I found this article recently on middle age that I wrote a dozen years ago. While I've certainly aged since then, I found the write up to still holds up.
Birth, Life & Death
I turn 43 this month and Iím busy coming to grips with my middle age. Technically Iím not middle age because in 43 years from now Iíll be 86 and as far as Iím concerned Iíll stil have another 10 years to live.
Iíve noticed that I spend a lot of time looking at the coins I get in change. It started a few years ago in a failed attempt to get the boys interested in coin collecting. While the boys have no interest, I find myself studying the coinís level of shine and its date. Iíve noticed that coins from the 90s look normal. Coins from the 80s look dirty. Coins from the 70s are sometimes difficult to read and coins from the 60s are downright rare. Iíve been thinking about shining up all coins from the 60s before reintroducing them into circulation in my personal effort to declare that 43 is not old.
Birthdays somehow seem less fun these days. The presents and the celebrations are nice, but I wrestle with the fact that every birthday marks a step closer to my death.
Forty-three by todayís standards certainly isnít old. George Washington was 43 when he first took command of the Continental Army, and we all know he went on to accomplish much in his later life. While I donít feel old, I see the obvious signs of my admission into mid-life at every turn.
Like any MBA, I decided to approach this birthday with an analysis of the data. No, not my vital statistics, but the data on what it means to be 43 in the U.S.
A quick look at some government web sites and Iím told that I am one of about 2.2 million male 43-year olds in the U.S. There are about 83 million males younger than me and only about 50 million or so who are older. This number alone would suggest that Iím way past mid-life but I take comfort in the fact that the government frequently makes mistakes.
An insurance company website explains it well. Pretend that I was one of 100,000 males all born on the same summer day in July of 1962. Sadly, we lost 750 of these ďclassmatesĒ during that first year, but after that shock weíve remained a fairly healthy group. Today, 94,549 of us continue to enjoy our lives at 43, but the chart predicts some challenging times ahead.
One third of one percent of us will die this year. That might not sound like a lot, but weíll lose about 300 from my class this year. The odds of kicking the bucket this year turns out to be significantly better than the odds of winning the California Lottery.
The insurance company tells me that I have 34 more years to live. Hey wait a minute! They think Iím over half way through my life too! That would put my death somewhere around my 77th birthday. Not a bad life expectancy by historical standards, but in this case ďaverageĒ just isnít good enough. In my case I like to point out that all four of my grandparents lived past their 80th birthday and two of them are going strong well into their 90s.
Now the insurance companies admit that they donít always get things right. If I can beat the odds and make it to my 77th birthday, then they have some sobering information for me. At 77 I have a one in twenty chance of dropping dead every year. Fortunately a touch over half of the original 100,000 will still be around and the insurance company tells me I will live another 9 years to 86. Maybe I am middle age!
Well, if Iím half way through my life it is a good time to give myself a report card. Determining how to grade myself probably requires years of therapy, which I havenít had. Again, from an MBA perspective the measures of life are simpleóhow much money do you have!
Now I recognize that money is only one aspect of life in the 21st century, but as I wrestle with what might be in store during the second half of my life money may be a very important factor.
Everyone should be very nervous about the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. We know that as the baby boom ages that demand for healthcare will increase and at the same time our scientific progress over the next 43 years will ensure that those with sufficient resources can buy treatments that will extend life. I expect that the price of life extension will be expensive.
According to the IRS, my family is doing quite well. Iím not sure I trust the source, but the IRS seems to classify me as rich. The IRS reports that only 8.5% of U.S. families make over $100,000 a year. After taxes, the $100K family would probably be left with about $5,000 a month to live on. Thatís good, and I recognize that over 90+% of the country have less, but this is not rich by my standards.
