252: Reinvention, Relevance and Return on Life in Retirement with Avivah Wittenberg-Cox
Today, I’m speaking with Avivah Wittenberg-Cox. Avivah is the CEO of 20-first, a global balance consultancy that works with C-suite teams to achieve gender and generational balance by focusing on leadership, culture, and systems.
A regular contributor to Forbes and Harvard Business Review, she’s also the author of Seven Steps to Leading Gender-Balanced Businesses, Why Women Mean Business: Understanding the Emergency of Our Next Economic Revolution, and Late Love: Mating in Maturity.
Avivah’s work caught my eye when I came across her Forbes article entitled “Retirement, Redundancy, Rejection: The Extreme Emotionality of Ending” and I’m thrilled to have her on the show to dig into her thoughts and insights on retirement.
In today’s conversation, we talk about the amazing opportunities facing retirees today, as well as the challenges and extreme emotions retirees are facing, and the three Rs she wants people to think about as they approach retirement: reinvention, relevance, and return on life.
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In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- Why Avivah believes that her three Rs hit us with unexpected power later in life.
- Why we’re no longer aging the same way our parents did.
- How to recognize the patterns we’re prone to repeat across the course of our lives.
- Why it’s important to give yourself more time to navigate transitions than you might expect–and why this process takes most people much longer than anticipated.
- The difference between change and transition.
- "“In the economy that we're in, the pandemic that we're dealing with, and the climate change we're facing, we have big, huge topics ahead of us that really invite some pretty radical rethinking of what we will do with these latter decades of our lives.”" - Avivah Wittenberg-Cox
- "“A great life is one where we have become the person we are.”" - Carl Jung
- 20-first Website
- Retirement, Redundancy, Rejection: The Extreme Emotionality Of Endings
- Sage-ing International
- Living to 100
- Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age by Bruce Feiler
- Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being by Brian R.
- Late Love: Mating in Maturity by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox
- Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative
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Casey Weade: Avivah, welcome to the podcast.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Thanks so much, Casey. Lovely to be with you.
Casey Weade: Well, I'm excited to have you here. It wasn't that long ago that I had no idea who Avivah Wittenberg-Cox was. And then, as part of our Weekend Reading email series, we send an email out every Friday, and my vice president and myself, we read dozens of articles on retirement and financial planning topics throughout the week, and then we narrow that down to three articles. And I was like to have something in there that's non-financial in nature. Yours caught my eye. And we did a little podcast with our takeaways from this article.
This is a Forbes article. I'm sure you remember it. It was Retirement, Redundancy, Rejection: The Extreme Emotionality of Endings, and where we kind of thought that was looking at each one of those words – retirement, redundancy, rejection, I got, what's that mean to me? What's Avivah trying to say exactly with these words that she put in there because I can tell you're someone that's very intentional with the words that you use? So, I want to make this our first stop. Can you explain in your own words that title, Retirement, Redundancy, Rejection: The Extreme Emotionality of Endings, maybe just break that down for us piece by piece?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: So, why I did that is I thought we were in a place where we revisit some of the really basic learnings that we did when we were kids, where we had to learn the three R's – reading, writing, and arithmetic. And I think it's just as fundamental at this age and stage that we build these new skills of learning how to cope, adapt, and transition through late life three R's, which is often retirement, redundancy, and/or rejection. And it's a shock, and we need to be a little bit more, I think, often prepared for that transition and know how we want to work through it.
Casey Weade: And that word retirement, I felt like as I'm reading the article, I think Avivah just hates these words. She hates the word retirement, and retirement to her means redundancy and rejection. Am I reading that correctly?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: No, I think those are the different streams and shocks that people get. Either they retire of their own choice, or they get made redundant, or they feel increasingly rejected by an ageist society. And so, I think it's more like there's a multiplicity of these R's out there that hit us with unexpected power at this age and stage.
Casey Weade: So, we get hit with retirement, and maybe that's unexpected. And then, we might also feel redundancy as we step into retirement. And that's when I hear you saying, and if that's the case, what is redundancy? I think that's the one that threw me off the most. I actually had to get on Webster's dictionary and look up the definition and how that carried over.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: That's corporate speak for firing people. So, people who are made redundant are those who are fired by their employers, not a nice thing often at this age and stage to have happened to you. So, some people retire, and it's usually their choice, which is a very different set, very different ballgame than if somebody fires you, and you find yourself made redundant at this age and stage.
