In his spring budget last week, the Chancellor outlined a scheme to help the 3.5 million ‘pre-retired’ Brits get back to work, which is a combination of a mid-life audit (apparently the Department for Work and Pensions is already offering such a thing, but no me neither!) and returnships (which are a kind of oldies version of apprenticeships). Except we’re not to call ourselves ‘older’ but ‘experienced’ (thanks Jeremy) and he’s envisioning a rash of ‘skills bootcamps’ (they apparently already exist too) but re-tooled for those in their fifties.
The government’s proposed midlife MOT is a rather vague sounding review for workers in their 40s and 50s to help them “take stock of their finances, skills and health and build financial resilience”. It’s something that has, so far, been offered to those on Universal Credit through job centres and is now to “be expanded and improved” to “ensure people get the best possible financial, health and career guidance”. They are aiming to reach 40,000 people a year.
The government are on to something
I’m not exactly sure that the government has got the ‘how’ of this quite right, but they are definitely on to something when it comes to encouraging mid-lifers to take stock and make a plan. What Hunt has recognises is that because we are all living longer, the old model of three stage lives – education, work, retirement – no longer works (the government knows this because it is sitting on a pensions time bomb).
Think about it in relation to your own life: do you know anyone who expects to remain at the same company or even doing the same job from their twenties to their seventies (we are now all expected to work till then)? No, quite.
I mean, even those of us who do get a good run at a career rarely get more than a couple of decades. I am a good example of that. I worked as a senior executive for the same company for 23 years but was made redundant just before the pandemic. It was a massive shock which made me, at 49, have to completely rethink and reboot my whole life. The first thing I discovered was that there was nothing out there to help me find what my next chapter might look like (no-one offered me or even suggested a government Midlife MOT. Maybe because I didn’t live in one of the ten Local Enterprise Partnership areas where it was being trialled).
I remember Googling ‘Life after redundancy’ and getting the HMRC website – it was not inspiring. So with President Obama’s words of “be the change you want to see in the world” ringing in my ears, and knowing from having been a newspaper columnist for ten years that things affecting me were also likely to be besetting others, I set up Noon in order to provide tools and inspiration to help with that midlife pivot. As a result, the last two years of my life have been a full-time boot-camp on the current thinking on ageing, midlife and what we need to make a success of our lives from here on.
The hundred year life….
Now that the hundred year life is pretty much upon us, our whole conception of the different chapters of our lives needs to change. The cutting edge thinking around this stems from such books as The Hundred Year Life by Professor Linda Gratton of the LSE and Andrew Scott, and the work of Aviva Wittenberg Cox, a leading light in the movement to make the most of our longer lives, who writes a regular column for Forbes from London and hosts a podcast about 4-Quarter Lives, that rather than thinking of our lives as a three part structure we need to shift to thinking about a life divided into four quarters.
…and the four quarters in it
The new phase in this thinking is the third quarter. “In the first quarter,” explains Wittenberg Cox, who has spent the past year at Harvard examining and exploring longer-life and the opportunities it affords, “we get educated and established, then the second quarter, from roughly 25-50, is the Age of Achievement, when we tick off all the boxes that our society and our parents encouraged us to fulfil. Then at 50 we enter the third quarter, the Age of Becoming – in America they call it Self Actualising – which is when we finally slough off all that earlier baggage and become the people we always wanted to be. In some ways this is the most exciting bit. Then we enter the fourth quarter 75-100, which is more like traditional retirement as we used to know it.”
I love the idea of the third quarter and it totally chimes both with what I see happening in my community of mid-lifers and in what I have experienced myself over the last three years. At 52 I feel happier, professionally more excited, fitter, more joyous and generally far more myself than I ever have before. Helena Bonham Carter said earlier this month on Woman’s Hour she felt “Like I am coming into my prime at 56”. That is the flowering of the Third Quarter.
What we really, really want
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is right that a generation of fit and active 50 and 60 somethings shouldn’t be sitting at home watering the garden. What we saw in the research we did with our Noon members was a hunger for purpose. They want to feel engaged and to make a difference, to put their experience to work for the greater good. They need some flexibility (that was 16 times more important to them than status), and they want to be honoured and valued for their experience, not be condescended to. The problem is that when they apply for jobs they are all-too-often immediately rejected by the algorithm and they face huge ageism in employers (six in 10 managers say they are not interested in hiring someone who’s over 50).
So what can those of us embarking on our third quarter do to make sure it is as enjoyable, profitable and purposeful as possible? Take our Midlife MOT to find out.
(The information in the following questions and answers comes from a brilliant posse of midlife experts including Liz Earle, doyenne of midlife wellbeing, Avivah Wittenberg Cox, Lyndsey Simpson CEO of 55Redefined, Lisa Unwin, CEO of Reignite which places mid-lifers back in professional jobs, particularly law, after career breaks, BKL Accountants (for tax and pension advice) and many other members of the Noon.org.uk advisory board of experts).