Making a $1 million a year is ďrichĒ in my book. The IRS tells us that there are only 400,000 families in the U.S. earning $1 million or more a year. This represents only about one-third of one percent of all taxpayers. Hmm, Iíve seen that number before. I guess that means that I have an equal probability of dying this year as I do of making over $1 million. Not sure what to do with that, but somehow it seems important. Probabilities can tempt and they can torture.
Ok, well what you earn isnít nearly as important as what you save. We hear that Americans are better at using credit card than they are at saving. The 2000 Census looked at ďnet worthĒ by age group. I took a look at the top 20% of people my age to see where I should be.
The top 20% of people age 35 to 43 have a net worth (everything you own less everything you owe) of about $150,000. Of that an average of $70,000 is home equity and $80,000 are financial assets.
So what if this top 20% 43 year-old retired today and lived for exactly 34 years? Letís assume that they cash out on their house and assume a reasonable return above inflation. These top tier Americans would be forced to live on $587 a month. OK, I donít expect that this will fund too much life-extending technology and I guess 43 is too early to retire.
At the mid-point of any project I like to hold a ďcheckpointĒ meeting to see how things are going and make any necessary corrections. Iíve been holding just such a life checkpoint meeting during the past six months. Six months ago I shut down my company and have spent the time figuring out whatís next.
Iím lucky to have had a six-month break. Since I started working at the age of 16 I havenít had anything more than a few weeks here or there.
Iíve accomplished much during this time and at the same time Iíve accomplished very little. The house is not fixed up. The chores that were long put off, still havenít been completed and yet Iíve experienced things beyond the To Do list that I may not enjoy again for a long time.
Iíve been busy doing a bunch of things. I taught a couple of different classes at the boysí school, put time into coaching Little League, am serving on two community Boards and still have time to invent important projects for myself.
After three months of carefree ďpractice retirement,Ē I took on two consulting assignments: one for a large company and another for a small start up. It was nice to make some money again and I enjoyed the consulting lifestyle that required no commute and infrequent showers, but I realized this was an entertaining dabble and not a new career.
Throughout this whole period Iíve been looking for a new job. I think the next job is an important one. Defining the specific job titles and industries Iím interested in has helped me narrow the opportunities with an emphasis on the word ďnarrow.Ē Donít get me wrong, the job market seems healthier than itís been in a long time. Seeing lots of jobs but few that from my perspective are the right type of job.
There has always been a steady stream, however, of job-hunting activity and I continue to have good prospects that I continue to pursue. And yet while there are some good jobs, there are many more competitors for every position. One thing is clear, this is a not a great job market for people like me who like to do something different with every new job. Instead, this is a great time to get a job doing exactly what you did before. Thereís no doubt compromises will have to be made in terms of my ďideal jobĒ scenario, we will have to see what transpires.
I spoke a friend of mine who is a professional recruiter and he told me that Iím getting old. Heís the same age as I am talks about the great professional barrier called 50. At 50 all employees lose one important professional assetÖtheir ďyouthful exuberance.Ē
Apparently ďyouthful exuberanceĒ is highly valued in all organizations and when someone evaluates a job candidate based on experience, knowledge and track record, it also clear that ďenergy, drive, and eagerness count for a whole lot in the equation. Itís no use trying to convince anyone that someone over 50 has that stuff. If they have it, then they probably arenít too experienced or knowledgeable!
My friend described this next job as a set-up for my first attempt to justify myself post-50. He told me that I should find a job that sets me up for positions and job titles that require ďmatureĒ people instead of ďenergeticĒ people. Seems like wise advice for someone halfway through his life.
Thereís no doubt about it: this is an important year for me. Based on the data, it seems that Iím more than just another year older this July. Iíve had a once in a lifetime opportunity to recharge, refocus and gain new experience outside of the business world. Iíve got some resources and a plan that Iíll use to explore the other side of the hill. Iím high enough now that I can see the other side and from where I stand today, the view looks pretty good. However Iím having a difficult job seeing what it looks like at the bottom of the hill!
© Greg Harris, 2017
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