When Betty White died in 2021, we were somehow surprised. Even at 99-years-old, it felt like she was gone too soon. Smokey Robinson just released a new album at 83 years of age. Martha Stewart posed in a bathing suit on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 81.
How we think about aging is much different than it used to be, and Ken Dychtwald is one of the foremost authorities on these changing perceptions. For more than 45 years, he’s been an original thinker on the lifestyle, marketing, health care, economic, and workforce implications of the age wave.
In today’s episode, he tells us that older adults no longer have to put up with being called “golden agers” because they’re too busy leading vibrant, productive lives beyond traditional retirement. As shown by the growing unretirement trend across the country, happy retirees don’t necessarily stop working. They just start saying “no” to the things they never liked in the first place.
With a mindset of ‘usefulness’ over ‘youthfulness,’ Ken Dychtwald encourages older individuals to balance work and personal pursuits. He wants them to focus on the significance of life’s moments and connections and reimagine retirement as a dynamic stage of life.
Read The Full Transcript From This Episode
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- Wes Moss [00:00:00]:When Betty White died in 2021, we were somehow surprised. Even at 99 years old, it felt like she was gone too soon. Smokey Robinson just released a new album. He’s 83. Martha Stewart posed in a bathing suit on the COVID of Sports Illustrated at 81. What is going on? Well, the way we think about aging is just much different than it used to be, and Ken Dyckwald is one of the foremost authorities on changing perceptions. For more than 45 years, he’s been an original thinker on the lifestyle, marketing, healthcare, economic, and workforce implications of this massive age wave in America. On today’s episode, he tells us that older adults no longer have to put up with being called Golden Agers because they’re too busy leading vibrant, productive lives beyond traditional retirement.
Wes Moss [00:01:02]:
This is all part of the growing unretirement trend across the country. Happy retirees don’t necessarily stop working completely. They just start saying no to the things they’ve never liked in the first place and find themselves in a place of real financial independence. With a mindset of usefulness over youthfulness, Ken encourages older individuals to seek a balance between work and professional pursuits. It’s like he read my mind. The great Ken Dyquald coming up right here on the Retire Sooner podcast. I’m Wes Moss. The prevailing thought in America is that you’ll never have enough money, and it’s almost impossible to retire early.
Wes Moss [00:01:51]:
Actually, I think the opposite is true. For more than 20 years, I’ve been researching, studying, and advising American families, including those who started late, on how to retire sooner and happier. So my mission with the retire Sooner podcast is to help a million people retire earlier while enjoying the adventure along the way. I’d love for you to be one of them. Let’s get started. Maybe we just start with a little bit of your thoughts over how aging has just radically changed. I mean, you started studying this again almost 50 years ago and what it was like with the study of aging then and how people, the mindset of America then versus today, and I would say five years ago, and then what is it like over the last five years? But really just bring me through that, how the field has changed and how we think so differently about aging today.
Ken Dychtwald [00:02:46]:
Sure. And first of all, it’s an honor to be with you, and it’s great to be on your program. So thanks for having me. So I sort of, by accident, started working with older adults when I was 24 in 1974. So that’s 49 years ago. Back then, if you were over the age of 60, you were old. And they used to call older people, golden agers. And then somebody came along with the phrase, with the word seniors, and that kind of caught fire for a while, and now that’s dying away.
Ken Dychtwald [00:03:26]:
Most people who were older were happy to have made it that long, because their parents probably didn’t. If they lived past 60 or 65, they thought they had a few more years before their batteries wore out. It was a time. This is going to sound really bizarre, but during World War II, there was a wage freeze imposed on all employers. And so partly the way employers and unions got around that was that they created pensions. And that generation of older people, back when I first got in the field, between being frugal, having grown up in the Depression, or in the shadow of the Depression, having pensions, and also very much not thinking they were going to live very long, there wasn’t that much of a worry about financing a long retirement or even what retirement was supposed to be. It was just kind of a tag on at the end of a working life. And then what I’ve seen over this half century is that up until about a year or so ago, there were more and more older people.
Ken Dychtwald [00:04:42]:
They were living longer and longer and longer. People didn’t have any clue what to do with that period of their lives. They realized that if they stopped working, they might have ten or 20 or even 30 years in front of them because they had an uncle or an aunt or a grandpa who lived a long life, but clueless about who they could be and what they ought to do and how they might feel good about themselves. It was just sort of a new period of life. It was like a new frontier. Now, what’s going on is that the subject has just exploded. And for me, I’ve watched over the decades as individuals or moments have happened that have kind of triggered changes. So when Betty White passed away, there was a massive amount of media attention, because all of a sudden people said, I’ve never seen a 99 year old before who was attractive and fun and good sense of timing and cared about people and cared about animals, and I’d like to be that kind of 99 year old.
Ken Dychtwald [00:05:49]:
And then all of a sudden, Smuggie Robinson drops a new album at 83, and the Stones are putting out a new album. First new album in 18 years. And Martha Stewart lands on the COVID of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, and Harrison Ford comes by the way, to me.
Wes Moss [00:06:07]:
I remember when I realized what her age is. I thought it was a typo. I could not believe, because Martha Stewart is in her 80s, right?
Ken Dychtwald [00:06:18]:
Wes Moss [00:06:18]:
She’s 81. And I don’t know. I guess in my mind, back when she did, I don’t know, 20 years ago, I think in my mind, I was frozen at around 60. So when I saw her on the COVID she was on CNBC One the morning that the Sports illustrator came out, and just, I was thinking, oh, she’s probably around 60. And to hear that she’s in her 80s is remarkable. Right. So these are amazing.
