What do you want to be when you grow up?

by Joseph F. Coughlin

What do you want to be when you grow up? Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and of course, parents, ask this question of tikes, teens, and today’s graduates. Not a bad, or incorrect question, but it is incomplete.

Longevity demands we change the question and rethink the possible answers. Longer life means that being a “grown up” is for many more years than ever before.

Nearly half of today’s 2022 graduates from high school, vocational schools, and colleges will experience lifespans of nearly 100 years. Possible implications? Their work spans are likely to be 50-plus years. Newton did not name retirement at 65 years old a law of physics.  Unfortunately, our institutions, from education to employers, are not ready to support careers that will span many professions, jobs, and employers.

Here are just a few challenges longevity poses to our current idea of career and work:

In a world where technological advances, globalization, and dynamic industry structures are reshaping the future of work, are our schools, training programs, and colleges ready to prepare and continuously refresh the knowledge and skills of workers of all ages?

Are employers prepared to offer the flexibility and resources necessary to engage, train, and manage a multigenerational workforce where new recruits may be 50- or even 60-something?

Are retirement plans prepared to offer flexible and portable benefits to a workforce that may no longer invest two or three decades of their career with only one or two firms?

Are financial service companies and advisors prepared to develop new products and to provide longevity advice to clients who do not fit into today’s expectations of age, life stage, wealth accumulation, and retirement?

And, for those of us who are parents, are we prepared to ask a different question, perhaps one that sounds more like, 'how many things will you be when you grow up?'

Please follow me and read more of my thoughts on this topic in my recent Forbes article "Graduation, Longevity & The New Meaning Of Career."

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About the Author

Photo of Joseph F. Coughlin
Joseph F. Coughlin

Joseph F. Coughlin, PhD is Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab. He teaches in MIT's Department of Urban Studies & Planning and the Sloan School's Advanced Management Program. Coughlin conducts research on the impact of global demographic change and technology trends on consumer behavior and business strategy. He advises a wide variety of global firms in financial services, healthcare, leisure and travel, luxury goods, real estate, retail, technology, and transportation.

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