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Wednesday Wisdom: A New Age of Aging

“Our death illiteracy is tied to our inability to understand the deal of humanity—which is that our lives are not to be lived for ourselves alone. Rather, our life exists to ensure that there be future generations of life, and that we learn lessons well and share them forward in time.” – Stephen Jenkinson

Last month, I had a birthday and I entered a bit deeper into my seventies, and I realized I did not in the least bit feel “old,” but rather that I am actually in a new kind of prime of life. While I have the greatest respect for people who have worked all their lives and at some point want to retire to greater freedom and leisure, I am not one of them. Rather than being retired, I say I am “re-fired” – or as President Obama used to say, “Fired up and ready to go!” I feel a surge, a wave of energy that isn’t just about me, but I notice is permeating our entire society: We are living in a New Age of Aging.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in 1900, life expectancy in the United States for both sexes was 47.6 years; this year it is 79 years – almost double. More importantly, many of these folks who are 80 and beyond are doing amazing things. They are living healthier lives, working longer, playing harder, and engaging actively in the world. My friend Ken Dychtwald has characterized this time as the Age Wave, when an aging population will have a powerful impact on society with profound implications for business, finances, the workforce, healthcare, and our culture as a whole. At the same time, the groundwork is being laid for people to begin to live healthy lives into their hundreds. If 80 is the new 60, will 100 be the new 80?

Please do not think I am ignoring the issues that concern many of us as we age, especially if we have physical or mental disabilities, but here I want to focus on the vibrancy of life that so many of us are experiencing. These past two months have been one of the most exciting times of my extraordinary life. This time began in the Amazon rainforest with our Indigenous partners, took me then to Mexico to a gathering of the Transformational Leadership Council, then to a Fetzer Institute board meeting in Sedona focusing on Love, then on to Costa Rica to teach at a retreat center with an array of luminaries, and then by invitation of Richard Branson to his private island in the Caribbean, to be in the company of 35 global movers and shakers.

Wow! I owe these remarkable experiences to my committed life, to my seventy-plus years of service, and to the blessings of my physical, emotional, and mental energy. It has been a particular joy to participate in so many intergenerational interactions. In fact, I am feeling more and more that the key to many of our global challenges is collaboration among generations – the kind of partnerships that integrate the drive and ambition of youth with the stability of midlife and the wisdom and life experience of elders.

I also look around me and see folks who are older than I am still going strong and making a difference with their lives in the 80s and 90s – people like Joanna Macy, 93, Brother David Stendal-Rast, 96, Jane Goodall, 88, Michael Murphy, 93, Al Wong, 85, and so many more. These friends share one remarkable trait, that of gratitude; for nothing inspires your heart and soul more than being grateful for life.

So, if you are of a certain age (or will be in years to come), I urge you to update your own attitudes to aging and perhaps even retiring. Pay attention to how you show up for yourself – by that I mean how you see yourself and the expectations you hold for your life. More than your actual physical age, how you relate to getting older will determine how you live out this challenging and rewarding time. May you find yourself curious, open, lively, and happy – eager to extend your impact on this world we all love.

Love, respect and gratitude,

Lynne 

Photo credit Drew Bird

Journaling & Meditation

Prompt

  • What are your attitudes to aging and retiring, and do they need an update?
  • What has your life been about and for what are you grateful?

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