The 100-year life

Thrilling or terrifying? Glyn Brown considers the prospect of a century-long lifetime.

Illustration / Borja Bonaque

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What if I said you’d live to be a hundred? Are you horrified, thinking of care homes, or exhilarated at the time left? In Japan they’re already racking up centuries, and Fujitsu recently invited Professor Lynda Gratton to talk about her book with Andrew J Scott, The 100-Year Life. The Japanese population is healthy; what’s needed is a map ahead for an engaged existence. Gratton suggested we replace our arbitrary pattern of education, work then retirement with a multistage life where we reinvent, reskill, and find fulfilment. For this we need three types of ‘intangible asset’, vital personal qualities. Three people I know already each embody one of these assets.

Transformation: our ability to change

Becky, 56, was a broadsheet PA. A wild child, she began writing features but at 40 developed Repetitive Strain Injury. Run down, her hair fell out. During sick leave she signed up for a remedial art course and began painting illustrated stories. Most people with RSI splint their wrist and return to work, ending up chronically ill, but Becky saw she had a skill she could monetise, and riskily resigned. She swapped Peckham for cheaper Ramsgate and now draws books about mermaids and runs a bohemian embroidery group whose work sells well on Etsy. Her health is great, and she’ll never stop the work that motivates her.

Vitality: being physically and mentally healthy

York-based architect Joe worked such long hours (a culture Gratton condemns as destructive of vitality) he never saw his baby son, developed migraines and – working on mock-Tudor executive estates he detested – lost heart in his role in the ‘built environment’. “Frankly, I felt rusty and full of hate.” He secured a six-month sabbatical to work on a book about the rock gig posters he’d collected, and returned refreshed and thinking clearly. At 59, he co-founded a small architectural agency, and every few years takes a break to work on multi-media projects – film, exhibitions – fuelled by his book’s modest success. The energy of this feeds into his day job, where he gets commissions he believes in, and insists everyone goes home on time.

Productivity: staying valuable

Nearing sixty, infant school teacher Julie told me she was shattered crawling round on the floor. She asked her huge circle of friends for input, and applied for a job she’d never have thought of, as a student wellbeing officer. Overwhelmed at first by the IT systems, she’s been reborn, able to give real support, a skill she can take forward, ultimately part-time.

All this fills me with enthusiasm. I don’t want to be old and sidelined, I want a purpose each morning, for many mornings. So, imagine your future. See you at the tennis courts.

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