258: Embracing the Slow Movement and Enjoying a Richer Retirement with Carl Honoré
Today, I’m talking to Carl Honoré. Carl has been called the “global guru on the Slow Movement” by The Globe and Mail. He’s the international bestselling author of Bolder and In Praise of Slow, and also presented a TED Talk called “In praise of slowness” that has earned over 3 million views.
After reading an excerpt from one of Carl’s books from a previous episode of our Weekend Reading series, the wheels started spinning, but in a good way. And after doing some more research, I fell in love with his TED Talk and the story about speed-reading to his son–something I’ve certainly been guilty of–and I knew that I had to reach out to him so he could share the incredibly unique insights he has to offer with our audience.
In this episode, Carl and I discuss the slow movement and how it’s grown over the last 15 years, how to tell where speed might be hindering your performance or relationships, and how you can reconnect with your inner tortoise at any stage of life–including retirement.
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In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- Why the slow movement isn’t about doing things at a snail’s pace, but about moving at the right speed to deliver quality over quantity.
- Questions you can ask to determine if you’re using your time wisely over the course of your day–and life.
- What makes it so hard for “speed addicts” to thrive in retirement–and how to dial down your performance to avoid having to go cold turkey.
- How slowness ties into ageism, aging, and how to make the most of a longer life.
- "A life well lived is about nibbling on the low hanging fruit, but also sometimes taking the time to climb up the tree to the really juicy stuff on the higher branches." - Carl Honoré
- Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives
- In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed
- Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting
- Retirement, Redundancy, Rejection: The Extreme Emotionality Of Endings
- The Creed of Speed – The Economist
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Casey Weade: Carl, welcome to the podcast.
Carl Honoré: Thank you very much. I'm thrilled to be here.
Casey Weade: Carl, I'm excited to have you here. I've learned so much about you since I was originally introduced to you. I was introduced to you in a past Weekend Reading article, and that's an email we send out every Friday with a collection of trending topics and retirement planning space. I like a lot of non-financial articles to go in there. One was written by another past podcast guest, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, and it was titled Retirement Redundancy and Rejection, and there was an excerpt in there from your book, Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives. I said, "Boy, I got to talk to this guy," and I just started doing research. And the more research I did, I found, "Boy, this isn't it. There's so much more than Carl has to offer the world, our audience, myself." And there are some selfish parts of me that I want to dive into some things that might not be totally relevant to our audience but I want to hit on some of those things. I want to focus on Bolder. But before we get to that, I fell in love with your TED Talk around the launch of your first book, Praise of Slow. And one of the things that I loved about that the most was your conversation that you ticked off with about speed reading Cat in the Hat to your son. Because I've done this myself and I thought, "Oh my gosh, I'm not alone." What do we do? We find ourselves at home, and for me, it wasn't speed reading Cat in the Hat. It was a Dr. Seuss book but it was Fox and Socks, and I had Fox and Socks down and I could rock that thing out in two minutes or less. And I did it in a way that, hey, I've got some things to do. It's late. I've got to move on. And I think there's such a good takeaway from that particular point that you made that really needs to be highlighted.
Carl Honoré: Yeah. Gosh, that's taking me back a few years but it's a pretty poignant memory, right? I mean, that moment when a father sits down to read to his son should be the most intimate, relaxed, tender, magical moment of the day, right? But because we are all infected by the virus of hurry, it becomes another box-ticking exercise, right? Yeah, I was speed reading Cat in the Hat. My version of Snow White was so fast, there were only three dwarves in it. It was pretty grim. And the moment when I realized that I just completely lost my way was when I heard about this book called The One-Minute Bedtime Story. And I thought, "You know, Snow White in 60 seconds? Bring it on, Amazon and drone delivery." But thankfully, I did have a second thought, which is very different. It was a lightbulb over the head moment and I just thought, "Whoa, has it really come to this? Have you really prepared to fob off your little boy with a sound bite instead of a story?" It was like a kind of out-of-body experience. I sort of saw myself in sharp relief and I thought, "Wow. What I'm seeing there is just ugly. It's unedifying. I need to slow down." And that was for me hitting rock bottom. I think a lot of people when they get stuck in fast forward and they're racing through their lives instead of living them, the wake-up call comes in another shape, right? It's often an illness. The body throws in the towel one day and says, "No, I can't do this anymore," or maybe your intimate relationship goes up in smoke because you haven't had time to listen to the other person. For me, it was the bedtime story thing or it's better that than a heart attack I always think looking back.
