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At what age are you planning to die?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.
Death is a subject that makes a lot of people uncomfortable because it forces them to confront their own mortality. When we accept the fact that we will not live in this life for ever, we set ourselves free to live the best life we possibly can.

One of the questions I ask those who participate in my Age Management for Senior Executives programmes is: at what age are you planning to die?

There are many different answers that are given. Some people will say that they don’t know what age they will be when they die. They are naturally quite correct as none of us knows the time, place or manner of our departure from this life. I explain that I have phrased the question as I have to challenge their thinking. The underlying assumption is: if you had a say in when you are to die, when would it be?

Others will think for a bit, then (and many people do this) refer to the ages of their parents when they died, add on a few extra years and name a figure based on that. My response is to ask them why they chose to base their own age of death on that of their parents.

It’s generally accepted that the human being can live to a maximum of 120 years, based on the number of times human cells can divide before they die. This upper limit is known as the Hayflick limit. This age is however being challenged and the possibility of 125 or 140 being reached is now being considered.

In fact, scientists now claim that the person who is going to live to 200 has already been born! The question is: does one actually WANT to live that long?

But back to you ... What age did you pick for yourself? This will give you a good idea of how much life you think you have left to live and that, in turn, will greatly influence how you live your life in the hear and now.

Let’s say you’re 50-years-old now. If you think that you are going to die at around 62, as one CEO told me, that means you’ve only got 12 years left. Without realising it, you will start “coming in to land” both mentally and physically, and chances are you will be a very old 62-year-old person. And you might not die then!

If, however, you think you’re going to live until 90, you instinctively believe you have another 40 years to live and that dramatically changes the way you look at life and live your life. Think about it. A 50-year-old who still has another 40 years to go has just about another whole life left to live. Do you realise what that means for you?

So, if you’re going to live till 90, if you retire to put your feet up on the front porch, you will have another 30 years of sitting on that porch. In the live longer, work longer world we’ve now entered, you need to ensure that, even though you may not be employed in a full time capacity, you keep yourself as physically and mentally mobile for as long as possible.

Such decisions will automatically have an impact on how you conduct life going forward, how you look after your health and how you plan for your future. If you’re only planning in terms of a decade more, or even less, you will already be living like an old person. If you’re planning on living another 30, 40 or 50 years, the thoughts you think and the plans you make will be very, very different.

“Ah, but ...” you say, “no-one can stop the advance of age and, besides, no-one gets out of life alive.”

True, but while you can’t stop getting older, you can stop yourself getting old.

There’s a little known proverb that says, “Men die because they see other men around them dying.” This proverb is expressing the power of peer pressure. If you see people around you dying and you believe that you should be dying too, you will start dying inside and it won’t be long before everything in your body shuts down.

I encourage you to pick a generous figure when you decide at what age you plan to die, then live equally generously. Make big plans, live enthusiastically and take care of your body and mind in a way that will help you to live as long as you wish and to be mobile and alert for as long as possible.

You see, when all is said and done, you are as old as you think you are!

Useful resources:
HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent.
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