Reimagining Retirement: It’s Time to Futurize Your “Third Act”

There’s a retirement crisis brewing in America. Fewer than half of today’s workforce are confident they’ll have enough money to ever stop working. Meanwhile, forty nine percent of Americans 55 – 66 have no personal retirement savings. And sixty-seven percent of Gen Xers (approaching age 60) have no retirement plan.

Amidst these rather grim statistics, a counter trend is quietly gaining steam. A shift in attitudes is occurring in how some people plan for, think about, and experience their final trimester of life – their “Third Act.”

As medical breakthroughs and healthier lifestyles extend longevity, this third phase of life is growing longer. In 1900, the average American could expect to live to age 47. By 2019, average lifespan had expanded to age 79. Life expectancy is expected to approach triple digits later this century.

Today’s retirees have been given the greatest gift in all of history –- 30 extra years of life. But the hard part is knowing what to do with the extra time. Studies show that many elders are squandering the gift, idling away their extra years in loneliness, poor health, and perpetual worry over finances and the state of the world.

According to Nielsen, today’s retiree spends 33 hours per week watching television, and 15-20 hours on the internet. Today’s generation of retirees is more isolated than ever, less likely to participate in community or religious organizations, less likely to be married, and less apt to speak to neighbors. They have fewer meaningful interactions with their spouses and partners and are more likely to report weaker ties to friends and family.

Yet not all retirees are falling into these patterns. The Third Act movement is about reimagining retirement through the lens of possibilities. The intention is not just to live longer, but to live better, with purpose and passion guiding the way. Instead of a 24/7 pursuit of leisure, some seniors are continuing to work. Others are realizing the importance of embracing this stage of life not just as a time of sedentary decline and aloneness, but as an opportunity for growth, spending time with loved ones, learning, and giving back to a nation that has given them so much. The Third Age movement encourages retirees to leverage their experience and wisdom to make meaningful contributions to society, promoting a vision of aging that is active, purposeful, and fulfilling.

To make the most of this third phase of life, it’s essential to approach it with an open mind and positive intentions. Here are a few suggestions:

Start planning your Third Act todayHire a fee-based financial planner to help you come up with a plan. Even if your retirement is decades away, any 70-year-old will tell you it will be here before you know it. Even if money is tight right now, you can still put away a token amount by giving something up ($5 lattes). Your future self will be thankful you did. “I realize my dad – through no fault of his own – was never taught how to save and invest or how to plan for the future,” notes Zara Mirza, chief brand officer at TIAA. “Retirement savings is empowerment, it is creativity, it is a base that can allow a young person to live a freer and more authentic life.”

Create a vision of what you want your retirement years to look like. Don’t wait until your second act is finished to start planning your third act. The old saw that “failure to plan is planning to fail” applies to third acts. Interview friends and family members who have retired that you consider successful in filling their days with meaning. Write out your plan or create a vision board: How do you want it to be? What’s the view over the breakfast table, and what’s bringing you joy? Start a bucket list and write down what you want to accomplish.

Engage in activities that provide a sense of purpose. Although I’ve chosen not to retire because I love what I do (public speaking and authoring books on future trends), my wife retired after 40 years as a public-school teacher. Today she’s a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate), appointed by judges to provide vital support and advocacy for children in the foster care system. Volunteering, pursuing new hobbies, or even part-time work, can help maintain a sense of contribution and accomplishment.

Maintain and build social connections. Strong relationships are key to a fulfilling life, providing support, companionship, and joy. Upon retirement, many new retirees discover that their social network was largely around the work they did. Once they stop going to the office, those relationships tend to drop off. If so, it’s time to act. Replace your work network with your Third Act network. Strong relationships can offer emotional support and a sense of belonging. The flipside is loneliness, as Surgeon General Vivek Murthy noted in an advisory illuminating the dangers. “It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death.”

Make lifelong learning and personal growth a reality. Through educational courses or creative pursuits can reignite passion and curiosity, ensuring that the post-retirement phase is not just a time of rest, but a period of vibrant and meaningful living. Good friends of mine in California (who asked not to be identified) retired after careers in corporate America. They decided in their late 60s to go back to college as a way of embracing their love of lifelong learning. They attended a university program that enables people in their 50s, 60s and 70s to attend classes alongside undergrads and grads. Their takeaway: “The kids today are fabulous, and they accepted us … [the experience] provided the spark we needed to engage even more with the world.”

Cultivate Health and Wellness: Prioritize physical and mental health. Engage in activities that keep you active and healthy, such as yoga, hiking, or even joining a sports league.

Explore New Passions: This is the time to explore interests that you may not have had time for during your working years. Whether it’s painting, writing, gardening, or traveling, immerse yourself in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.