Casey Weade: Well, and I took this so far. Fox and Socks is a bit of a tongue twister. And if you've never read it, it's a fun book to read.
Carl Honoré: I read it many times.
Casey Weade: But what I actually found is there's a world of competitors out there that are competing to see how fast that they can get through Fox and Socks and so I go, "You know what? I think I can do this. I think I can compete." So, there was something you said at the very end of your TED Talk, though, and it was about your son and a card that he had given you.
Carl Honoré: Yeah. Well, that's, yes, of course. For me, there's a happy ending, right?
Casey Weade: Yeah, share that with us.
Carl Honoré: I get to slow down and I started reading all of Snow White and it's way better with seven dwarves than it is with three, let me tell you. And that moment that, it's awful to think about it, but I used to regard bedtime stories as a punishment. They were just so slow that I almost couldn't bear it. You know, I was just roaring through it to get out the other end. And once I actually slowed down and started being present and listening and reading every word, they became my reward at the end of the day, the thing I look forward to, the moment I could kind of decompress, switch off and just go into that bubble with my son and cuddle and hear what happened in his day and tell jokes, read the story, and enjoy the story. And I got the extra Hollywood ending to the whole thing for me is that when my first book In Praise of Slowness was coming out, I was getting ready to do a book tour of the United States and the bags were packed, door was open, waiting for the taxi to take me to the airport. And my son appeared down the stairs clutching a card he'd made and gone into the office in home and stapled a couple of index cards together. And on the front, he put a sticker of Tintin. You know who Tintin is, right? We read a lot of Tintin in our house, and I recognize the sticker as being a gift that a friend of the family had brought from the Tintin store in Brussels. We live in London, so Brussels and London a long way. It had arrived. Very special, my son said, "Wow, this sticker, I'm never going to use it. It's so cool," hid it in his room somewhere.
But there it was on the front of this card and I open up the card and inside he just read to me, "You know, dear daddy, love Benjamin." And I said, "Wow, Benjamin, what an amazing card. And what an honor. You know that Tintin sticker? I know what that means to you." I said, "Is this a card to wish me good luck on the book tour in the US?" And he said, "No, this is a card for the best story reader in the world." And I just thought, "Wow, this slowing down really works." But I got to admit that I slightly spoiled the moment with my next thought. I thought this in my head. I didn't say it out loud thankfully. I thought to myself, "Benjamin, why didn't you hurry up and tell me this six months ago? I could have finished my book with this beautiful anecdote." But that is the opposite of slow, right? So, let's maybe just push that to one side and go back to my first thought, which really was, "Wow. This slowing down thing works up and down."
Casey Weade: Well, I could tell it was a little closer to home at that time when you told that story, and I just noticed the way that you turned your head and closed out that conversation after that story. And I thought, "He's getting emotional. That one really hit home for him," and I started to get emotional.
Carl Honoré: Yeah. It's funny because I'm talking about something that happened really many years ago. Now, my son is just, you know, he's in his early 20s now. He can read Snow White to himself. But, yeah, that's so very close to me. That cut deep and hard and really changed the whole course of my life, that whole moment, because that's why I started traveling around the world to understand not only my own addiction to speed but the bigger picture. And out of that came the book and then this whole movement, slow movement, everything right? It almost all started in that very small moment.
Casey Weade: And it made you faster. I go, "Oh, I want to get that card." So, now I'm going to be working really hard to try to get that card and get choked up myself. So, let's get into it here, and I just want to start with the slow movement. What is the slow movement? How do you define the slow movement? And has it morphed? Has it worked? Is it taking off?