Health and Wellbeing
1. Are you fitter now than you were ten years ago?
a) You must be joking, my tummy hides my toes and I puff just walking up the stairs
b) I try and walk 5000 steps a day and I pootle around with the dog and play tennis occasionally, so I don’t think I am in bad shape
c) Yes. I walk 10,000 steps at least a day, I lift weights and do resistance exercise because it helps preserve muscle mass and stimulates stem cell production. My motto is use it or lose it. And it’s never too late to expand your Health Span (what’s the point of living longer if you aren’t healthy?).
2. Do you pay proper attention to what you eat?
a) Yes of course, food is the elixir of life – I love a roast and lashings of cream on my pudding, not to mention lots of cheese and the odd biscuit. Sure I’ve got a bit of a gut but hey, life is for living!
b) I try to lay off the ready meals and convenience foods and usually get my five a day, though I do fall down a bit on the odd take-away
c) I do. I’ve started eating 30 fruits and vegetables a week and a mostly Mediterranean diet. I know protein builds muscle at this stage in my life and I eat only a little sugar. I’ve also started supplementing with the five ferments, Kefir, Kimchi, Kraut (or sauerkraut), Kombucha and Kamut (sourdough). I’m aware that little and often is the key, not only for better gut health but also, especially for women at this point to support the estrobolome, the newly-named group of gut bacteria that influence the activity of oestrogen, very important in menopause.
3. Now, what’s going on with your sleep?
a) I toss and turn a bit but I find a good tot of whiskey and maybe a glug of Night Nurse helps me sleep like a baby
b) I’ve got black-out blinds, I have a hot bath and do a special de-stressing meditation before bed and if I stick to the routine that usually works
c) I’m aware that sleep is the basis of midlife health, so I always prioritise it. I rely on custom-moulded silicone ear plugs (from any local audiology clinic), a supportive Tempur neck pillow with a silk pillowcase, a travel eyeshade, 240mg magnesium glycinate supplement at bedtime and a few drops of lavender essential oil on my pillow. It’s my ultimate sleep ritual and if I’m travelling I don’t leave home without these.
4. What about your relationships – are you getting enough love and physical contact?
a) I can’t remember the last time someone held my hand or gave me a hug. I live on my own and my family live far away and aren’t very demonstrative at the best of times
b) I hug my spouse when we’re watching TV and in bed sometimes. My children aren’t very keen on cuddles anymore but I love my dog/cat and stroke them most days
c) Humans are designed for hugging. Did you know that in Japan they don’t talk about kinship but skinship? Life is stressful it’s so important to make time for a hug or three, so I do. With my kids, my loved ones, my furry friends. If I am alone I hug myself because I know that the very act of wrapping your arms around your body and giving yourself a good squeeze stimulates the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin, lowers cortisol and can even reduce pain.
5. This one’s for women only: How are your hormones? Are you menopausal? Do you know?
a) Well I had a few hot flushes they aren’t so bad anymore but I don’t sleep that well
b) I feel a bit flat, and find myself crying when I don’t really know why, and my joints ache
c) My eyes are dry, I have a burning mouth, recurrent UTIs, severe headaches and tinnitus
Ladies ALL of the above could be due to falling oestrogen levels. If you have any of these symptoms go to your doctor and have a conversation about HRT. Despite earlier scare stories more modern formulations are very safe – don’t suffer in silence. If you’re not sure try the Balance Menopause App or Stella which are quick ways to check online
6. When was the last time you felt seriously out of your comfort zone and learnt something new?
a) You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m good at what I do, leave the stuff I don’t know about to the kids. What’s wrong with being a creature of habit? And anyway I get a bit anxious about new things, better the devil you know and all that
b) Well it’s funny you should ask I was just sent on a course at work and it felt so exciting to pick up a new skill, it made me feel like a student again. I met a person there who was telling me about how they go wild swimming in a lake near my house and I always liked a dip so I am going to go with her next week
c) I’m a great believer in trying to do something new every day. In fact I have a card on my desk which says: Do something that scares you every day, which my friend crossed out and wrote: ‘only one?’ I think mid-life is all about finding a new tribe, embracing new things. I’ve just started a new company taking everything I knew from my corporate job and applying it to a new role. Did you know that companies started by 50 somethings are twice as successful as those founded by younger entrepreneurs?
7. How do you feel about the influence of your own family and their expectations of your life – are they still relevant?
a) What a ridiculous question – I love my family, but I’ve just got on with things. Though now you mention it my father was a lawyer too, and they always wanted me to be a member of the golf club and we still holiday exactly where I did as a child. But no I’ve made all my own decisions, of course
b) It’s funny how as you get older sibling rivalries or the old kind of conditioning from your parents, comes back again. My parents are getting older and I’m finding myself locked in the same kind of rows with my brothers and sisters as we had as children, only somehow more bitter as they’re about looking after mum and dad and the inheritance. I’m definitely more thoughtful about all of that
c) Now I am 50 I finally feel like I am throwing off the shackles of my family. I realised that I had been driven to be successful for them and now I wonder why I stuck at my old job for so long – it’s not really me at all. For that matter, I feel like I am finally asking myself for the first time who I am and what I really want to do with the next chunk of my life. Now my parents have died I am sad, but I finally feel free to be me and make my own decisions
8. If you’re thinking about getting a new job – how would you start going about it?
a) Dust off the old CV – maybe update it a bit, it is about thirty years since I did my degree and A levels so maybe they aren’t so relevant. Maybe call a few people I know and see if they have any work that might be suitable. Umm I tried applying for some jobs online but they wanted me to upload a CV and that is a bit tricky as mine is printed out – and even when I got my son to help me upload it no-one ever got back to me. It’s all a bit depressing really, I’ve kind of given up.