Casey Weade: We're seeing it as repetitive, something that is redundant, it happens over and over again.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I see, yeah.
Casey Weade: And how is retirement redundant? So, I got on Webster's, looked it up. That is really defined as not or no longer needed or useful or not, but is that the way you see a lot of your clients walking into retirement? And now, do they feel that way many times, and that's an unexpected feeling?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: No, I think that's different. They walk in for a whole multiplicity of reasons. I think there are an awful lot of reasons why people feel a little lost and confused at this age and stage. It's very interesting to me, I think we repeat a little bit in our 50s or 60s how we felt in adolescence or early adulthood. We go back around another developmental cycle where all of a sudden we're asking ourselves the same questions we did 30 or 40 years ago. It's who am I? Who do I want to be when I grow up? Where and what do I want to do next? And these are some really fundamental questions that we weren't necessarily expecting to be asking ourselves in our 50s and 60s. I think a lot of people thought these would be relatively calm decades. And I think what we discover is, no, there is another huge opportunity to recreate, reinvent, and rethink. What are we going to be doing with much, much longer lives than we've been programmed for? We're living an extra 30 years, so.
Casey Weade: Oh, well, I think that's just the massive opportunity that not just the baby boomer generation has, but all of us, as generations have this amazing opportunity to support that impact that that generation could have, but before we move on, I want to go to the word rejection. And maybe I'm reading into these words way too much, but I'm looking at rejection, going, are the retirees feeling rejected? Maybe this is just an idea of them leaving the workplace. Again, are they feeling rejection? And again, as I sit here, I look up the definition of rejection, the dismissing or refusing of a proposal or idea. Are they rejecting the concept of retirement? Or are you rejecting the concept of retirement? Or am I just reading too much into that?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I think a lot of retirees and people again, at this age in the societies where we live, and I would say the U.S. is among the more ageist societies in the world, they are feeling hugely rejected. Are you kidding? They are out of the mainstream. They've lost identity, status, salaries, all kinds of things at this age and phase, and it doesn't always feel good. And sometimes, they're shocked at how it feels, they're not expecting to suddenly be, the word they often use is invisible. They become more less visible in what they were used to feeling before they retire.
Casey Weade: That makes complete sense. And the next part of that article is the extreme emotionality of ending. Can you explain that or just go a little bit deeper there? Are there extreme emotions that people are feeling when something ends any life transition? And is that a little bit different in retirement? How does this apply?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I'd say there is always some degree of emotionality around endings. And at any stage in life, we transition very often, right? We transition through relationships, we transition through jobs and careers, but the difference, I would say, is we expect to do that in life. It comes as more of a shock, I think. The particular size and challenge at this age and stage because the last chapter, the third chapter of life is less defined, and the generation of boomers currently heading through it are redefining the whole game, as is this new longevity.
We no longer age the way our parents did. So, the path is a bit uncharted. And so, the natural emotionality of ending and getting into this could a messy transition middle and then reemerging into a new beginning. It's just we don't know where to emerge into. We don't have enough role models. We can't see our way through this particular phase because we have to invent it. As a generation, we are inventing our futures in a society that kind of hates old people, does not have a lot of time and respect and societal heir for our elders. So, yeah, the emotionality is we're heading into a place that we ourselves never necessarily wanted to get to.
Casey Weade: The emotions can be extreme. It's a bit of a roller coaster as we go through any life transition. Is it not?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I think life is like a roller coaster. Absolutely. I think what's different is I really think people were expecting life to calm down a little bit by their 50s and 60s. They think that you roller coaster through life, and eventually, like our parents and grandparents, we calm down, and things get a little easier or smoother. And on the contrary, in the economy that we're in, and the pandemics that we're dealing with, and the climate change we're facing, we have big, huge topics ahead of us that really invite some pretty radical rethinking of what will we do with these latter decades of our lives.
Casey Weade: When you want to change these three R's – reinvention, relevance, and return on life. That's for you'd like us to head as a society when it comes to reinvention. Is that truly what you're promoting, reinventing ourselves? I think in some ways, that can be a dangerous way of thinking as we make a major life transition to completely– it's almost as if we think of that as throwing everything that we've had away and starting anew. We're completely reinventing ourselves. Is that what you mean? To what degree? And aren't there some risks there?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I think for different people, it will mean different things. For some, it will mean, and I've done some writing on different models of what late work might look like. And I think we have very different aspirations. There's a huge diversity of motivation and aspiration in this phase of life. And so, I think for some people, they may want to turn everything upside down. They may leave relationships, work, country, geography. They may really decide this is their big chance to completely reinvent.