Carl Honoré: Yeah. I'll start with the first question. What is it? Well, maybe I'll flip it around and tell you what it isn't. Slow with a capital S is not doing everything at a snail's pace very slowly. That would be absurd, right? I'm not an extremist or a fundamentalist of slowness. I love speed. Faster is often better. We all know that. You know, I live in London. I love the volcanic energy of the city. I play hockey. I love fast, right? But the slow movement is about doing things at the right speed, you know, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, playing with all those different rhythms and tempos in between. Musicians have a phrase. They talk about the tempo giusto, the correct tempo for each piece of music, and that kind of gets at what slow with a capital S is all about. It's about being in that moment and being in that moment doing that thing at the right speed. So, it's kind of like a mindset, I suppose, if you go even deeper. It's quality over quantity. It's doing one thing at a time, being present in the moment, all those things. Ultimately, I suppose, slow is about doing everything not as fast as possible, but as well as possible, which is a very simple idea at its core, but an immensely powerful one, and a hugely counter-cultural one because we live in a society that tells us that faster is always better, that slow is somehow a dirty word. It's a four-letter word. It's a byword for stupid, lazy, unproductive, boring. And to stand up and say, "Actually, you know what, slowing down will be good for you," it can be a frightening thing for people to do, but a hugely useful one because it allows you to do everything better.
So, you asked if the movement had morphed? The basic principle has held the same. It's, as I explained, that's what slow was 20 years ago. That's where it is today. But what has changed is that and this is a kind of delicious irony. The slow movement has grown very fast. So, it has spread out into every field of human endeavor. You will find a slow movement from, many people have heard of the Slow Food Movement but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's slow education, slow sex, slow leadership, slow technology, slow fashion, slow travel, right? Every field of human activity, people are bringing the lens of slow and saying, "How can I do this thing better by slowing down to the right speed?" Very simple idea but one that launches everything into orbit in a good way.
Casey Weade: And I think I need to grasp this and really hold on to this movement myself, as I would say, I'm a speed addict. You know, I like to go fast and when I'm working and just in life in general, I thrive on a certain level of stress, which could be equated to speed moving here, doing that. I don't like it when it slows down. I don't like it when things start moving a little slower and that creates stress. If I don't have stress, I have even more stress. Can you explain me to me?
Carl Honoré: It's a vicious circle. I mean, I was a card-carrying speed-aholic. I was you all those years ago. I abhorred the very idea of slowness. It just sent shivers down my spine and made me feel uncomfortable and I wanted everything to be fast but I realize now that that is, in the long run, is folly. You need some stress. You need some speed. Of course, you do. And some people will need more than others. Some are more natural hares than tortoises, but even the hares among us, we need slow moments. And even the fastest, most testosterone-drenched super athletes understand the power of sleep, of stopping, of not being stressed, of not training 24 hours a day, of shifting gears, of going into tortoise mode sometimes. So, whenever someone like you and I was exactly in the same boat as you all those years ago says, "Well, I'm uncomfortable slowing down and I don't want to do what I want." You know, I always say, "Well, you need both. You need the yin and the yang," and you need to wean yourself off because it's an addiction. It's interesting you use that word. I think it was about speed-aholic or speed addict I think you said, right? This is an addiction and it's a physical addiction because speed, adrenalin, all of that, is a chemical high that we get hooked on.
So, that's a chemical thing. But there's also a metaphysical dimension here, an emotional one, because I think for a lot of people not saying this is necessarily your case, but for a lot of people who get stuck in Road Runner mode, going fast all the time is an instrument of denial. It's a way of walling yourself off from the bigger, more uncomfortable questions such as, "Who am I? Am I living the right life for me? Are my family okay?" You know, those big, big questions that require time, they require reflection, and they require you to stop, pause, get off the merry-go-round and think, let your mind wander. And for a lot of people, it's easier just to run away from those questions and to fill up your head with distraction and sweating the small stuff. So, instead of thinking and grappling with questions like, "Am I leading the right life for me? Where do I want to be in five years?" you grapple with the small stuff like, "Where are my keys? I'm late for my 11 a.m." In the short run, it's easier to do that short, fast stuff. That's the low-hanging fruit. But a life well lived is about nibbling on the low-hanging fruit but also sometimes taking the time to climb up the tree to the really juicy stuff on the higher branches.
