and mental health and skills and knowledge, lack this obvious physical existence which creates challenges in how they are measured.

However this group of assets will become much more crucial in a multi-stage life.

There are 3 distinct categories of intangible assets:

🎓 Productive assets e.g learning

These help us become productive and successful at work and boost our income. Whilst skills and knowledge are clearly important, it also includes access to peers and the development of our reputation or personal ‘brand’.

📈 Vitality assets e.g wellbeing

Broadly these capture mental and physical health and wellbeing – friendships, positive family relationships and partnerships, as well as personal fitness and health. Studies suggest that high stocks of vitality assets are a key component of a good life.

🌍 Transformational assets e.g community

Across a 100-year life people will experience great change and many transitions. These transformational assets refer to their self-knowledge, their capacity to reach out into diverse networks and their openness to new experiences.

Wall of participants at Happy Startup Summercamp

Witnessing this at first hand

Our community at The Happy Startup School is full of these social pioneers. Since my co-founder and I set out on this path almost a decade ago we’ve seen a growing movement of forward-thinking individuals around the world start to make this transition.

Each of them are taking control of their own life story and futures, exploring by learning and growing, and in turn connecting deeply to one another. All bound together through a desire to find more balance, in the pursuit of work that lights them up and positively impacts the world around them.

At times it feels like we are on a collective curiosity quest to better understand what constitutes a long, happy life.

What this might mean for you

💰 Money

Many people see the financing of a long life as a curse. Whether that is to do with a lack of knowledge or because the rewards of doing this are typically felt far away – preparing for the future means transferring money from today. So it’s no wonder that the thought of finances can cause anxiety, especially where there are complex questions to answer.

Appropriate financial planning depends on both efficacy and agency:

  • Efficacy – which is about competency and requires us to answer questions such as ‘How long do I want to work for?’ and ‘How much do I need to live on?’
  • Agency – having the self-control to act on this knowledge, thereby balancing current needs with future needs.

⏳ Time

Many knowledge workers in particular are working longer hours than ever before, with less work-life balance than previous generations. This means there is less time for family and friends, side projects and other leisure pursuits.

The future will bring more flexibility and autonomy, where we focus less on leisure and downtime, but more on up-skilling through learning and growth opportunities.

© Susan Pinker

🤝 Relationships

A fascinating study of tens of thousands people by researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad — made famous in this TED talk — came to some surprising conclusions about our chances of living a long and happy life.

It turns out that it’s not from having the right genes, vast wealth or even the healthiest lifestyle, but rather having deep relationships, and regular interactions, with others each day.

The evidence is clear — invest in your relationships, starting today. Your future self will thank you for it.

Question cards from our 20/20 Vision program

Some questions to ask yourself

1. What would your 70, 80 or 100-year old self think of you now?

Can you be sure that the decisions you are making now will stand up to the scrutiny of your future self?

2. What is the point of work, for you?

As the three-stage working life becomes a thing of the past, we need to consider ways of redesigning life so that a longer working life becomes a gift that is energising, creative and fun rather than a necessarily evil. How can you learn to make the transitions that will be so crucial and experiment with new ways of living, working and learning?

3. How can you sustain yourself?

What are the most effective ways of boosting your physical and mental health over a longer and more dynamic lifespan? How can you nurture or grow your intangible assets — such as family, friends and networks — as you build a productive, longer life?

4. What learning and growth opportunities excite you?

What activities would you want to do even if you weren’t paid? What areas of interest, or new beginnings, are exciting you and keep gnawing away at you? What could you invest in now that might benefit your future self whether education, relationships or experiences?

5. And the biggest question of all…who are you?

When lives are short, the concept of who you are develops without a great deal of insight of transformation. Yet when lives are long, what is the thread that connects the many transitions a person goes through? What is it that remains essentially you? How can you carve out a career and life path that defines you and your values?

“Work is love made visible.” Khalil Gibran

Life is short. Or is it?

We’ll never know whether we’ll live to 100. But we can certainly start thinking now about what life we might want to step into as we grow older.

I believe work can be wonderfully rewarding and a way for us to share our deepest passions and beliefs with others. Health permitting I never want to retire fully because I’ll always want to create things, teach and learn, and guide and connect others.

This isn’t based on an assumption that I’m going to live for another 50 years, but on the basis that it could all end tomorrow.

🚀 Craft a new story for you and your work on Vision 20/20

A group coaching program where over 20 weeks together you’ll work on your excite strategy for the next decade and start making inroads towards a new vision for your work or business. Now accepting applications for our next cohort at https://vision.happystartups.co



Laurence McCahill

Designer, coach, entrepreneur. Co-founder The Happy Startup School.