For others, reinvention might be a much more delicate evolution of the pillars that they have built that they're very content with, but I think what I can always see is that the questions dealing with the past, harvesting where we've been and what we've become is the best foundation to ask yourself, how much do you want to change going forward because these are some of the last chances to really grab it and become the person you were meant to be? One of Carl Jung's favorite quotes of mine is "A great life is one where we have become the person we are." And I don't think everybody does. And so, I think this 50, 60 thing is kind of like a last chance to grab that train if you want to get on it and go where you always felt you were meant to be heading.
Casey Weade: Well, I guess that's what I was getting at, part of your midlife rethink coaching program, step 1 is to harvest the past. And if we're harvesting that past, that insinuates that we're pulling something out of that path, that past was valuable and bringing into our future. So, we are not completely reinventing ourselves, we're pulling something out of our past and maybe emphasizing it in the future and maybe we're eliminating as well, but we can't throw away all of those life experiences. There's some value in there, and I think that is most well emphasized in your coaching program outline.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Absolutely, I think what's interesting about harvesting the past is very often people get suddenly into this fairly emotional transition phase, and they're in a rush to get through it because it's not the most comfortable place. You're in this liminal in between where you're no longer who you were, you're not quite yet who you want to become. And a lot of us don't like that feeling very much. So, there's a lot of kind of wandering in the dark kind of thing, and people are often in a rush to move forward. It's part of our busyness culture, right? We should be doing and get on with things and don't worry about it.
And I think particularly, in this change, this later life change, it's worth slowing down and taking some time to really think of where you are in life, but also who you've been all this time. What roles have you inhabited? Whose rules have you been following? What patterns have you been repeating because we know that we tend to repeat ourselves? We're on what Richard Leider calls the default life. If we haven't thought about life, we tend to be on this repetitive cycle of our default patterns. And the only way to break patterns is to recognize them, see them, and then choose whether we want to keep them or change them and...
Casey Weade: How do you help people do that? How do you help people recognize those patterns because we're just human beings, right? We're not always knowing of the patterns that we continue to repeat in our lives. It takes working with someone like you to really harvest that past and figure out what are those patterns. What are those things? Could you share with us an exercise that maybe someone could do or something that you do with your clients to help them through this process of harvesting that past?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Yep, very simple exercise. I get this from Sage-ing International, which is an organization that helps in some of this transition stuff, and it's really simple. You draw a line on a blank piece of paper from 0 to 100, or whatever age you want to put as your upper reach. There's also a website called Livingto100.com where you can answer a few questions and learn what the date of your death is actually going to be if you want to know what the upper end of that line is, but anyway, 0 to 100, and then you draw first a line of where you are on that line. Very interesting that first step because you realize a little bit how much time you have behind you and how much time you may have ahead of you because I think the real shock today is we're probably going to live longer than we think. And I think it's the longer, we're not prepared for it.
So, figure out where you are on the timeline, and then what I invite people to do is to divide life up into seven-year increments. And seven years comes from the Bible. It comes from psychology. It also comes from human biology is that our human cells are actually rejuvenating every seven years. And it's weird and very interesting. If you chapter your life up into seven-year phases and try and summarize what was each phase, what did you do? Who were the key people? What was the takeaway summary, learning, or experience that marked that seven-year phase? And you do that for every one of them.
And then you sit back and you look and very rarely does somebody not get struck in that exercise by the patterns that repeat or echo across different decades of their lives. And just taking as much time as needed, some people will spend a lot of time on actually journaling and writing down each of those seven-year phases. I think the more time you spend on it, the more you're going to find, it's like a forensic exercise in understanding yourself because, as you say, we're bad at understanding ourselves, right? But the older we get, we're no longer theorizing, we have research. It's called us and what we've actually done. And that becomes a really interesting research exercise. Who am I? What did I do? What didn't I?
Casey Weade: I kind of like it. And we have to put in the hard work. We have to do the work in order to really understand ourselves. I've seen this exercise done before. We've done this exercise in the past. I've never done the seven-year phase summaries, so I'm excited to go back and do that. I have a little over five of those summaries to do now, so we'll see what I learn about myself. In our public speaking events, we used to take a tape measure with us. Someone in the audience would grab one end of the tape measure. We'd say, "Alright, where are you today? How long are you going to live?" And we'd have them put their thumb right in that spot that they're currently at. And they could visually see at length where their life is.