Casey Weade: That's a great analogy, and I know for me, I've just found that I need to slow down but I still need to go fast. I need both of these things. I need a daily meditation, I need my Fridays off, and I need to take a couple of months of travel a year or just a couple of months to spend with family. And there's this right balance for me, but I think that's a perfect lead-in to my next question, which is we do need to go fast sometimes and we do need to go slow sometimes. I think we need both of these things. We can't just be moving slowly all the time. Maybe I've got that wrong. But how do we know when we go fast and it's appropriate? How do we know when it's appropriate to go slow?
Carl Honoré: Well, I think there are two ways to think about it. One is the easier way is after the fact. So, once you've gone through a task and been aware of the speed you did it, it's easier afterwards to look back and think, "How did that go? Did I enjoy it? Did I make mistakes? Did I get it right? Did I deliver my best self in that moment?" And if you didn't, and you can usually identify speed or rush or hurry as being one of the things that got in the way. So, after the fact, you always look back, take those pause moments after you've done something and look back and just question the speed, the tempo, and parse it, work out whether it was the right speed for you for next time. In the moment, it could be harder because you're actually in the moment where you're trying to do the things, at the same time, to judge can be difficult. But I think one thing that there are certain things you can look out for. If you're worried about time, right, you're thinking about the clock, that can often be a sign that you're going too fast, that you're not in the moment. It's when you're in the moment, you're in that flow state. There's no surprise that flow rhymes with slow. Because when you were in a slow state, flow state, whatever you want to call it, you're at the right speed, you forget the clock, right? You actually forget time. Time seems to just become the element that you're floating around in rather than a yardstick right beside you that you're ticking off moment by moment. So, that's one thing I think is to think if you're fully in there, you're not distracted, you're in that moment, I think that's often a good sign that you're at the right speed for you in that particular task.
Casey Weade: Interesting. In this moment, being in this chair, doing this, this is when I feel that flow. I'll lose track one hour. If I'm sitting down doing paperwork for an hour, it's not flow. It seems very slow, actually.
Carl Honoré: Yeah. That's like fast-slow.
Casey Weade: So, like slow means fast, right? Slow means fast?
Carl Honoré: Fast slow versus good slow. Yeah.
Casey Weade: Yeah. That makes sense to me. I'm wondering, Carl, after all this work you've done in this realm, what are some of the practices that you've implemented in your own personal life to keep yourself in check and just monitor and maintain the right pace?
Carl Honoré: Well, I do one thing which I call the speed check, and I do it all the time is just whatever few times throughout the day randomly, I'll just stop whatever it is I'm doing, and I'll have a moment of saying, "Am I doing this at the right speed?" It can be as simple as stopping for two or three seconds. And usually, I am and I carry on but sometimes I have got infected by other people's impatience or I'll just kind of drift back into my roadrunner ways and I'll be able to catch myself at that moment saying, "Actually, you know what, take a couple of deep breaths. Go back to it a little more slowly." So, it can just be that little moment of awareness. Easy, free, and actually ironically quick. It's just a stop, check your speed in the moment. So, that's one thing I suggest. I love my iPhone. Tech's great. But that little red button, use it. You know, use it in lots of different ways. You know, switch off. My notifications are permanently switched off, for instance. So, that means that I'm never distracted by an incoming message or headline or update on someone else's timetable to suit them. I decide when I want to stop doing whatever I'm doing in the real world to go into the virtual world to see what's happening in my inbox or in my social media. So, turn off all your notifications. So, that's a couple of things right there with the tech. I think it's also super important to incorporate some social, well, like a ritual, I guess, is the word I'm looking for here. Slow ritual or activity into your day, something that just vaccinates you, here I'm doing a pandemic metaphor, vaccinates you against the virus of hurry. You talked about meditation. For some people, it might be reading poetry or sketching. I'm a terrible drawer but I find sketching immensely relaxing. It could be knitting. Anything. Just build that into your schedule, embed it there, and just work as a kind of break in your day. So, those are three ways to start reconnecting with your inner tortoise if you like.