Ken Dychtwald [00:06:44]:
Wes Moss [00:06:45]:
Ken Dychtwald [00:06:45]:
It’s sort of like a new age of aging has started up, and it’s not just one person or another. There’s 250,000 people now competing in the senior Olympics. There are millions of people who are reinventing themselves. There are community colleges that are popping up all over the place now for emeritus students, people who want to go back to school at 50 or 60, and people are falling in love again at 70 if they’ve been widowed or divorced. And so what we’re seeing is kind of a new frontier, and there are role models emerging. And I also last want to say that one of the big changes is that women are biologically superior to men, and so they live five to six years longer than men. And so we’ve got longevity for men, but then we’ve got a version of it for women. And it’s different.
Ken Dychtwald [00:07:40]:
It’s longer, there’s more money needed. There’s more questioning about what am I going to do? Who am I going to be, how am I going to live, how am I going to steer clear of isolation, loneliness? And these topics have gotten very hot. It’s kind of fun to see a subject that when I first got into it, nobody wanted to talk about it. And now you can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine or a news show without hearing new views about what it could be to be older and what kind of freedoms and what kinds of possibilities exist.
Wes Moss [00:08:21]:
Well, I think part of it, maybe Ken, too, is it the thought that boomers are now, so many boomers are in retirement age, maybe. Is that part of it? Is that we’ve got such a large part of the demographics that are really in the sweet spot of figuring out what to do with the next 20 and 30 years. Is that part of this demographic?
Ken Dychtwald [00:08:47]:
Yeah, and I’d split it in three ways, if that’s okay with us. First of all, the boomers are just a huge number of people. And so it used to be referred to as a pig going through a python. Now that the boomers are getting older, we’re seeing a whole lot of attention focused on people getting older. Second, the boomers were a quirky bunch. They changed majors in college. They were more likely to change partners if the relationship wasn’t working out. They changed religions, they relocated.
Ken Dychtwald [00:09:22]:
And so they’re going into their later years with this idea that reinvention and change is, okay, what can I learn? And the third thing that’s happening is that they pull the marketplace with them. So, man, oh man, the number of ads you see now for financial services firms help you save to and through retirement. Vitamin companies, wellness companies, sculptology companies. It’s almost unbelievable the amount of attention, whether it’s travel and leisure, financial services, home renovation, the boomers are pulling the markets towards them as well.
Wes Moss [00:10:03]:
Yeah, I always remember the thought around boomers made hula hoops like when they were seven and ten years old, there was the blossoming of the hula hoop. So every demographic, or throughout the entire demographics of boomers, they’ve moved the market. To your point, they’re pulling the market along with them. So here’s one thing I’ve been studying pretty recently, is this thought around unretirement. And really just looking at economic data, you look at labor force participation, if you go all the ripples can through COVID, for many reasons, health, finance, what happened to the economy? We saw labor force participation drop by 2 million people in the 55 plus, which was just a massive number of, quote, retirees. They left the labor force and then now in the last year and a half or so, they’ve a million and a half of them come back, technically, and not all 2 million retired. But what is amazing to me is that we’ve got all these people kind of coming back a little bit to work. And I wanted to ask you about this because I know you talk about how if you’re 60 plus, there hasn’t been enough conversation around.
Wes Moss [00:11:23]:
What are you going to be doing for 20, 30, 40 years? So have you started to see, have you talked much about this unretirement trend?
Ken Dychtwald [00:11:33]:
Yeah. And you hit the nail on the head, Wes. And there’s three converging forces, I think, that are bringing it all about. First of all, people are starting to scratch their head and say having time off is great and getting a break from work is great, and maybe I’d like to even do something different, but I don’t know that I want to come and now work for 30 or 40 years. Last ten years, the average American retiree, and we got about 70 million retirees watch 47 hours of television a week. And that’s like a bad joke. The second thing that’s happening is that the generation of people who are currently retiring have not done a terrific job of preparing financially. So there’s a whole lot of people scratching their head and saying, I don’t think I can afford this.
Ken Dychtwald [00:12:24]:
Maybe I had to work a few more years. And the Third force is we have low unemployment. If there was high unemployment, for example, when Social Security was crafted, the unemployment level was 25%. So part of the purpose of that program was brilliantly conceived, was to give a little bit of a stipend to people so they wouldn’t wind up in the courthouse. It was $120 a year to start, but it was also to get the old people out of the workforce so that those young people could get started with their families and their jobs and get on with their lives. Today, we need workers. We need brain surgeons. We need engineers.
Ken Dychtwald [00:13:04]:
We need FBI operators. We need all kinds of talent. And it’s one thing if you’re working in a retail store and it takes two weeks to train you up to do the job, but if you’re going to do knee surgery, why would you want to push somebody out the door just because they had a birthday, right? There’s a need for more of these older people now. People aren’t saying they want to work until they’re 100. They’re saying maybe another five or six years, and maybe I’d like to work three or four days a week. And employers are beginning to create more flex retirement or flex work so they can keep some of that talent. And also, people can have a better balance between work and leisure because as you’ve written about in your books, people want to have some fun. They want to enjoy themselves.
Ken Dychtwald [00:13:58]:
They don’t want to just labor all the time.