And the question was, what do you want the next 15 years or 25 years to look like? And I always felt like that was such a powerful exercise, such a powerful visual of what you've done over the years. How hard you've worked to get to where you're at? And how serious it is to take this next phase seriously, both from a financial standpoint and a non-financial standpoint? We'll tell the people all the time, it took you 60 years to accumulate what you have today. Does it make sense to not take some quality time and effort and put it into making sure this next phase is something you're going to be well prepared for, again, both financially and non-financially? The nice piece that...
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: And if you want to...
Casey Weade: Go ahead.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: And I want to add sophisticated– sometimes asking what's the next 25 years is too big a question, right? It's too far or it's too huge, I mean, people can...
Casey Weade: Yeah.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Asking them what they'd like to do with their next seven years and maybe the subsequent seven years kind of breaks it into slightly more digestible blocks.
Casey Weade: Oh yeah, I guess, it’s so much more digestible just for me to think about it in a seven-year phase, looking backward but also applying that looking forward. And I'm sure that's where we get as we get into your third phase of the program, dream of the future, but before we get there, I want to hit on relevance. And so, you had reinvention, relevance, return on life. How do you define relevance? Is it possible to define what relevance means to you as an individual?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I think it's always a good question to ask if people feel relevant. Usually, what you hear when people are struggling with this phase is among the three R's, they begin to feel irrelevant, right? That's the problem. If they lose their work, their status, their identities that they were very comfortable with, and the more successful and the more powerful and the more in control they have been used to being, the more they will struggle with adapting to a phase where they are no longer relevant in the places where they were. And it's adjusting to this relative irrelevance, and finding where and how they'd like to be relevant going forward, which is the exercise.
Casey Weade: Well, and that's what puts us back to work many times. I know it did it for me. Yeah, I'm off for six months, thinking, alright, I guess I'll just retire and focus on my family and my health and spirituality. And it didn't take long to recognize that I wasn't happy, but I don't know that I immediately recognized that it was kind of a lack of relevance. I would have described it as I didn't feel like I was making an impact. I don't feel like I'm making the impact in other people's lives than I once was. I don't feel that I'm applying my talents that I have to make a big impact on other people's lives.
And doing what I'm doing in this phase is great and it's valuable for, say, my family, etc., but those aren't my gifts. I'm not leveraging my gifts to continue to make an even bigger impact in people's lives, and we kind of have to go through that process, I think, in many, I don't know that we can really feel that or understand that until we actually experience it for 3, 6, 12 months, which is why it's such a good idea to take some time away, right?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Absolutely. Pause before you change. I think these transitions, and again, you're not that old. I think the older you get, interestingly, the more time this transition takes because it becomes a much bigger deal, right? And so, I think people often...
Casey Weade: But they often say, one to two years, and not six months.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Yeah. Well, and I'd say that the danger is in people's minds. I do think they kind of give themselves six months to a year to transition. And I'd say on average, the transition is probably more like three to four or five years of transition from being in this place where you know you want to leave and move on into another phase to actually spending some time there, whether it takes time off, and then that experimentation of what am I going to do and filtering through the results of your testing phase to actually reemerging back into your next role, your next normal. That's a much longer time than people expect so they get very impatient with their own...
Casey Weade: Yeah, that's a lot of anxiety.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: A lot of anxiety. A lot of anxiety, well, and I would couple that with a word that doesn't have an R on it, so I didn't fit it into the title, it was loneliness. People feel so alone in this transition. And they think they're really the only ones going through this. And there's a tremendous amount of loneliness, and I would say shame. I found a lot of shame wrapped up around this period because people think they're the only ones who are lost. And because when you're 50 and 60, you don't think you should be lost, right? You think you should be kind of knowing what you're doing.
And again, the more senior, the more well known or comfortable you were, the more shocked you are to find yourself kind of lost and alone and wandering in the desert. And so, I think community finding a place to go through this transition with others who are like-minded and similarly in transition is extraordinarily helpful. I'm really interested in working hard to think how more educational institutions can step up to do more of this long-life learning and have real programs. There are only a couple right now. Harvard and Stanford both have one-year transition programs for this age group, but why so few when we have this huge tsunami of aging populations emerging around the world? I think we will want to regularize and normalize a year in a company to figure out what this– give it all the words, recognize the patterns and the normalcy that this transition is and calm people down so they don't feel so anxious. We really shouldn't have...