Casey Weade: You know, when you are talking about this as an addiction and speed as an addiction, moving fast as an addiction, and if most of us and I think most of us are going through life with some level of addiction to speed, especially, let's say we've been working for the last 30, 40 years, now running, entering retirement, that's a hard stop, right? We're all of a sudden going cold turkey on our speed. And I would imagine that is what leads to a lot of the stress and anxiety that retirees have on the front end of retirement is there in a way going through a withdrawal. And if it is truly an addiction, maybe it's not a chemical addiction but if we think about chemical addictions, heroin, they go to a methadone clinic. Nicotine, maybe you're going to get nicotine gum. And then there are these ways that we wean ourselves off of our addictions. But what are your thoughts on stepping into retirement? You know, how do we wean ourselves off? Or is it best that we go cold turkey? And what are the risks?
Carl Honoré: I definitely would recommend against going cold turkey. I think that in a hard stop avoid things like that at all costs. I think if you can engineer a soft landing, so you maybe start just dialing down how many hours you're putting in at work and over several years. I mean, I'm even uneasy with the whole idea of retirement as an obligation or an institution. I mean, I think for many people it works, but I think that the whole kind of concept of that somehow there's a very rigid three-stage life path that in the early years, it's about learning, and then middle years of it is about earning and maybe having kids. And then the final years is about resting, spending the money, and stopping. That feels to me such a straitjacket. And so, past its sell-by date and so stultifying and out of touch with the times. It seems to me we were entering a new phase of how we think about the life span. Not only it's much longer but it has the potential to be much richer and more varied. And I think we should be smashing that life path, that three-stage thing into a million pieces and saying, "The learning that we did in earlier years, we should be learning all the way through our lives, right?" The earnings, well, there's no reason you have to stop or you should always aspire to stop earning at 55 or 60 or whatever. It doesn't mean you have to be working the same number of hours all the time but you could be working a bit, you know, as doing a bit of consulting or a little bit of work here and there.
Also, I think something else that we do, we often think of that later that last stage as being a time not only of rest and not working but a bit of volunteer work. I think we should bring volunteering back into all of our lives, not just leaving it to the end. I know I'm kind of backpedaling here and taking a bigger swing at that question but I'll cycle back to saying it's just too close often what you're asking, which is, I think if you're deciding that you want to get to a place where you're not doing any paid work at all, that's fine. But I would definitely recommend not going cold turkey there if going from a five-day full-time job to that. I mean, we know the science is pretty clear that that can take a toll on you emotionally and physically. So, I would recommend soft landing, try and spin it out, and just see where you go from there but take your time. Do it slowly or coming back to the slow thing again, right? Slow retirement or retire slow.
Casey Weade: Well, and that seems to be the trend today, you know, really developing a better bridge to retirement and continuing to work but doing so part-time. Job optional, right? You talk about or I think we sometimes get it wrong or we think this is what actually happens when you step into retirement, that all of a sudden, everything's slow. All of a sudden, everything stops. But that's not the reality. How often have you heard from a retiree or someone in that demographic that goes, "Yeah. I stopped working, and now I'm busier than ever?" What is your response to that?
Carl Honoré: Well, it's so true. I heard that from my own parents when they retire and they left work. And even now, they're both in their 80s and they seem to be busier than they were in their 50s. I mean, there's good busy and bad busy, right, just as there's good slow and bad slow. So, one of the things that we acquire with age is a lot more knowledge of ourselves. We know what works for us. We know what lights us up, what leaves us cold. And I think if people are very busy in, let's say, over 60s, my guess is that those people, by and large, that's good busy, right? Whereas people who are super busy, crazy busy in their 30s and 40s very often that's usually bad busy in my experience. So, I don't want to set the generations off against each other and say that people in later life are always wiser about their use of time. But as a general rule, I think that kind of busy later on can be pretty good. It's just about getting the right balance, making sure that busyness is pitched at the right tenor for you and that it's not overwhelming, and that it feels right, that it works. And I tend to think and I come back to this idea that in later life, we know ourselves better, that you just listen. Listen to your body, listen to your soul, your heart, and all that, and listen to the people around you. And you can usually gauge if the busyness is right. And if it's not, if it's too much, if it's tipping into bad busy, pull that lever and slip back into good busy again. I think a bit busy goes a long way, you know,
Casey Weade: Well, talking about different demographics, talking about someone in the 30s and 40s, someone that's in their 50s, 60s, 70s, there's a question that I recently received as we were recently voted Best Financial Advisor in our community, the newspaper wanted to ask, how someone that views the ability to be job optional as something that won't happen until later in life, or they have to be a Fortune 500 CEO to have that lifestyle? What would you say to those that view job optional as something that's for somebody that's rich or something that's wealthy? And I think there's a parallel to be made here as well. I'm sure you've received this criticism from a younger individual, someone that's in their 30s or 40s. They say, "Well, I haven't made it yet. I need to move fast. I don't have the luxury of moving slow."
