With an ease and certainty not easily challenged, 94-year-old June Blum remarks, “aging has come of age. I am skipping old age, but I’m certainly not skipping life.”
She would know. To spend any time with June and Stanley, her painter/poet husband of 73 years, is a deep journey into how dramatically different the concept and reality of aging, particularly in the Western world where aging is hardly revered, are changing.
June is a long-practicing clinical psychologist still actively engaged in her craft as a therapist and teacher. Stanley, 95, is an escapee of the shoe industry; at age 80, he took a sharp right-brain turn and ignited his creative talents as a painter and poet. And he has four books under his belt to prove it.
The Blums are close associates of Gerald Celente and the Trends Research Institute. They are a sounding board for a critical, powerful and strengthening trend line: the Boomer Renaissance, an avalanche of coming change affecting the spirit, fortitude and accomplishments of older people.
The Blums are not Boomers, but they represent what the future of old age will look like. Not the distant future, mind you. That change is unfolding right before you.
In our trends forecast for 2014, we wrote:
“…We will see growing evidence of the resulting Boomer Renaissance in the form of self-guided entrepreneurship that will alchemize commerce, survival and self-actualization into a new world- and self- view. The signs won’t be immediately apparent; they will come in subtle waves. But as 2014 unfolds, the transition to an entrepreneurial-based environment for older workers, something that has been steadily building over recent years, comes into full force.”
As more and more older adults live longer, they have more time, energy and need to engage what they left behind as they were building families and careers, and engaging the social, cultural and financial dictates of a corporatized, increasingly homogenized world.
“The First American Enlightenment movement is coming,” said Stanley Blum. And it will come not at the hands of disenfranchised youth movements, but at the hands of “aging souls” who now have more time to correct the trajectory of two-plus generations of hegemony and moral decay.
“Periods of growth, freedom and morality will come to life when creativity is unleashed,” said Stanley Blum. For too long, “people would retire from life when they retired from the job. No longer. We are challenging the status quo. We may not be running any longer, but we’re moving.”
June Blum added: “We’re living longer. And that gives us all an extra developmental period.”
New measurement of old age
Sixty-five has long been considered the gateway to old age. When you reach 65, you’re “officially” old. If you’re numbers-driven, statistical old age today in the United States is about 69 for a male and 72 for a female, according to aging expert Warren Sanderson, a State University of New York at Stony Brook professor of behavioral sciences. And the U.S. government projects there will be about 72.1 million people above the age of 65 by 2030. That’s more than double the number in 2000.
Aside from the staggering statistical findings, Sanderson offered a more meaningful insight into the new aging in a Sept. 16 New York Times article: “We think age has much more to do with how people function than how many birthdays they’ve had, so measuring function is the crucial thing.”
“Function” can include such diverse indicators as a hand grip, something Sanderson measures, to how long an older person continues to work.
What scientific communities need to measure more is what the Blums refer to as “forward movement.” This indicator goes beyond whether an older person is active or not; it includes factors that determine how much meaning, purpose and creativity is a part of an older person’s life.
It is tough to quantify abstracts like “meaning” and “creativity.” The massive Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics report, published in 2012, is replete with data from every conceivable aging-related organization, institution, agency, foundation and group. But look for data that track the correlation between creative pursuits and a more productive, fruitful old age, and you’re likely to come up empty-handed.
The rapid increase in an average life span over the last generation is only now taking hold. And so, too, are the far-reaching implications. We are only now beginning to realize how those added years medical science brings us set the stage for more meaningful endeavors.
Psychologist James Hillman wrote in his 1999 book, The Force of Character: “On the one hand, brain cells may be flaking off like autumn leaves in a deciduous forest; on the other hand, a clearing is being made, leaving more space for occasional birds to alight.”
The Blums get that. They live that.
“The term ‘old’ to describe someone is static; to be ‘older’ is dynamic,” says June Blum.
Stanley Blum takes that idea a step further: “Energy doesn’t disappear as you get older; it just takes a different form. Creativity is the critical element to aging in ways that enlighten.”
The Boomer energy infusion
Economic forces bearing down on aging boomers were among the dynamics that led to our Boomer Renaissance forecast. Financial realities are continuing to compel aging boomers to rethink, if not entirely forget, retirement. As they live longer, and need to work to survive, they are motivated to approach work in different ways. As we forecast: “Aging boomers are now exploring creative and self-driven ways to redirect their work lives, tapping into a rich reservoir of possibilities made attractive and compelling by need…. That’s why so many boomers across the globe, disheartened by investing hope in political and economic dead-ends, will turn to their own talents to inspire and aid those in their immediate community.”
Take the case of Market Basket, a New England-based chain of grocery stores with a hefty number of boomers in its employment ranks of 25,000 spread over 71 stores. Workers banded together when the company’s board of directors removed the chain’s employee-friendly president. That longtime president, and minority owner of the company, stood for employee rights. His ouster meant better financial performance at the expense of worker pay, benefits and opportunities.
Forbes reported in August that Market Basket employees “successfully undertook a high-risk job action with potentially historic repercussions. But this was more than just a fight for leadership control. It was also a story about boomers standing up for workplace values.”
The worker-led uprising worked. The president was reinstated after he was able to buy back his opposition’s shares. Lauren Stiller Rikleen, author of the Forbes article, summed up the summer-long drama: “Market Basket’s activist boomers, I believe, helped reinvigorate a needed debate about corporate stewardship and whether management’s primary financial path should be a focus on short-term dividends to shareholders or on additional investments in growth, employee pay and benefits to develop a stable and loyal workforce.”
Boomers, in increasing numbers, are finding niches and creative safe harbors far from the corporate environments they came from. They are starting small businesses at a greater pace than any other age group. They are leading social-cause movements at a grassroots level, reactivating the spirit of civil justice and neighbor-to-neighbor service that defined them in their youth. They are leading buy-local, sell-local, grow-local and create-local movements. And at every turn, they are bucking the myth that older workers are slow, passive or unproductive.
In fact, boomers are quickly positioning themselves to not only get by, but make a difference.
In our tracking of this trend, this type of activism is bundled with creative expression, community service and entrepreneurism. It is a wave taking shape with deep resonance.
The Blums are living the trend before its official arrival.
“Morality finds its place in this new world,” said Stanley Blum.