It's never too late to be an advanced achiever
New year means a new you – and the age at which we are changing our lives is going up all the time. Jerome Taylor reports on the 'advanced achievers'
Sunday 30 December 2012
After the fireworks come the resolutions. The new year is that time in our lives when we think about fresh horizons and greener pastures. But those who might be tempted to state that change is a young person's game need to think again. With our maturing but increasingly healthy population, age should no longer be the thing that stops us trying out something new.
Take Srikumar Sen, a former boxing correspondent who, at the age of 81, has published his first work of fiction, a novel that has already won a literary award. Buoyed by the success of his debut, he has now at work on his second book.
Dame Joan Bakewell, the previous government's voice for elder people and a critic of society's lack of imagination when it comes to the country's ageing population, says retirement is no longer about finding a hobby to keep you occupied. It is an opportunity to grab a new lease of life. "It's enormously reinvigorating to find a new interest or activity as you grow older," she says. "It stops you slowing down and getting stuck in a routine. It keeps people young and it opens up new friendships, gives people skills they perhaps didn't know they had." She adds: "Things are much more flexible and they've got to get more so. Our country has got to harness the skills of older people. Employers have got to get more flexible, use the skills that are there and keep old people young."
History is smattered with figures who made a significant career change, or had a breakthrough moment in their life, at an age when society traditionally expected them to be winding down.
Peter Mark Roget could have rested on the laurels of a respectable scientific career when he was somewhat reluctantly forced to retire from the Royal Society. Instead he plunged into a project that he had spent his life thinking about but never had time to complete – the result of which was the first edition of the thesaurus bearing his name.
Creativity is inevitably something that can flourish in later years. Anna Moses, who is better known as "Grandma Moses", was one of North America's most celebrated 20th-century artists. But she only picked up a paintbrush at the age of 76.
Fast-forward five decades and a new generation of Grandma Moses are flourishing. Pop into one of the pubs on the London comedy circuit and you might come across Julie Kertesz who – in her mid-70s – took up comedy. In a newspaper interview earlier this year she said: "It was frightening at the beginning, but I decided I had to try something new every time. I have only been heckled once."
Such examples might sound like exceptions to the rule but, given Britain's changing demographics, successful septa, octa and nonagenarians will become increasingly common.
According to the latest census figures a total of 9.2 million people across England and Wales are over the age of 65, an increase of more than 10 per cent in the past decade. The geographical spread of retirement is also more varied. Ten years ago only a small number of areas had more than a fifth of the population aged over 65. Today, the entire South-west of England, almost all of Wales, half of East Anglia and the borders of Northern England all have at least a fifth of the population aged over 65. The number of people living to see their 100th birthday, meanwhile, is expected rise eightfold to more than 100,000 over the next 25 years.
Given these population trends Britain can either consign its ageing population to the backstage of life or tap into its talent. Those nearing retirement are already being proactive. A poll by Learn Direct found that 46 per cent of 50-pluses in the UK felt they are not too old to start a new career or fulfil lifetime job goals. So for those thinking they're too old to make a life-changing New Year's resolution, remember, there is no time like the present.
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