Until a few weeks ago, I’d never worried too much about ‘the future’.
Whenever I heard the words, one of those overseas property commercials would start playing in my head, shot from a helicopter on a cliff-top golf resort in Cyprus, starring me. I’m lining up a 20-foot putt that will break subtly from right to left, through the shadows of palm trees, and come to rest elegantly at the edge of the hole. I glance upwards to my terracotta bedroom balcony, where my film actress wife is rehearsing her Academy Awards acceptance speech. She might or might not be Grace Kelly; we can’t quite see from this angle. Anyway, she’s hot. And my golf shoes are made of ostrich leather. Life is good.
Back in the real world, it’s February. My designated ‘Pull Your Finger Out And Think About The Future’ month. How, if ever, am I going to turn my Mediterranean vignette into a reality. Because, after a quick review of my so-called asset portfolio (ha!), and the subsequent panic-reading of every tabloid money supplement I could pilfer from the canteen, Cyprus suddenly seems a bit further away.
Most of the headlines went something like this: TO RETIRE COMFORTABLY, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO WORK UNTIL YOU DIE. OR EVEN LATER. (It didn’t actually say that last bit, I was just exaggerating. But you can guess how the column went.)
OK, so we might be flying The Starship Oblivious straight into the pension black hole. We might have to work until we’re eligible for the front two seats on buses. And we might have to think a bit harder about achieving our long-term dreams. But let’s not get carried away. My view is that we’re perfectly well equipped – all of us – to take our fate back into our own hands.
Take pensions, for example. A few hundred years ago, if you bought an annuity from the monarchy, you or your offspring would be ‘looked after’ for a bit (presuming you didn’t keel over with plague) whilst your country went off and spent your investment on cannons to shoot the French with. And that, pretty much, was that.
Today, we can choose to take lump sums, payment holidays, drip-feed cash, retire, un-retire, start and stop withdrawals and pretty much call the shots with our hard-earned nest-eggs. Pensions, in fact, aren’t even all that necessary – we can plan for retirement in myriad alternative ways.
Then there’s ‘downshifting’. It’s now commonplace for those looking for more of a work life balance to cut back to two- or three-day weeks, ration their energies, and extend their working lives for longer. Consultancy being just one of the ways people ‘go down the gears’, whilst still getting very handsomely rewarded.
Added to that, Britain at long last seems to be waking up to ‘Age Diversity’ in the workplace: the value of ‘more seasoned’ workers, using their experience to inspire and train the emerging workforce. Yes, the future of your business is Luke Skywalker, but he’ll slay many more stormtroopers with a little friendly advice from Obi-Wan Kenobi.
And let’s not forget the relentless advance of technology. By 2030, we’ll have completely forgotten what an office is. We’ll all be able to work from anywhere, whatever the time of the day. We’ll simply switch on our Mind-Operated Touchscreen Hologram (MOTH) devices and magically teleport from our rocking chairs in Basingstoke to a virtual board meeting on Lake Geneva. (And obviously charge exorbitantly for our services.)
When you stop and think about it, the working population is actually becoming much more empowered for the future, not encumbered. We can be more flexible in the way we manage our wealth, more adaptive in the way we shape our careers, and more able to achieve a good balance of work and life as we get older.
So, yes, we might need to work for longer than any generation in history. But if we make use of all the tools at our disposal, maybe we can have a little fun while we’re at it.
Views expressed in The Bottom Line are not necessarily shared by Vodafone. Or anyone else in the office, come to that.