Wes Moss [00:14:02]:
So I guess that brings me to this, which is you write about your latest book that I know you’ve just revised, radical Curiosity. I wrote a whole chapter about curiosity. I think of it as curiosity killed the cat, lack of curiosity killed the happy retiree. My question is about self discovery and how do we reinvent rediscover, and I want to hear about your journey around that. What are some of the most important discoveries that have been seminal moments for you and impacted your journey? And then how can you help our listeners really think that through so that they have a really full 60 plus period of time?
Ken Dychtwald [00:14:51]:
Yeah. First of all, like you said, curiosity killed the cat. Boy, there’s a concept, curiosity. It’s got a bad rap. People talk about abundance and success and wealth, and we don’t talk about curiosity anymore because people who are curious are asking questions. They’re learning things. They’re interacting with younger generations. They are keeping their minds open.
Ken Dychtwald [00:15:16]:
That curiosity also inhibits cognitive loss, makes you more interesting. It causes life to be fresh, and it also might lead you to new possibilities. So what I came to realize in my life is that curiosity is kind of essential if you want to live an exciting and dynamic and open minded long life. I mean, we’ve all seen older people. Maybe you’ve got a grumpy uncle or you got a next door neighbor who is no fun to be around. And all they want to talk about is how things used to be better in the old days, and they don’t care about anything new. They don’t understand why Taylor Swift is so happening right now, and they don’t understand why it’s so amazing that the Stones are kind of putting out a new album after 18 years of not doing that.
Wes Moss [00:16:17]:
And by the way, Harrison Ford I just saw the other day, he’s in his 80s.
Ken Dychtwald [00:16:22]:
Wes Moss [00:16:24]:
He’s, like, in half of my favorite new shows.
Ken Dychtwald [00:16:28]:
Yeah, he’s, like, in every. Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren are in, like, every TV show and movie there is right now. By the way, I’ll tell you an interesting story about Harrison Ford, which I think is to the point of your program. I spoke at a conference where he was the other keynote speaker. This is right before COVID and he’s a climate activist. And at the end of his speech, he said, we got to get all the young people, the world planting trees, save the planet. And he got a standing ovation. And I had a private meeting with him afterward.
Ken Dychtwald [00:17:04]:
And first of all, I fawned over him. What a life you’ve had. You’ve done some cool roles. What a great thing.
Wes Moss [00:17:12]:
I love you, Han Solo, right?
Ken Dychtwald [00:17:15]:
Think about being Harrison Ford. I said to him, are you aware of the fact that there’s a billion people in the world right now over the age of 60, and nobody has tasked them with anything?
Wes Moss [00:17:27]:
What did he say?
Ken Dychtwald [00:17:28]:
He pulled back like you just did, and he said, a billion people over 60, and we haven’t given them anything useful to do. Wow. I never thought of that, he said, and I said, by the way, think of the kind of the metaphysical message. If you got 60 or 70 year olds planting trees in who shade they might never sit, it makes a statement about how the old care for the future, and we don’t have enough of that. We don’t have enough. I’m not saying that older people should be obligated to join the military or should be forced into service. But only 24% of today’s retirees volunteer at all. And we know that volunteers are happier, healthier, have more fun, meet new people, feel good about their lives.
Ken Dychtwald [00:18:16]:
By giving, they get. And we haven’t really yet created a world again. This is a new frontier where older adults think, I can’t wait to stop working so that I can spend a few hours a week at the church or the mosque or the synagogue or helping out at the schools or, for example, you’re a financial pro. Think of all the inner city kids that could benefit if some financial professionals went into those schools and taught the basics of money management. You’d have people who, for the rest of their life, would be in better shape financially. Why wait until you’re 55 to start thinking about money? We ought to be learning about it in high school.
Wes Moss [00:18:56]:
Well, okay, so Harrison Ford said, we got to get the youth planting trees. And you were like, hey, what about the billion six year olds? Why should they be planting trees? Right?
Ken Dychtwald [00:19:09]:
Yeah. And he was sort of dumbfounded by the idea, and he was in his mid seventy s at the time, so you would have thought it would have occurred to him that people of his era, his generation, might be better off if they were doing something a little more useful. We just did a big study, by the way, all of our studies can be found for free on our website, and our website is agewave.com. And we asked people, would they rather be youthful or useful? And it was four to one. People said, useful is what I want to be when I get older, but I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what’s right for me. I don’t want to spend 50 hours a week working.
Ken Dychtwald [00:19:56]:
If I want to do a couple of 3 hours a week, how do I work that out? And you think with all these AI wizards out there, they could work out the right kind of protocol so that people could figure out what’s the right match for them as they reach that stage of life.
Wes Moss [00:20:13]:
Is your cash working for you? For years, banks have gotten away with paying next to nothing for the privilege of holding your money. Today, investors have more options as the Federal Reserve has raised and raised and raised interest rates dramatically. Why not take advantage of it? If you’re interested in finding a higher yielding solution for the safety allocation of your investment portfolio, reach out to my Team@yourwealth.com. That’s Y-O-U rwealth.com. All right, so what do you mean by the life’s third age?
Ken Dychtwald [00:20:52]:
So this is not an idea that I made up. I actually put out three books during COVID And by the way, all my earnings from those three books are being donated to not for profit organizations. It’s partly my way of giving back. I like the idea of volunteering and working pro bono, and I try to do it by Ken.
