Who Knew? Life Begins (Again) At 65

Realizing we are mortal can lead to treasuring our final decades
By Bruce Horovitz, Kaiser Health News
November 4, 2018 Updated: November 4, 2018

I was convinced I would become an adult when I turned 21. But now, I’m certain that turning 65 was the watershed moment that finally grew me up.

I’m pleased as a pomegranate to be 65—and alive. Not just alive and breathing, but actively engaged in making the right choices about this next chapter.

“We enter this phase of life without a playbook or anything equivalent to institutions like elementary school and college that prepare youth for adulthood,” said James Firman, CEO of the National Council on Aging, who turned 65 two years ago. “There’s really nothing to prepare us for the transition to this next phase of life.”

bruce horowitz standing at a booth
Bruce Horovitz, who volunteers weekly for the Arlington (Va.) Food Assistance Center, mans a booth to recruit student volunteers during an event at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Va. (Credit: Marybeth Connelly/Falls Church City Public Schools)

Horovitz takes his dog, Shadow, on two 45-minute walks daily. (Credit: Evelyne Horovitz)

Age 65 is when many of us realize that we’re mortal. “This is when we start thinking about our next 20 to 30 years,” said Dr. Ardeshir Hashmi, director of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “It’s when we ask: ‘How can I be smart about investing my remaining decades wisely?’”

Eric Tyson, author of “Personal Finance After 50 for Dummies,” theorizes that one of the most powerful undercurrents of turning 65 is how it affects the working lives of so many Americans. It’s when the majority go from working full time to working less—or not working at all, he said. “The best scenario is when this change can unfold over many years instead of all at once.”

It has for me. Things started changing at age 62, when I took a buyout from USA Today, where I’d worked for 20-plus years as a marketing reporter. I’m now a freelance writer and media training consultant.

So, at 65, the one thing I’ve opted to put off for at least a few years is retiring. While 65 still remains the most common retirement age, more and more folks are breaking that tradition, said Jean Setzfand, senior vice president of programs at AARP.

Call it living with purpose.

Turning 65 is not just an extension of middle age. It’s a new life chapter that’s waiting to be written. “It’s a new stage of life that reminds us we don’t have forever,” said Firman.

About a decade ago, at age 56, Firman had a quintuple bypass operation. His father, grandfather, and uncle all died of heart disease in their 40s and 50s.

Firman isn’t distraught over the family genes he inherited. Instead, he’s celebrating his survival. When he turned 65 two years ago, he said, he had a realization that the real purpose of aging is to make the world a better place. “Life is a gift,” he said. “Success in old age starts with an attitude of gratitude.”

It seems Firman and I share one common trait: We both grew up at 65.

Bruce Horovitz is a freelance reporter for Kaiser Health News. KHN’s coverage of these topics is supported by John A. Hartford Foundation and The SCAN Foundation