Casey Weade: Yeah, nobody wants to feel anxious. Nobody wants to feel anxious. Nobody wants to have that anxiety or this stress or just that feeling of being lost. And yet, we want to shorten that period. We just want to transition directly from our work into retirement and have everything aligned and figured out, or at least most do, but is it even possible? Is it possible to enter that next phase without going through this uncomfortable anxiety-inducing transition period?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I think it can become more like other transitions in life. I think if we are successful in normalizing it and integrating it into a lifespan, it'll become more like adolescence and the 20s and the 30s. We know how to– we're good as humans in transitioning. We know how to become parents. We know more or less how to divorce. I mean, I'm sure some divorce lawyers will tell me the contrary. We know how to go in and out of key jobs. What we don't know how to do is become irrelevant and we shouldn't have to, but not avoiding that fate does in the way society is currently made up and the way our retirement systems are currently designed and the way our economies currently work and the way companies are currently extraordinarily ageist. We do have to lean in very hard to prepare this particular transition earlier in order to make it smoother. I think in my experience, the people who started thinking about this, oh, Casey, you're on the right track thinking about this now. The more you prepare and think about it and design it, I think the calmer and happier you'll be. Absolutely.
Casey Weade: I think this is a perfect time to transition to this, pun intended, the difference between change and transition. In this article, you talked a little bit about the difference between change and transition being two very different things. Is it important for us to define the difference as we go through this phase?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Yes, I think it's hugely important. There was a good book by Bruce Feiler called Life is in the Transitions, and what he says is in every life, there will be on average, three or four lifequakes. And lifequakes are sh*t happens, right? You love, lost, death, illness, job hits, getting fired, all those big, or simply a year of pandemic where everything shuts down, that all of those things are changed. They happen to you. Sometimes you initiate them. The difference between change and transition is change is all of the time, it happens to everybody. Sometimes it's big, sometimes it's small. Transition is your ability and skill in adapting to that change, and it's the sort of inner psychological maturing that helps you work through change and come out the other side okay.
Casey Weade: Is transition significantly more challenging than change?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: But change, you have no control over, I mean, changes is there, there is change, you can guarantee that this year there will be changes, next year and next decade, and there will be change in the world, there'll be change in our employers, there'll be change in our families, change is all around all the time, right? It doesn't require any skill because it will happen to you no matter what. Sometimes, the skill might be initiating changes you want to make. The power to be able to choose change and make things happen is a powerful skill, but change itself, that's going to happen whether you're sleeping. So, the real skill, the only skill that we can build is the transition skill. It's learning how to cope with change, eventually learning how to anticipate it, prepare for scenario, build what some options might be, and be agile and ready to go under a few different outcomes. And transition skills, I think, are what we're talking about building.
Casey Weade: Yeah, and thinking through individuals that are going through change or transition or the ones I've seen go through transition and undergo change, I feel like, and I wonder if you agree that many of the individuals I see that struggle with change, they really struggle with the transition, and it becomes so much more monumentally more difficult for them than for other individuals, those that are struggling with political change, for instance. We have one president leaving, one president coming in, and that's all they talk about for months on end. They're really struggling with, say, that type of change or any other change that they see that they cannot control, that makes the life transition and retirement that much more difficult.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Yeah, absolutely, and the pace of change is accelerating, which means that if you don't have transition skills and change keeps augmenting, accelerating in every dimension of our life – political, economic, social, everything is changing quickly all the time. And personality profiles play a role too. Some people like change more naturally. Others are going to much prefer deep in their genes and DNA, they're going to be much more attached to predictability and security and something of the known. That's why we have parties called conservative parties because it tends to regroup people who might prefer a certain amount of stability. Those are different kinds of people, and they tend to embrace or reject change in parallel, but whether you like it or whether you hate it, the ability to manage change and adapt to it is a survival skill in the 21st century.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, let's go to number 3, so reinvention, relevance, and then return on life. I've been reading Mitch Anthony books since I was a kid, and so return on life coming from Mitch Anthony, it's been gold for me my whole life. My dad's been talking about it my whole life, and it's just been a part of my life. So, I love return on life, but I'm wondering, from your perspective, what have individuals been focusing on prior to this retirement transition, if not return on life?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I don't think most people think a lot about life at all. I think they live it like you go to work in the morning and you do your job and you come home in the evening and you marry the person that your family kind of thought wouldn't be bad and you do all the things that you've been programmed by your culture, your family, and your ambition levels to do. There's something really kind of pretty predictable, I think, for a lot of us about how life's evolved. And so, return on life, I think, is an entirely different exercise about living a much more examined life, understanding what it is you want, who you are, where you come from, what are your cultural familial programming roots?