Wes Moss [00:21:15]:
Must have done a lot of good retirement planning to be able to have all your proceeds go to.
Ken Dychtwald [00:21:22]:
I did. You know, one of the good things about working with a lot of financial firms, you get to sit in the back of the room. And even though I usually never understood the words they were using, and I know you’re anti jargon, also, I did get the idea that you have a lot more freedom to do and be and live how you want if you got your financial house in order. So that’s kind of like right at the top of the list. Third age. Yeah. It comes from the European traditions of lifelong education. But the belief is that throughout most of history, people lived only through their first age, which is the first approximately 30 years of life.
Ken Dychtwald [00:22:09]:
Now, Wes, I’m going to tell you something. You’re going to say that can’t be true. Throughout 99% of human history, the average life expectancy worldwide was under 18.
Wes Moss [00:22:21]:
For our listeners. Okay, if you’re going back over world history, world history. We’re living at the 0.1% of a period of time when we actually can live beyond our 20s.
Ken Dychtwald [00:22:35]:
Right. So the first age was zero to 30. And your focus is growing up, surviving deadly diseases, accidents, trauma, war. And then we began to have improvements in 18th, 19th and 20th century in medicine and pharmacopeia, public health. And people started living into their forty s and fifty s. And so we created a second age. And all of a sudden, society became kind of dominated by people in the second age of men and women. And now what we’re seeing emerging is a third age life after 60, which could also wind up being 30 years for people.
Ken Dychtwald [00:23:17]:
And most of us are just clueless about what we could do and where we should live and should we have roommates and should we keep working and how much money are we going to need? And so it’s sort of uncharted territory. Think of Lewis and Clark. It’s for pioneers and it’s for people to like. You begin folks thinking about it’s not just how much money am I going to have or need, but how am I going to spend it down? And then it’s about who am I going to enjoy having time with? And it’s about how am I going to keep my health span trying to match my lifespan. Because most people don’t want to be sick for the last 1015 years. And last, it’s about purpose. We’ve done work these last bunch of years again, all free the reports. We’ve done them with various financial firms and wonderful partners like Merrill and Edward Jones and Ameriprise and such.
Ken Dychtwald [00:24:19]:
And what we’ve learned is that when people think of planning for their later years, it’s not just about money. It’s how do I think about giving back? How do I think about getting more time with the people I like and making new friends and intergenerational connections? How do I get away from the family and friends that I think are toxic? Because that’s not the way I want to spend my last decades. And also purpose. What can I do that would give me new purpose? A lot of us spend our years at jobs and in careers that some 19 year old version of ourselves one night at a party, thought it would be a fun thing to do for the rest of our life. And then we find ourselves at 55 or 60 thinking, I didn’t know. Did I really want to be an accountant? Am I really cut out to be a chef? I mean, I cut out to be a homemaker. You start to get a little bit of emotional intelligence and you can really think about, what would I like to do now and then. How do you get yourself on that track?
Wes Moss [00:25:27]:
Well, is that. And I want to ask about health span and whether we. Health span versus lifespan. I mean, we all want to.
Ken Dychtwald [00:25:35]:
Oh, you’re not going to like what I have.
Wes Moss [00:25:37]:
Let’s just go right there. Let’s hear this.
Ken Dychtwald [00:25:38]:
Yeah, see, you’re a radically curious kind of guy. So this is think about this as sort of a slightly newish way to think about things. Now that we’ve got all this new longevity, and so many of us are living past 60, we’ve got our lifespan. That’s the number of years we live in the United States. It’s actually gone a little bit backwards during COVID So average life expectancy is about 77. We are 40th in the world when it comes to how long we live. So there are 39 countries in the world that live longer than we do. But then there’s what’s called health span, which is how many years in your life are you living without disability and pain and suffering? And we only live about 66 years with a positive health span.
Wes Moss [00:26:32]:
I wanted you to share that because that’s a number that doesn’t. You don’t hear about that number very often.
Ken Dychtwald [00:26:38]:
No. I’ve watched every presidential debate now for the last 20 years, and I cannot believe that the media doesn’t bring this question up. Get a load of this. We are 60th in the world when it comes to health span. Now, keep in mind that we spend more money on health than any country in the world, yet we’re 40th when it comes to lifespAn. 39 countries live longer than we do. And I’m sorry I said 60th. We’re 60 eigth when it comes to our health span.
Ken Dychtwald [00:27:09]:
So there’s 67 countries in the world that live healthier longer than we do. And that stinks. It stinks for people, it stinks for families because it requires a lot of caregiving. People spend down their wealth, cost the country an enormous amount of money to pay for all of this. We got to fix that if we’re going to continue to have longevity.
Wes Moss [00:27:36]:
It’s actually frustrating. I almost get worked up about it. I get almost angry.
Ken Dychtwald [00:27:42]:
Well, we ought to get worked up about it. It’s outrageous. And it’s outrageous that our politicians don’t focus on it. It’s outrageous. It doesn’t come up in political debates. It’s outrageous. It’s not identified as a number one, two or three major American challenge. And, yeah, I’m worked up about it.
Ken Dychtwald [00:28:05]:
It doesn’t make me happy. I’m ashamed to have to say that.
