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This Argument for Not Starting a Full-Time Career Until 40 Is Kinda Nuts

One psychologist says we've mapped out life all wrong.

We’re doing life all wrong, says psychologist Laura Carstensen, the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.

The expert researcher says we shouldn’t start working full time until age 40, instead of working like crazy from our 20’s (or even teens) until retirement at 65. She argues that more breaks along the way for “learning, family needs, and obligations outside the workplace,” make for a well-rounded life.

“We need a new model,” Carstensen says of her research. “The current one doesn’t work, because it fails to recognize all the other demands on our time. People are working full-time at the same time they’re raising children. You never get a break. You never get to step out. You never get to refresh ... We go at this unsustainable pace, and then pull the plug.”

Tell us more.

She says that woman “who is 40 years old today can expect to live another 45 years, on average, while five percent will live to see their 100th birthday.” “The average 40-year-old man will live another 42.” So why not continue work then? (She’s counting out hard physical labor.)

Carstensen wants to redesign the workplace for people to live the life she’s imagined for all of us.

“Stopping work abruptly at 66, the year current US retirees are eligible to claim full Social Security benefits, isn’t practical financially for a growing number of seniors,” says the research. “And given the sudden loss of status, social interaction, and purpose that can follow retirement from a valued career, it’s often not a psychologically healthy move, either.”

She puts forth the argument that full-time work “ideally would begin around the age of 40, rather than in our early 20s ... Careers would be longer, with a gradual transition to part-time work in the later years before full retirement around age 80.”

“There is no real reason why we need to work this way. The hardest thing is, how does [change] start?” Carstensen said. But “once it starts, there’s very little question that it’s going to roll on.”

Personal Space asked a workplace expert what he thought of the idea — is it really possible? Are people really going to work until they’re 80?

“It’s too general to think that would work for everyone,” says Dan Schawbel, millennial career expert and New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself. “That path is good for certain people.”

For Schawbel, he began working at 13 years old, and says he didn’t follow the long-career guidelines, because personally it wouldn’t have worked for him.

“Certain people are privileged and can travel when they’re younger, some people can afford that, it all depends,” he says. “A lot of people only start traveling the world later, for me it was over the past eight years and I’m 34. I had to provide for myself first. It’s dangerous advice to give, but it could work for other people.”

Schawbel says it’s not as simple as stretching your career, you really have to look at your needs — and who needs you.

“What if you have kids that changes your ability to take time off, circumstance matters, the environment you grew up in matters. What if you want to start a business when you’re younger? There are so many variables.”

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