If we talk psychologically, I always like the Brian Little book, Me, Myself, and Us, which means we're kind of 30% nature, 30% nurture, and 30% what we make of ourselves. So, half of us is caused by our DNA, we don't have much to say about it, but at least we can understand what the packaging is. And then that leaves us a certain wiggle room to actually become somebody slightly building on that foundation, but that requires thinking, study, analysis, and all the kind of words we've been using. I think only then when you've got that kind of understanding can you hope to get the kind of maximizing return on your investment, all your investments over decades of personal investments, economic investments, social ones, impact ones, did you get the return that you were expecting? Only if you invested in all the dimensions that you care about and that you prioritize, and most of us, I would say, don't even bother with the prioritization exercise until we're invited to by somebody like you or me.
Casey Weade: Yeah, we just spend so much time being human doings rather than human beings as my good friend Sachin Patel in the past podcast shared with us and something that I think about often, and that's what retirement blesses us with, this opportunity to actually be a human being for a little while, reflect and really better understand ourselves and the return we're actually looking for in life, not just the return we're looking on on this investment, but what did it actually get you in life? Well, let's go to the requirements of a successful transition. You have four of them, and the first one starts with name the thing. You proposed maturity over retirement, rewirement, third act, second act. So, why did you propose maturity? And why is it important to name the thing?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Because I think the thing is what's new. I think we're quite used to the old three-step life, right? We were educated. We worked. Then we retire. We're all norm. We've all grown up with that model. What's new is that no longer fits this particular phase. We don't. And it's not the 30 extra years of life we've been gifted in the last century, isn't something that comes tacked on at the end, so that we are old, old for a much longer time. It kind of gets sprinkled all the way along the lifespan so that we now have this weird phase called the 20s, which is known now as emerging adulthood. It's no longer adulthood.
Adulthood, as it's stretching from 20 to 100, which is 80 years long, is going to have multiple phases. And the new phase, I would suggest, is the one that goes between 50 and 80, let's say, which is an active form of mature adulthood that should, I think, be distinguished from what I call the first half of life because it has different human dimensions, different tasks, and different desires, and exploring what those are and distinguishing them from the old just work, feed your family, have a couple of kids, buy a house does not answer through the kind of self-actualizing opportunity that this maturity phase currently offers us on a silver platter if we seize it, but I don't think we'll seize it if we don't see its existence.
Casey Weade: Yeah. The power in naming the thing, I can definitely see that, and we've talked about this with other guests. Number 2, as you work through this with those that you work with, they’re naming the thing, and then they're integrating head and heart. How do you integrate head and heart? How do you distinguish between the two?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Well, I think your comment on being and doing is a good one. There are few formulas I really like in this space, like Connie Zweig, who talks about moving from rules to souls. So, we're all pointing to the fact that the first half of life is very often wrapped up with a lot of head stuff, we're doing, not being. We're finding roles. We're establishing foundations, credibility, expertise. We're usually building families if we choose to do that, but kind of been doing way, right? Not many of us are looking inwards for what our purpose, our deepest purpose is, and why we're here on earth, and what we would like to gift to the world. And I think that's a little bit the work of the second half of life.
The first half of life is, I think, much more about achievement, which is in our kind of capitalist systems, a lot about head, we need to be rational, we need to be educated, we need to be skilled, and then we need to realize why are we here. And how can we be here together? And how are we interconnected? And how can we play our role in the ecosystem of humanity? And that usually requires a little bit more heart-driven than head-driven. In fact, sometimes it means I’m stopping the head and stepping fully into the heart for a bit of the road.