Wes Moss [00:28:10]:
You probably know Dan Buetner, the Blue Zones guy, and I’ve loved his work for a lot of years, but he makes this great point that immediately when you say, hey, our health span is 66, which is terrible, I immediately want to know why. Like, what’s the answer? And I know there’s no one answer, but I think about, and I don’t know if it’s maybe it’s Singapore or maybe it’s Singapore recently that just catapulted into the top ten centenarians. And what Dan has talked about is that it’s what the government there has done over the last 50 years to make it a walkable city and make it so that people are eating healthier. It’s almost like you have to be in the right lifestyle. You can’t just figure it out. And I guess it’s just our lifestyle in America for one reason, or just we’re so far away from having a good health span. What would you say if you had to say one reason? What is it?
Ken Dychtwald [00:29:24]:
Well, I have to say that I am captivated by Buetner’s examination. And for those of your listeners who’ve never heard of him, it’s Buettner, and he’s got a series. I think it’s on Netflix now. It’s a four part series about how to live to 100. And he travels to the regions of the world that have the most centenarians, and there’s three or four things that he’s found. Number one, they move around a lot. They walk, they work in their garden. When he goes to his first Okinawa City that he studies, it’s very steep.
Ken Dychtwald [00:30:01]:
Second, people have their, what he calls in Okinawa, their ikiga. It’s their group. It’s their group of friends and family that all care for each other. Third, people, don’t think about checking out. When you get older, you still have a role to play as a mentor, as a loving adult, you concern yourself with the well being of young people in your community. Singapore. When I was in my twenty s, I got asked to meet with Lee Kwan Yu, who is then the senior minister who kind of created modern Singapore. And he wanted to know in, like, a two hour meeting what’s going to happen in the future as Singapore gets older and what should we do about it? And he went ahead and did everything.
Wes Moss [00:30:51]:
Wait, so you were one of the guys that met with him?
Ken Dychtwald [00:30:54]:
Yeah. Holy. Long time ago.
Wes Moss [00:30:57]:
Ken Dychtwald [00:31:00]:
Well, what’s more amazing is that he did something he put in playgrounds for people of all ages in almost every community setting. He created walking streets so that people wouldn’t be always in their car. He created, essentially cash benefits. If you live near your parents or your. There’s just. There are things that we all could be doing to give us a longer health span and maybe even a longer lifespan that we in the United States, we don’t eat healthy. You know what Budner found was if you take two cities, you put them that are right next to each other, and sociologically they’re identical. The only difference is in one city, it’s got billboards for soft drinks and fast foods.
Ken Dychtwald [00:31:51]:
Forget about whether there’s even restaurants, just billboards in a city that those don’t exist. The body mass index is 15% lower. And what he’s trying to do now is create blue zones in the United States. We just don’t take it seriously. We think you get up, you keep your fingers crossed, and you’re going to have money and have health and have fun. And it takes a little more individual and social intention to pull it off.
Wes Moss [00:32:21]:
Yeah. It’s almost like we’re not set up for it. I mean, I have been a student of this. I think it was almost 20 years ago when his first blue zones came out. I remember I used to buy that as gifts for people 20 years ago. And Dan, actually, I’ve got him on the COVID of this latest book, but it’s almost like, meaning that I’m a student of it. I get it. And I also study.
Wes Moss [00:32:47]:
I think part of his work was inspiration for me to go reverse engineer the happy retiree. But we’re not that set up for it, is the problem. I know what to be doing, but I still don’t walk to work, and I’m not moving all day. I mean, I’m jumping around in my chair when we’re talking, but I’m not walking just accidentally four to 7 miles a day. And I’m not plant based like I should be. And I even like to eat plant based, and I still don’t do it. It’s almost like we’re just not as set up for it in the United States. And I don’t know why, but maybe guys like you and guys like me will try to start to turn that tide.
Ken Dychtwald [00:33:33]:
Well, first I want to say this is kind of new. We got to give ourselves a little bit of a break that we never really before in history had to think about, do I want to live to 100? And if not, why not? And what are the people tell me that they don’t want to live to 100 if they don’t have their brain working or if they’re in pain or if they’re a burden on their family. So this is kind of new stuff. And as we talk about it on programs like yours, Wes, and in your books and in my books, maybe more and more people will start to say, hey, this is important. And then we got to be careful, because every type of snake oil salesman you can imagine is now claiming that to have the cure for aging.
Wes Moss [00:34:25]:
We got it. We’ve got Ozempic. Right. Ozempic. Now we can lower our weight. It’s good for kidney disease. Now. It’s good for cardiac.
Wes Moss [00:34:38]:
We can just eat French fries all day and take Ozempic, and we’re going to be fine.
Ken Dychtwald [00:34:42]:
Yeah. Unfortunately, we amerIcans, it seems like things in pill form. So rather than do the work, like what, Budner has reverse engineered those cultures, these centenarians seem to live a certain way. We just rather take a pill and shame on us. And we’re getting what we pay for. We’re getting an unhealthy life where we’re taking a lot of pills, and I think there needs to be a wake up call. I think that this is serious problem.
Wes Moss [00:35:14]:
I know that in some of your talks, you’ve talked about kind of the history of just medical innovation, pharmacology or pharmaceuticals. And partially, of course, that’s primarily why life expectancy has increased for the last century or so. But to some extent in the United States. Well, I guess, and maybe this is just more of a current event, the hype around these, I guess they’re what Ozempic would be, a semi glutide drug where it can lower our weight. Et that to some extent. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it may help with longevity. But do you think it just contributes to the, hey, we can still do whatever we want to do and just take another pill to make it go away?
