Do You Intend to Work Forever?

05/21/2011 03:26 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2011
  • Julia Moulden Speaker, columnist and author, 'RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50'

To some, working beyond 65 may seem unnatural and carrying on into our 70s positively outré. But soon, according to the World Health Organization, holding a job on our 100th birthday won't be unusual. John Beard, director of the WHO's Department of Aging and the Life Course, says most people born in developed countries today can expect to live well past 100, with the onset of disabling illness delayed close to the end of life. "This means we'll be working into our 70s, 80s and beyond," he says.

Does that sound far-fetched? In fact, it's already happening. According to the RAND Corporation, 17 percent of American men and women aged 65 to 75 were in the workforce in 1990. Since then, the number has jumped to 25 percent, and a significant rise in employment among those older than 75 was also seen. What's more, RAND researchers project a sharp increase in these figures in the next decade.

Do you intend to work forever?

I asked each Ripe pioneer this question ("RIPE" is my new book, about rich, rewarding work after 50). Some talked about a finite period, as in "another 10 years." Others were uncertain. Social innovator Rosa Lee Harden said she'd recently seen her good friend, Phyllis Tickle, who at 77 continues to write and give speeches around the world. "I confided to her that I was thinking about doing one more thing before I retired. 'Retire?' she laughed. 'You're 55. What are you talking about?'"

The vast majority of Ripe pioneers said they will always work. They're not just postponing retirement but eliminating it as an option altogether. In this, they echo many of the high-profile people who are on this journey with us -- can you imagine Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford or Christopher Plummer coming to a complete stop? As Peter Frampton recently told Oprah Winfrey, "The 'R-word' isn't even in my vocabulary."

It's something Jerry Morris believed wholeheartedly. Just after World War II, he led a study to examine heart-attack rates in different occupations in England. The results showed a striking difference in transit workers -- sedentary drivers were twice as likely to die of a heart attack as the conductors who went up and down 500 steps a day.

Morris proved that exercise helps you live longer. And it worked for him. At 99, he was still making his way each day to his office at the London School of Hygiene and Medicine, and lobbying government to encourage people to take up regular physical activity.

As we move into our 70s, 80s and beyond, the terrain changes. How do we navigate the new landscape and continue to ripen? More on this -- including examples of people like us who've ripened after 60, 75 and 90 -- in the weeks to come.

Are you over 50 and ripe for change? Are you feeling at the top of your game? Are you finding that the world wants you to go away? Share your story with us below or feel free to email me via my website.

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"RIPE" is here! This spring, I'm writing about "RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50," a 12-week course on discovering passion, purpose and possibility at midlife. Check out the video (a.k.a. book trailer!):

Be part of the "RIPE" community on HuffPost, Facebook and Twitter. Together, we are going to change this phase of life!