Carl Honoré: Well, there are two things there. The first is on the second question about the luxury of slow. If you do slow right at any stage, 30s, 40s, 20s, any time, and beyond, if you do it right, you'll actually be a better employee. You'll be more productive, you'll be more creative. You'll be sharper. You'll make fewer mistakes. You'll be more successful. So, the idea that slow somehow is going to be a drag on your career, and it's something you have to kick downfield to a time when you're more secure and you can get away with it. No, that's the old way of thinking about slow. The new, sharper, more sensible way of thinking is that slow is powerful. It's going to unlock the best version of yourself. So, if you get it right, I would say you want to start slowing down as we want to embrace slow as early in your life as possible. It's not something that you want to be leaving for the end or for the last half. So, that was my first thought.
Casey Weade: Well, and Carl, I mean, I'll say this for myself. The less I've worked, the more impactful I've been while I'm working. The faster our business grows, really, the slower that I go. And not necessarily that I'm moving slower while I'm here but my life as a whole slows down and business has actually accelerated. And I think that is because I really enjoy it more. I'm just mentally healthier, right?
Carl Honoré: Yeah. I think you hit the right balance. I mean, The Economist Magazine did a big survey looking at pace in the modern workplace recently, and they came to a conclusion that's actually a perfect summation of the slow philosophy. The last two lines of The Economist survey were, "Forget frantic acceleration. Mastering the clock of business means choosing when to be fast," which is a bit we all know, right, "but also when to be slow." When to be fast and when to be slow. And it's like I was saying at the outset, it's when you get that balance right, the dance between fast and slow and choosing the right speed, that's when the music and the magic happen at work but everywhere else. And look, that's The Economist Magazine telling us to slow down. It's not Buddhist Monthly or Acupuncture Weekly, right? It's the in-house Bible of the fastest, most go-getting ambitious, entrepreneurial people on Earth, and it's giving the same message, which is in a world addicted to speed, slowness is a superpower.
Casey Weade: The highest performers in the world know when to slow down. Think about Formula One drivers. They don't take the corner at full speed, right? They know when to slow down. They know when they go fast. So, I want to make sure we make a good transition here into your book but I wanted to focus on Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives. And I think as we make this transition, the question is how did the slow movement transition into this interest in ageism and just making the most of a longer life?
Carl Honoré: Yeah. Well, to me, there wasn't really a neat segue. I think of my first three books as the slow trilogy, and then I thought of this book on aging and ageism as a new departure, really. But there are some conceptual overlaps. I mean, obviously, as we get older physically, in some ways, we slow down, we get better at. The study suggested people get better at being present in the moment and so on. And so, there are some in the great Venn diagram of my writing life there, Bolder does overlap a little bit with the slow work I've done before. But essentially it feels like a fresh pasture to be playing around to me. It's not Slow 4 or anything, right? It feels like a different battle to be fighting because in a way, with the first three books I was taking on the cult of speed. With this book, I'm taking on the cult of youth. So, there's a link for you, right? Clearly, I've got a thing about cults. I can't see one without wanting to take it down.
Casey Weade: Well, that's great. Let's talk about first, I think, before we talk about making the most of a long life, I would like to hear you define what a long life is. How do you define a long life?
Carl Honoré: Well, you mean just numerically, I mean, a long life, I suppose, now I think anyone living over past 85 I suppose I would consider a long life. I mean, we've extended life so long now that I think you'd expect now to be getting in the western world at least to 75, and pretty good neck to 80, and then 85. And then after 85, maybe you're rolling the dice and who knows what's going to happen to any of us at that point. But I think we've carved out an awful lot of years there, right? And a lot of those years are healthier than they've ever been before. I mean, the average 65-year-old today is healthier and in better shape than in any time in human history. We've entered a golden age of aging in lots of ways, and part of that is we have more years to play around with.