Ken Dychtwald [00:36:09]:
Yeah. First of all, I’m not one who knocks the pharma industry all the time, because a lot of people think if you knock the pharma industry, then you’re on the right side of everything. And my dad lived to 93, and he was diabetic. And if it wasn’t for his insulin shots, he never would have known my children. So I’m grateful for the farm industry, but it’s a little bit like thinking that by using your credit card a lot, you’re saving for retirement. You’re not. You’re spending yourself into debt. And I also am old enough now to remember thalidomide, which was a drug that created deformed children.
Ken Dychtwald [00:36:53]:
I don’t think we know for sure about drugs like Ozempec. I think that it’s all just like happened in the last couple of years that everybody’s talking about it. But I think that some of these, as you and Budner would say, more old fashioned approaches, healthy diet. I haven’t eaten meat for over 40 years. Regular exercise, playing a meaningful role in your life, having purpose, having people you care about who can care about you. I think we ought to spend a little more time and attention on those non pill approaches.
Wes Moss [00:37:32]:
Non pill approach. Kim, what about the, you’ve been married, I think, for what, probably almost how many years?
Ken Dychtwald [00:37:39]:
It’ll be 40 years next month.
Wes Moss [00:37:41]:
And you and your wife Maddie, you all re up your vowels. Is that, you do it every year?
Ken Dychtwald [00:37:49]:
Yeah. You’ve done your homework. So the night I married Maddie, we were both 33 and we were broke. We had no money, but we were in love.
Wes Moss [00:37:58]:
Where did you meet Maddie?
Ken Dychtwald [00:38:00]:
Well, oddly, she had grown up in New Jersey also, but we met in California. She was an actress and working a soap opera. And a mutual friend introduced us. But the night we got married, and I said, this is really fun. We ought to do this every year. And she said, people don’t do that. And I said, well, they should. They celebrate Halloween every year.
Ken Dychtwald [00:38:27]:
They celebrate birthdays. We celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. Why not take a few minutes every year and remarry your partner? Or if you’re not married, maybe just celebrate a friendship. And then Maddie said, okay, but if we’re going to do that, let’s get married in a different location with a different religion. So we’ve had 39 weddings so far. We got married at the Chapel of Love in Las Vegas. And by the way, we don’t do invite a lot of people. It’s usually just whoever the minister is that’s doing the service and a photographer.
Ken Dychtwald [00:38:59]:
We got married at the Chapel of Love in Versailles, France. We got married at the top of the Cheech and Itza Pyramid. We got married at the Church of Spilt Blood in Russia, in St. Petersburg, Russia. We got married by the skiing judge of Vale in Vale, Colorado.
Wes Moss [00:39:13]:
Skiing judge, meaning that?
Ken Dychtwald [00:39:15]:
Yeah. You just tell him what slope you’re going to be on, and he skis in with a photographer and a Bible and he marries you, takes a skis off.
Wes Moss [00:39:25]:
What mountain is this again?
Ken Dychtwald [00:39:26]:
Where is Vale? Vale Mountain in Colorado. You’d be surprised. You could check into any hotel or go to any concierge and sAy, can you arrange a marriage for me? They can do it in a minute. And people actually have always enjoy doing these services with us. We’ve had our kids marry us a couple of times because they feel like, what a nice thing. Usually couples are fighting, know your relationship can get lost in the tangle of modern life. So people have always felt, what a nice thing. Here’s a couple of people who want to stay together.
Ken Dychtwald [00:40:05]:
And by the way, I’ll tell you one other thing, Wes, that we do when we have our weddings, and they’re usually around Thanksgiving, we got married on Thanksgiving. We take some time to talk. Hey, how did last year go for you? How could I be a better partner? Where did I miss my marks? How can we have a better marriage going forward? What might next year look like? You do that with your business. You do that with your school. You do that with your financial planner. Why not do that with your partner? And I’m not suggesting that all of your listeners do it, but I suggest you take at least a minute to think about it. It’s not that hard to do, and it’s helped us. We got married in the years where each of our parents died.
Ken Dychtwald [00:40:53]:
We got married when our kids were being born, and it serves to kind of glue us together in some special ways.
Wes Moss [00:41:03]:
I guess it’s probably because you’re getting a reset every year. I was going to ask, have you had some difficult years, though, even doing this, or has it kind of helped?
Ken Dychtwald [00:41:16]:
And that was a surprise, part of my memoir, radical curiosity, that you mentioned at the top of the show. I’m a risk taker, so I’ve had some failures in business. We’ve had some years where we were fighting a lot, my wife and I. I’ve had some times where I wasn’t sure which way I was pointed, what I ought to be doing with my life. And at least to date, I’ve managed to sort all of those out and work them out with the help of my wife and me helping her, too, as she’s gone through difficult times, losses and confusions and uncertainties. And I think we ought to take our lives a little more seriously. I think we think them as just sort of unfolding and everything works out. And I don’t know who got that idea.
Wes Moss [00:42:15]:
As you’ve grown older, how has your purpose changed? How has that evolved for you?
Ken Dychtwald [00:42:23]:
Well, I watch my kids who are 33 and 36, and their purpose is appropriate for that stage of life. They want to have a lot of fun. They’re in love. They’re thinking about trying to make their job a little better. They look at the world and it seems like it’s lost its mind. As I’ve grown older, I like to think I’ve got a little more resilience. Every now and then, I listen to myself reasoning through things, and I think. I think I’ve gotten a little smarter.
