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Steve Jobs' Message for Boomers

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I will remember Steve Jobs not for product design, but for life design.

In the commencement address Jobs gave to Stanford undergraduates in 2005, he recounts reading a quote at 17 that said if you live each day as if it were your last, someday you'll almost certainly be correct.

According to Jobs, "It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?'"

When the answer was no day after day, he knew it was time for a change. Remembering the finiteness of life became an invaluable way for Jobs to make big choices, "because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fell away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

As Jobs told the Stanford graduates, "No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent." He concluded, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

Jobs was speaking to young people, about to start their lives and careers, but he might as well have been addressing his peers, moving through their fifties and sixties, beginning to understand emotionally that life has a beginning, middle, and end no one has ever eluded.

Time matters at 50 or 55 or 60 in a way that it doesn't when you are sitting at college commencement assuming an endless expanse ahead, even if some wise person is telling you otherwise. There's no more dress rehearsal. You're on.

It's ironic, given all Jobs success and resources and insight, that he didn't get to experience the companion realization that many of his age mates today are beginning to sense: the road ahead might be finite, but longevity tables tell us it is likely to go on for quite a while, for a period that could easily approximate or exceed midlife. This simultaneous expansion and compression of time is a unique feature of the new stage of life opening up between the middle years and anything resembling old age.

Think of it as perspective combined with capacity. In the past it can be argued wisdom was wasted on the old; just as you realized what mattered most you were too worn out, too depleted, too close to the grim reaper, to do much with it. Now millions are entering a period with a new understanding, new motivation, loads of experience, years of health and well-being ahead -- and the numbers to boot. Nearly 10,000 a day are hitting their 60th birthdays.

IIt's all reminiscent of the old adage of the French revolution -- liberty, equality, fraternity. How about a new baby boomer mantra, as we prepare to storm the barricades of age: mortality, longevity, urgency. Add demography and we might be poised to witness something transformative, the emergence of an entirely new stage of life and a new segment of the population, neither young nor old. 60 is neither the new 30 or the old 80. It is the new 60.

Reading over Jobs's commencement address on the day of his obituary, there's no denying the sadness that Jobs himself won't be around to help blaze this new territory himself, helping to reshape and redesign what it means to live out a period that was once a wasteland, yet has all the ingredients to be the new crown of life.

These measures can help us forge a new map of life, one that builds in breaks more sensibly along a much longer trajectory, that is fitted to the new lifespans of the 21st century -- and not just for all those flagging boomers approaching the big six-oh. After all, half the children born since 2000 in the developed world are projected to see their 100th birthdays. Let's pass on to them a lifecourse that's sustaining and sustainable, that pays off on the promise of the longevity revolution, for now and for generations to come.