Life Stage Denial

By:  John Milford   |  Posted: August 11, 2013   |  Updated: April 17, 2023


I’m not ready yet

Many people who are standing at the brink of change in later life – though still active, social, and financially secure – survey the changes in lifestyle that could mitigate the ravages of older age and become frozen and unable to make a decision, thinking “I’m not ready yet.”

Bigger and better. Not.

A case in point was the prominent retired San Francisco physician and his wife who placed a deposit on a spacious 11th floor view apartment in San Francisco Towers during the development period. As the building neared completion, we were preparing for occupancy by assisting clients to prepare to move in. Instead, they cancelled their reservation, saying that they preferred to wait for something ‘bigger andbetter.’ A few years after our November, 1997 opening, the doctor was hospitalized for treatment of a broken neck incurred in a fall down a circular staircase in his home on Pacific Heights. He was transferred from the hospital to the Towers’ Nursing Center to convalesce before returning to home. During one of my visits to his bedside where he was wearing a ‘halo’ brace to stabilize his head and neck, he implored me to take him and his wife as Towers residents, saying that “money is no object – I wrote a check last week to the foundation of Yale Medical School in the amount of $25 million.” Sadly, I could not take him because he no longer qualified medically for Life Care. Not many months thereafter, his wife fell on the same stairs and broke her back. Soon, they had to move, but not to the setting they had wanted in earlier years.

Learn from industry

Industries can become frozen in denial, as well, and a prime example of one which nearly was put out of business by ignoring change was the Swiss watch industry. For more than 300 years, watchmaking has been Switzerland’s most identifiable industry, yet there was something the industry almost did not survive: technological change. The mass production of the Industrial Revolution reduced costs, but there has always remained the cherished element of handwork in a Swiss watch.

In this euphoric and seemingly irreversible climate, a quiet revolution was brewing in Switzerland. It was the “quartz revolution,” an electrical watch best known as the Accutron by Bulova introduced to the US market in 1960. But Swiss companies, steeped in the mechanical tradition, were slow to embrace quartz technology, and initially it cost them dearly. By 1974, exports of Swiss mechanical watches which had risen to 84 million units, plummeted to 40 million units only a year later in 1973, and down to only 3 million ten years later.

In 1979, the management of the Swiss group embarked on an ambitious plan to produce its own inexpensive line of quartz watches. This revolutionary watch line, known as Swatch (Swiss watch), launched in March 1983 was the phenomenon that put Swiss watches back on consumers’ wrists. In looking at the history of Swiss watchmaking over the last 30 years, it’s clear that if the industry had not responded to the electronic revolution that was upon them, it would not be in the healthy state it is today. Even Swatch has introduced watches with mechanical automatic movements. On the face of each one of these watches are the two words that make them the most sought-after in the world: Swiss Made.

The big question

In life, the operative question to those who are frozen in life stage denial is:

“So you’re not ready. What are you doing to prepare for when you are ready?”


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