Ken Dychtwald [00:42:57]:
Maybe even a little wisdom is popping up here and there. I try to steer clear of people and things that I think are not worth my time. I’ve learned from a lot of the older people I’ve worked with that you don’t want to go through your life only to later on have regrets. I should have done that. Or why did I waste so many years doing something I didn’t care about, which requires a willingness to make changes.
Wes Moss [00:43:25]:
Have you ever gone too far, risk wise, do you ever regret it, work wise? Well, no. Risk wise. Work wise, have you ever regretted taking too big of a leap?
Ken Dychtwald [00:43:36]:
Well, you’re asking two questions. Looking back, I can see that there were a couple of times where I took some leaps that were beyond. For example, I started six companies of the 1990s and raised a lot of capital, not anticipating that the Internet would come along and make it very hard, if not impossible, to raise more capital for a publishing company, a food company, health store, an intellectual property company that focused on the aging brain. So, yeah, I went too far and lost it all. Do I regret it? Not really. I kind of feel like life’s got its moments for risks, and I don’t want to be a guy in my final hours that says, oh, I didn’t take risks, or I didn’t try new things, or I didn’t see how far I could swing the bat.
Wes Moss [00:44:41]:
What lesson would you have every politician learn right now? Every educator, every healthcare provider, Every financial advisor, when it comes to aging or rediscovery or radical curiosity?
Ken Dychtwald [00:45:00]:
I think all of our politicians need a new framework for thinking about longevity. Number one, what do we do with all these older people? To cast them aside as worthless is just plain stupid. Number two, how are we going to pay for it? And it’s called the third rail of Politics, that if you bring up the idea of tinkering with any of the safety nets that older adults receive and the age at which they receive them, you’ll be voted out of office. But there’s doing the moral thing, doing the right thing, which is to have these discussions and bring them forward. And last, I think we need to remastermine our health care system to create health, which we’re not doing, and everybody’s avoiding it. And it’s not a matter of giving everybody access to an ineffective health care system. It’s creating a health care system that produces healthy, long lived, productive, happy, pain free men and women.
Wes Moss [00:46:07]:
Yeah, I think it is part of this. You’re right. It’s so third rail. And because politicians, they can be in the House of Representatives for 40 plus years, they’re much more worried about getting reelected than tackling problems. And that, again, I don’t even know. I guess that is a political debate.
Ken Dychtwald [00:46:34]:
Yeah, I’m getting asked that a lot lately, and I usually don’t weigh in on it, but I don’t know if it’s about age. I think it’s pretty cool that Nancy Pelosi is running for office again at 83. And I think in some ways that people in their 80s who are trying to have a voice in politics, they’re pioneers. There’ll be more such people in the future, maybe 90 year olds. However, I think we miss out on the life stage that younger people are in. If we’re creating a gerontocracy, what is it like to be dreaming of the future? What is it like to be worried about the climate? What is it like to wish that we had more peace and less violence, kinds of things that younger people are clamoring for? And I think we’d be better off if we didn’t have our own version of age apartheid, where older people had more power and younger people were on the sidelines. I think if we had all the generations weighing in from their station in life, we’d have a wiser America.
Wes Moss [00:47:45]:
Yeah. My point to clarify on that is not so much about the age of politicians. It’s the fact that they can be in the same job and be a representative for 40 plus years. So it’s really a question about term limits, which makes it so that politicians in general don’t take on longer term projects that are even slightly unpopular in the early onset because it’s not good for reelection. Right. And I think that that’s part of. Look, if you think about setting up a city for longevity, it takes like 30, 40, 50 years to make a social network or social service program work. It’s a generational item.
Wes Moss [00:48:33]:
When elections are every 24 months, it’s hard to square the two sometimes. Again, I wanted to ask you, as we start to wrap up here, your thoughts around legacy. Have you always thought about legacy? Are you thinking about it more now that your kids are full blown adults and they’re creating their own families now? And what is your advice around thinking about legacy, or maybe just how you think about it personally?
Ken Dychtwald [00:49:06]:
Well, sometimes the work we do at age wave overlaps with my own personal curiosities. Right around the time my dad was passing away, we did a big study on inheritance. And in the focus groups, nobody wanted to talk about inheritance. I whispered into the focus group moderator, ask about legacy. Would you like to leave a legacy or receive one? And everybody did. And then we found that there were four dimensions of legacy. Your wealth and real estate, possessions that had some emotional value, dad’s baseball glove or the house by the lake, instructions and wishes to be fulfilled. But number one were values and life lessons.
Ken Dychtwald [00:49:47]:
And then I started hunting around, as you do, and I realized that in many of the religious traditions, there was two wills, a material will, the stuff I own, and who gets what was either called an ethical will or a spiritual will. And it was, what are the lessons you’ve learned in your life? And you don’t need to be famous or have met with powerful people but you’ve probably learned a few things along the way. And if I were going on a camping trip and a bunch of people were coming back from having traveled the same territory where I’m heading, might be a good idea to ask them, are there any rattlesnakes up ahead? Where is the fresh water? Is there a place to catch sunset? And I don’t have to take any of their lessons, but I might benefit from hearing them. So I decided that my legacy would be my stories and my life lessons. And that’s what’s in radical curiosity. And all my other books I’ve done 19 now have been about a phenomenon about the workforce or healthy aging or financial preparedness. This one is kind of from the inside out. What have I learned through my failures? What have I learned by being a dad? What have I learned by trying to be a good husband? What have I learned by being a boss? What have I learned by having made some money? And I like to think that that’s my legacy.