Casey Weade: Well, sometimes the best way to do that is to spend time with those that we trust the most. And number 3 was to create a transition team, an advisory board of companions. You have six old boards. Can you tell us a little bit about the six old boards?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I thought a lot about this transition. And I have spent the last 20 years running a business, doing consulting in the area of gender balance, and flying all over the world and being on a plane every single week. And COVID helped by putting a complete stop on that. And so, suddenly, we're all locked up. And I thought in figuring out my own transition as I was turning 60 just last week, by the way, I thought, I need, I know I'm really interested in late life. I had already written the Late Love book that you're talking about. I was very interested in transitions and how people age well. So, I thought I've always in life looked to people who are already in the phase ahead of me. So, I tend to do a lot of time interviewing people who are 5 to 15 to 20 years older than me to find out what's next, what do I need to know?
And so, I assembled this, I always recommend personal advisory boards, which is an assemblage of the people who are doing what you want to do next, who are being what you want to be next. And so, I carefully selected five women I hugely respect from around the world who are already working in the space, who are a little older than I and a little more advanced in the area of aging, longevity, all these issues. And we spoke as a group on Zoom once a week, two hours for the last 18 months, I'd say.
Casey Weade: Wow!
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: And they have been fundamental not only in getting me more comfortable through this crazy pandemic, and the loneliness and isolation that it can cause, but also in understanding the transition that I will be going through, and they have already gone halfway through. Watching people transition is a wonderful learning tool to how to transition well.
Casey Weade: Yeah, I can imagine how powerful that quality time would be with someone that's maybe been there before you. And how do you structure those conversations to ensure that they're impactful? Maybe there isn't a structure. Is there a structure to those where you go in with some intent? Are they intentional in some way?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: No, not really, this was really pretty much an ex– a lot of this depends on the filtering, right? So, if you choose well so that the people are the right people for you who are interesting and full of knowledge and life, it's actually really interesting to see what emerges without too much interference or planning. The conversations, obviously, they flow with the times. We were in the middle of a real crisis so watching how people coped with the crisis. We were in different countries that we also had a lot of political discussions about, how different countries and systems were managing the crisis, how we all felt through it.
Each woman in her own life and her own career and her own age was a different reaction. And that's extraordinarily powerful in giving you guidelines, at least for what's going to happen. And you can cherry-pick, how people react, what you like, what you don't like, what you fear becoming, what you would like to emulate are all the kind of lessons you take away from these kind of conversations, and I wouldn't overscript them because what emerges is often the most valuable part of the exercise.
Casey Weade: Sure. Well, let's wrap up with the last one, rebrand the third age. Rebranding sounds a lot like naming the thing. So, can you really discern between these two?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Well, I think to me, rebranding is, I would like to, for example, reclaim the word old. I would like to say that I am now an old woman because I like being old. I'd so much rather be 60 than 20 any day. And I find part of this rebrand is to reclaim words that we have turned negative but should be positive. And old is definitely– don't you get annoyed when people say, “Oh, you look so much younger than 60”? I don't want to look younger than anything, right? I want to be the age I am and have our society and our friends celebrate the wrinkles and the wisdom that come along with this particular stage and not tell me because we live in this crazy youth, that old cultures that I look something I don't aspire to look or be for that matter. I want to be fully old and embrace it, love it, and build and gift everything I can from that place.
Casey Weade: Really branding it to your own personal brand. Let's talk a little bit about your book as we come to a close here. And one, in particular, I know there's a few different books out there, the one that caught my eye, probably largely due to the title Late Love: Mating in Maturity. I just want to know, and I think it'd be interesting for the audience to know, I know, I read the intro to the book, right? I kind of know where this story came from, but I wanted you to share why you wrote this book, and if you can integrate or weave into this conversation, the three pots of jam, I enjoy the concept.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Well, I think it's all about our conversation, right? When do you start the transitions we're discussing to prepare the second half of life? And I started mine just before 50. As I was turning 50, I realized, as will some of our listeners, that one of the things that would have to change, to talk about change as we were earlier versus transition, was my personal relationship, a very difficult decision to make, really, really hard to decide to leave a 22-year marriage, which is what I decided to do. I'm not alone because the biggest uptick in divorces in the Western world right now is in the 50s and 60s. So, people are maturing and realizing, my god, if I've got to live for another 40 or 50 years, is this the person I want on the other side of the kitchen table? And if not, I better do something about it earlier rather than later. It's not really nice to leave somebody when they're 70, so you might want to do it when you're both in a place where it might still be comfortable to transition.
And then I picked up the idea of the three pots of jam as I was feeling not the leaver. Let me warn you, all who are listening, the leaver will always feel rather guilty. Our society does not celebrate or reward leavers, which is a little bit why I wrote the book because we're usually seen to be the egregious party, right? And I would invite us all to learn as part of our transition skills, we do need to learn how to leave well, whether it's work, whether it's lives, whether it's families. We want to smooth that kind of transition to become more skilled at it.