b) Well I emailed a headhunter the other day and was a bit embarrassed because she suggested I get my own email address and Zoom account as it came up with a silly face on it because the kids were using it. When my daughter saw my photo she was horrified and took a lovely new one for me which is much more flattering.
c) I’ve souped up my LinkedIn profile and every week I reach out to five new people and introduce myself and add them to my network. My profile leads with my skills – how I am a great problem solver, am super resilient and have a growth mindset – and I’ve created a narrative about my life up ‘till now which fills in some of the gaps in my CV.
9. Ok, let’s talk about technology – how do you rate your tech skills, what can you do?
a) Well one of the great things about being senior in the office is that I have people who do all of that for me. If my computer breaks down, someone from IT pops up to fix it. My EA calls my Ubers. I can do a Teams call because I just click on the link when I am at home though I’m not great if I have to share something, I get that all set up for me in advance. I love a bit of Whatsapp I can mostly manage do Facetime with my kids
b) I’m pretty handy on Zoom, Team, Excel spreadsheets, Google Docs, and Adobe. I can even work that tool that lets you sign documents online and I can load up photographs and manipulate them. My team works on Slack and I can manage that. Wouldn’t say I am great on social media, though I do a bit of Facebook to keep up with old friends and my partner is never off Instagram, always scrolling and buying stuff
c) I just bought a load of Fungible tokens and am using Streamyard to broadcast simultaneously to LinkedIn and Facebook for my thought leadership. I update my socials – LinkedIn, Twitter, Telegraph, Instagram, but I’ve given up on Facebook – at least three times a week. I’ve built my new business on LinkedIn, invaluable for contacts, creating leads and buzz, don’t know how anyone could be without it. Haven’t got my head round TikTok yet
10. How about your personal finances pension etc?
a) Oh god, I never look at any of that, it’s all stuffed into a drawer somewhere I think I got a statement the other day, bloody terrifying. How am I going to live on £8k a year, which is what my pension seems to be? I find it all a mixture of incredibly boring and anxiety including – pass me the wine will you?
b) I got out all the paperwork last wee and my partner and I went through it. We’ve got all sorts of different pensions from different places we have worked and we spoke to a financial advisor who suggested putting them all into one pot. I’ve made an appointment to go and sort it next month
c) We’ve unified all our pensions, one of mine has an assured-benefit aspect so I’ve left the money in that one, but put all the others together and we manage them on Transact. We updated our Wills and did powers of attorney to each other, have appointed an executor and have spoken to the children about gifts to avoid inheritance tax etc. I’ve also taken out some new life insurance to cover the mortgage. I hate thinking about this stuff but you never know what’s going to happen, do you?
11. What have you always wanted to do? What is your purpose? What would you like to see as your legacy?
a) Crikey, those are big concepts, I have no idea.. I’ve just kept working to pay the bills and look after the family. I hadn’t really got any further than that and wanting to watch telly and mooch about
b) When I was young I had such big dreams about having a job I loved doing the thing I always thought that was my true skill and passion. I was wondering the other day whether I might try my hand at it again. It’s feeling more and more like an itch that needs to be scratched
c) This time of life is all about purpose – doing something I feel good about, that makes the world a better place, and which takes all my experience and skills and puts them to good use. I work a lot of hours on this passion project but because I LOVE it, I feel so engaged and proud to be having an impact. I’ve never felt so happy.
What do your answers show?
Mostly As: It’s time you got your head out of your arse and got to grips with the world around you. You are fifty not 90 – start thinking about your third quarter and the things you might do. Particularly important is to get fitter or you won’t have one to plan for
Mostly Bs: Well done, you are on the right track and beginning to head in the right direction for a successful third quarter. Now just nudge yourself out of your comfort zone and ask yourself some big questions about what you really want to do with the last chunk of your life and what that might look like, and you’ll be on your way
Mostly Cs: Well done you are motoring through your midlife and all set for a successful third quarter – now you need to motivate all the mid-lifers around you to get with the programme! Isn’t it fun having a purpose, a mission, being engaged with the world, having a new life and feeling so good about yourself? Enjoy being in your prime.
Noon has partnered with 55/Redefined Group who, like us, want everyone in mid-life to get the most out of their work. Their jobs board is specifically for candidates who are 50+ to connect them with new careers or continue in the same career with employers who are actively supportive of age inclusive workplaces.