Ken Dychtwald [00:51:12]:
And also that I’ve pounded away at this aging subject for just about 50 years when lots of people have come and gone or jumped into it in the last couple of years because they thought it was kind of the hot new thing. But I’ve been on this beat a long time.
Wes Moss [00:51:28]:
I want to ask you maybe our final question about what is next. So you’re one of the originals when it comes to aging. I want to know, what do you think is next over the next ten years in your field? But let me just ask you maybe a more fun personal note. Besides work stuff, besides writing books, what are your core pursuits? Hobbies on steroids, the fun things if you weren’t going to continue to work, and I count that as a great core pursuit for those 60 plus. But what are some of the fun things you do?
Ken Dychtwald [00:52:08]:
Well, I’d have to save time with my wife and my kids and my new daughter in law. And I’ve got great friends in my company that I enjoy and I work out every day, and I’ve had A yoga practice for 53 years, which I enjoy. But I will tell you in all honesty, I’m at a stage in my career where I’m beginning to wonder, should I work a little bit less and have some more time for play? And I’m not even sure how to do that because I’ve been such a productive workaholic for half a century, I should read your books.
Wes Moss [00:52:48]:
And then again, what do you think is next with aging?
Ken Dychtwald [00:52:51]:
I think a few things you want to hear the good the bad or the ugly?
Wes Moss [00:52:55]:
Yeah, I like let’s do good, bad, ugly.
Ken Dychtwald [00:52:58]:
So on the good side, the dream of history. For tens of thousands of years, we dreamt of living long lives, and I think that billions of people are going to live long lives. And that’s pretty incredible. Notwithstanding all the things we discussed about what are you going to do with your time, and will you have enough money? And so on and so forth. That’s the good, the bad. I worry that older people won’t relinquish power, that we’ll become a gerontocracy, whether it’s in politics or in family or in business, that older people will not let go and not make room for young ideas, young thinking, young energy, young vision, young priorities. In the ugly, there are diseases and illnesses like Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, that more likely happen to older people. And we have not focused our medical system on or our scientific community on eliminating these diseases.
Ken Dychtwald [00:54:16]:
When I was 30, I collaborated on a book with Jonah Salk, and one night over dinner, Dr. Salk told me how in the 1940s, everybody thought we were going to need more iron lungs because poliomyelitis was rampant.
Wes Moss [00:54:28]:
Wait again, Salk is in the guy, the polio? Right. Salk and Saban, right.
Ken Dychtwald [00:54:33]:
Jonah Salk and Saban came up with a vaccine that pretty close to eliminating the disease. I think we need to spend the money to wipe out diseases like dementia and cancer rather than just keep them prolonged. I don’t think anybody wants to be taken down by those ugly diseases. So longevity has got its good and it’s bad and it’s ugly.
Wes Moss [00:55:04]:
By the way, do you have a take on any of the progress we have seen on that? I know it’s super early with. I guess we’ve got a couple like Eli Lilly’s had some breakthroughs, but all of that is just for dementia, Alzheimer’s, just to slow the progression but not really fix it. Have you looked at that at all?
Ken Dychtwald [00:55:27]:
Yeah. I was marketing advisor to the Alzheimer’s association in the 1990s, so I’ve been on this beat long time. Last year or two, there’s been some progress, but their medications, that are very expensive. Question as to whether Medicare is willing to reimburse for them. And at best, they slow the progress among some people. I want a vaccine. I want a salt vaccine. Boom, no more dementia.
Ken Dychtwald [00:56:02]:
So that’s my standard. And so, yeah, there’s progress and there’s more attention and there’s more scientific intelligence, but not nearly enough.
Wes Moss [00:56:12]:
All right, last question. What’s your favorite piece of advice for a would be retiree or retirement.
Ken Dychtwald [00:56:20]:
Take a breath. A lot of people charge from their job to their retirement and want to be active. And I think this is going to sound really dopey, and I apologize. But when I was a young man, I thought being a wordsmith guy and a writer, I thought that the parts of the sentence that mattered the most were the nouns. And then I got a little more Zen in my thirty s, and I thought the verbs were what really mattered. It’s the being, not the thing. And then when I got a little older, I thought I was really getting sharp when I thought the adverbs it’s how you move and how you relate and how you do what you do. But as I’ve gotten older, I’m completely convinced it’s the punctuation points.
Ken Dychtwald [00:57:11]:
It’s the time where you stop and tell your wife, I love you. It’s the time you pause to think. It’s the time you reflect on what’s next. And they’re awkward. Sometimes punctuation points are awkward, even if I stop talking for a moment here on your program, it that’s a little awkward, but that’s the advice I’d give. Take a deep breath.
Wes Moss [00:57:40]:
It was just the battery.
Ken Dychtwald [00:57:41]:
Take a deep breath and also try to find some role models. We have role models. If you’re a kid and you want to be a basketball player or a football player, we have role models. Science. We have role models in church. Yet we also don’t have role models in later life. And I think that’s valuable.
Wes Moss [00:58:04]:
Well, you’re one of mine, Ken.
Ken Dychtwald [00:58:06]:
Mallory Boggs [00:58:08]:
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