And so, I was reading Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist, who said every woman in her life should have three pots of jam, the man she first discovers love with as a very young woman, hopefully; the man with whom you found a family; and the soul mate for your older years. I think some people are really lucky in that those three pots of jam might actually be the same person. If that's the case, you're lucky and you're skilled because you've actually managed to reinvent your marriage multiple times.
If you're not so lucky as I was, those will be three separate men, which has their own sweetness. They were all wonderful, these three relationships that have nourished my life, but yes, I am very, very grateful at 60 to my younger self that I did what I did then and that I found my soulmate for this current ride, puts you in a very, very different place.
Casey Weade: Yeah, well, I know and I've been reading some of the reviews. Some of the reviews found this, I don't know if you want to say offensive or out of line, but they felt like, well, Avivah was just making an excuse for– some said Avivah was making an excuse for leaving her husband, that's why she wrote this book. And you argue that staying together isn't the superior or admirable choice. You see this as a positive. Some are going to maybe take offense to that, and you've seen some of those reviews, I think, yourself. What do you say to those individuals?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Well, I'd say that this is actually what longevity is inviting us all to give a much more thought. We've always accepted this and celebrated actually, the transitions in our professional lives, right? We are celebrating the mastery and maturity that we get as we become more skilled in building more and more professional rules and scope and impact in the world. I think in order to grow as a human and to reach our full potential and impact in the world, we need to have really skilled and profound partnerships. And I think that's not easy, and it requires two partners who are willing to evolve equally in parallel and support each other. And some of us will be able to negotiate that and build it. I think there are lots and lots of relationship skills that we are learning much more about these days, and others will not. And if you're faced with a partner who is not ready to do the kind of reinvention, rethinking, and retooling that we've been discussing and you really want to do that, that's your choice is either to leave that partner and find somebody who will partner with you on that road or to stay and actually not become the person you want to become.
Casey Weade: What impact do you hope that this book makes in the life of the reader?
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: I think it's an aspirational clarion call to normalize a little bit that we will be in much longer lives that are affecting us in a myriad of ways that we will be much more likely to have multiple careers and multiple relationships and that we need to learn to become more skilled at managing through and normalizing those transitions and eventually, to get better at building partnerships that can last multiple decades, which is not what they were designed to do.
Casey Weade: In at least American society, we have a bit of a stigma over this, of really anyone, as you said, leaving, and it's not always, and we need to normalize that to a certain degree that those people aren't bad individuals. Maybe they've done the best thing. And I think that was one of the things that I think positively comes out of your book, and we'd love to give that away to our listeners right now. So, if you're maybe at that stage in life, you're looking for mating and maturity, late love, we want to give you the opportunity to get a free copy of that book. So, we partnered up with Avivah. We've got a box of these copies in our office. We're going to send them out until they're all gone.
All you have to do is this. Write an honest rating and review over on iTunes for the podcast, just go to RetirewithPurpose.com, check the podcast tab. There's a little box right there where you can leave a review, then send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your iTunes username, mailing address. We'll send you out a copy of Late Love: Mating in Maturity. And before we wrap up here, Avivah, I know you have a new newsletter that is coming out. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about the newsletter and how someone could get themselves on that list.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Absolutely. So, I've just started a new newsletter called Elderberries, the idea of being, to lighten a little bit this notion of how do we become more modern elders in a lighthearted way. And having just turned 60, I'm actually going back to school for a year. So, I will be writing about what does it feel like to go back to school at 60, and it'll be a weekly newsletter that kind of charts the course. I'm off to Harvard's Advanced Leadership Initiative program, which is the first in America designed to accompany people through this late-life transition, mostly to move them from a role that was for a profit to a role that becomes much more for a purpose. And so, because I'm very interested in spreading that kind of model around the world, I'll describe everything I learn on the journey and share it with my readers.
Casey Weade: Well, and then about a year from now, I mean, let's see if I can force you to summarize a whole year's worth of workup and have an hour. Avivah, thank you so much for joining us here on the podcast. It's been a wonderful experience, and I look forward to seeing you in a year or so from now.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: Oh, with pleasure, I'll be happy to. One year older, and a lot wiser, I hope.
Casey Weade: Thanks, Avivah.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: My pleasure