What's your map of life?

What’s Your Map of Life?

We are working on an outdated paradigm for living argues Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center of Longevity. Our society assumes a three-chapter life – education, work and retire – where the final chapter is approximately a decade. However, this narrative doesn’t match the reality for many people today, and certainly won’t match the one-hundred-year lives of tomorrow. The life script needs to be rewritten. This week, Dr. Carstensen, along with dozens of luminaries and thought leaders, laid out the case for why it is so important to think differently about ways to live in light of a one-hundred-year life, as part of the virtual Century Summit.

To help change the narrative, Stanford has embarked on a project called the New Map of Life. The goal of the initiative is to “envision a society that supports people to live satisfying, engaged and financially secure lives for 100 years.” The initiative focuses on seven domains – early life, education, health, work, financial security, social influences and, yes, the built environment. The work has a global lens with implications for public policy and research.

Your map of life may involve lifelong learning to help create new opportunities for income and growth (Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash)

The Map of Life at the Personal Level

Stanford’s efforts are important, but the exercise of creating a map of life is most critical at the individual level. One is best to envision what is desired and then build a realistic plan to bring this vision to life. This map has a number of components to consider, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • An optimistic mindset. Dr. Carstensen asks her students what they would do if they were to live a bonus of thirty extra years. This is what has happened in recent generations, thanks largely to advances in technology and healthcare. Additional gains are expected in the decades ahead. How do you wish to spend these extra years? Do you have older role models that you would like to emulate? Who do you wish to become?
  • Work extended and supported by lifelong learning. In the context of longer lives, people have the opportunity to create intermixed chapters of working and leisure and to pursue new challenges. One thing is for certain: in an age of knowledge-based work, more educated people can work later in life. AARP estimates that about 50% of its members are still actively working. How long do you plan or need to work? Do you have new vocations that you wish to pursue? If so, what levels of additional education may these require?
  • Intergenerational engagement. A recurring theme from the Century Summit was the need and likelihood of increasing levels of intergenerational interaction. Some of this will happen naturally, perhaps through lifelong education, work and living arrangements. Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org, refers to this as the undoing of “age apartheid.” There will be a growing number of opportunities for intergenerational interaction if that’s desirable to you.
Denver offers dynamic economic opportunities, an active lifestyle and intergenerational interaction (Photo by Lonely Planet)

The Critical Role of Place

Place has a key role in the map of life. You may have specific visions of where you want to live. Perhaps it’s a warm climate or a place with four seasons. Maybe it’s a single-family home in a walkable neighborhood or a downtown condo. Perhaps the plan is to stay where you are but make modifications to make it a better place for you.

Place also has important indirect considerations. Place can help or hinder other parts of your map of life. Place can impact purpose, social connection, physical well-being and financial well-being. In short, where you live matters both directly and indirectly.

Consider work. If you are a knowledge worker and want to extend your career – or at least have the option to – living near a dynamic job center matters, even in an era of increasing acceptance of remote work. Being able to cultivate a network of people and companies doing interesting things is aided by proximity. While working remotely is more possible now than ever, it remains more challenging for making friends and work connections than in-person interactions.

Consider intergenerational engagement. If such interactions matter, you should think twice about moving to an age-restricted community, or choose one where inviting younger people to the community is part of the culture. Some living options, such as living near family or an intergenerational co-housing community, can make intergenerational interactions a part of daily life.

Something to Talk About Virtually with Friends and Family

As 2020 – the year of COVID-19 – comes to a close, many of us will have our holiday plans disrupted. Our family will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas without extended family for the first time. It’s both sad and weird. But this disruption in our schedules coupled with vaccines rolled out may allow many of us to think about post-pandemic life. I invite you to use this time to envision your map of life in the context of increasing longevity. Perhaps even do so as you virtually connect with friends and family. While the pandemic has dominated the headlines this past year, it is likely that the trends of increasing longevity and associated visioning and planning will be of greater consequence to you in the long run. And for this, taking a cue from Stanford, many of us will need a new, or at least updated, map of life.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


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