According to Chip Conley, who calls himself a Modern Elder, “It’s proven that shifting to a positive perspective on aging can add 7.5 years to our lives…”. How? By living a life with purpose. So how much adult life do you think you have ahead of you and, as Mary Oliver asks, “…what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mr. Conley hosts a mid-life Wisdom School, Modern Elder Academy, to help answer this question. Forbes calls it the “The Cool School for Midlifers“.
Instead of feeling less reverent with age, he’s about helping people use their wisdom to do something meaningful with their elderhood, he tells in his recent Ted Talk in Marin County, California. Part of doing so involves societal shifts for stereotypes of older adults. He posits that research shows that with each passing decade life gets better and better, at odds with society’s narrative of aging, that you’re just going to get decrepit and die. We haven’t, as a rule, looked forward to “old-hood”, but it’s time we do! As we move through the journey of the decades, getting older, he says, is more than just deterioration of the body. At the same time we are in the process of turning into something else, of blossoming. Where earlier in life we nursed our ego now is time to get in touch with our souls. We’re living longer and have a greater desire to have meaning in our life. Middlescence, says Conway, prepares us for aging as adolescence prepares young people for adulthood.
Coach and author Barbara Waxman says Middlescence [noun], pronounced middle-essence, is, “A transitional period, between the ages of about 45 and 65, marked by an increased desire to find or create greater meaning in one’s life. Often accompanied by physical, social, and economic changes, it is a turning point from which adults continue to develop and grow. A life stage created by increased longevity patterns in the 21st century.”
Margaret Manning, Sixty and Me blogger, is someone who has found meaning in connecting with others creating a huge virtual community of older women. When people compliment her for what’s she’s doing at “her age”, it feels like people are surprised she is attractive, vital, employed and a contributor to society. She wants to change that stereotype. People are living longer, are better educated, and are leading healthier lives; Margaret Manning is redefining aging through her vibrant example.
So how do we prepare for the next stage of life, this elderhood? In his book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks describes the path of moving from “first mountain” stage of life, a self-centered period of acquisition of material goods, building career and financial security, to the “second mountain” stage of finding work with purpose or meaning for a cause greater than ourself.
These three sages agree that building community and helping each other is one essential ingredient of finding greater happiness within and outside of oneself. In a society and time where personal achievement and accomplishment are highly prized and a decline in morals is prevalent, Brooks’ book gives inspiration and hope from his examples of people living spiritually and morally committed lives and, most importantly, interconnected with others.