There are many lightbulb moments in life but it’s not as if a switch gets thrown one day and “OMG, I’m 50, what now?”

And so, last month in London, interest and passion for ageing came together to get some joined up thinking going. The object of this exercise was to probe the edges of “The Age Of No Retirement (AONR). Undeniable yet broadly ignored, this age is already upon us.

That the world is getting older and that we are living longer is generally accepted – to a point. That the entire notion and nature of “retirement” is in need of an overhaul, is less generally accepted.

27 provocateurs, 200+ debaters and a sold-out invited audience gathered to address this collective blind spot.

Distorted reality clearly exists. Retirement remains a highly prized while strongly incentivized finale to a lifetime of employment. Meanwhile, how long we’re going to live is gradually increasing, while expectations for retirement have remained constant.

This is a prickly disconnect. In the same way that the benefits of conventional retirement have been exaggerated, our understanding of what it means to reach 50 years of age – with the potential to live another 40 – has not been taken on board.

If we expect to accrue benefits from the AONR, ageing needs to be repositioned as synonymous with living. Such thinking challenges every preconceived notion about ageing that we possess.

The debates encouraged no holds barred thinking. How is an ageing work force honestly perceived? How flexible and adaptable can these people be and are the skills acquired over a lifetime actually transferable? What about ageism, degree of digital exclusion and the limits of physical and cognitive functioning? If the answers to all these questions is negative then, how do we turn these into positive outcomes? How do we objectively tap into this fallow, talent pool? Where is it stated that innovation is the exclusive purview of the young?

The fact remains that the only natural resource we have not depleted and is actually increasing is the human capital of our ageing population. We need to tap into these plentiful reserves – but the reserves need to ready themselves for this new period of life.

It’s clear that unless we can shift attitudes about our ageing selves and bodies, we cannot ascribe value to living over an extended period of time. If we are serious about making retirement obsolete, public consensus – including ownership of life long learning – will be necessary.

Jonathan Collie of Trading Times and George Lee of Commonland, are preparing an impact report; we await its publication and its actionable outcomes. In the interim, the Age of No Retirement continues its unrelenting advance…

UPDATE:The Age of No Retirement findings and next steps are being discussed on Monday, 17 November 2014 from 18:00-20:00 at: Chapel of St Barnabas, Entrance on Manette Street (Off Greek Street) W1D 4NQ

Register free on Eventbrite

*This blog was originally posted on Gransnet on 30/10/14.

Deborah Gale