Casey Weade: Yeah. One of my mentors as Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach, he says he's going to live to 156. And I was recently listening to another talk, someone predicted that children that are born today could live to 200 years old. And first, I'd like to know what your thoughts are on some of these numbers that you hear coming from the scientific community, the health community on 150, 200 years old. Are these realistic? Because many just would throw those numbers out and say, "That's silly. We're never going to live that long."
Carl Honoré: Yeah. Well, I wouldn't say never but two words come to mind when I hear figures like that and those words are science fiction, right? We are so far away from that ever being a reality. It's certainly not a reality today. I mean, I dug a lot into science as well for Bolder and I didn't come away thinking we're very close to living to hundreds of years. We seem to be bumping up against a kind of ceiling now. A few outliers seem to get into 100, over 100 in teens, and some maybe 120. But as far as we know, no one's ever got to 150. It feels like we're hitting a natural ceiling. Now, that doesn't rule out some great leap forward in medicine or understanding of science. That could open the door to longer living. I've got my doubts. I mean, that was one of the things I talk about in Bolder or cite a study that was done, they kind of looked at the mathematics of extending the life of a complex organism like a human being. And it seemed to be the conclusion, what is it? It's mathematically impossible to extend age that much longer. I mean, a long, long way and certainly to end aging. I mean, that feels to me still like science fiction. And, I mean, this is a whole other subject for another podcast but if it were possible, would we even want it? I mean, it's an interesting parlor question. What would we do with 200 years? I think even our lives stretching out as long as they do now has forced us to reassess old institutions like marriage, family, friendship. And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe in some ways it probably is but maybe, I don't know, perhaps we would suffer from a kind of ennui that we can't even conceive of if life went on that long. I don't know. These are unknowable but fascinating questions.
Casey Weade: Well, as you said, 75, 100, you know, we're talking about a good chunk of time, at least from a human perspective and the title of your book itself, Making the Most of Our Longer Lives, it implies in of itself that it's easy to live and make the most of a short life. It's more challenging to make the most of a longer life. Do you believe that to be the case? Are most of us struggling to enjoy and make the most of our long lives? And we are living longer so you could say longer lives that we have today.
Carl Honoré: Yeah. I think we are, I mean, this is one of the chilling paradoxes of the modern condition, right, is that we are surrounded by endless affluence and promise and possibility, and yet many of us feel really pretty alienated and unhappy and like we're just sleepwalking through our lives at any age, right? So, I think many of us are struggling to make the most of our lives. Never mind how long they are and that comes back to the kind of fast thing that the hyper-consumerisms, a whole bunch of reasons for that. But if we focus specifically on whether we can make the most of those later decades, I think we do still struggle. It's getting better. It's getting better all the time, and we can talk about why that is but I think the one reason we do struggle is the cult of youth, right? I mean, we were just bombarded by this idea that younger is better, that aging is somehow a punishment or a curse, ridding a disease, and being older in so many walks of life can mean being written off from the bedroom to the boardroom. And it's woven into our vernacular, right? Just think of the language we used when we talk about growing older or age past your prime, over the hill, finished at 40, wrong side of 50, senior moment. I mean, all these phrases just drip with a grim chamber of horror's view of later life. And I think that I don't just think that I know that makes it harder to make the most of our longer lives because we know from research that if you buy into ageism, if you embrace the cult of youth, if you think that aging is a process of decline and loss and it's sad and depressing, you're increasing the chances that it will be all those things, right?
So, we know that if you have a downbeat view of aging, you're more likely to suffer from cognitive and physical decline to develop dementia or even to die younger up to seven-and-a-half years younger. So, what that means is that ageism or buying into the cult of youth is the ultimate act of self-harm. And it's one that I think many of us are caught up in almost unknowingly because this is the water we swim in. It's the culture we live in that's just constantly telling us that just that idea that there is no wrong side of 50, right? Let's be honest. But it's there in the culture and people, you turn 49 three times because you don't want to admit to yourself that you're 50, let alone anyone else, right? So, I think that makes it very hard for us to seize this extraordinary, bountiful opportunity now of longer lives. What are the things holding us back is the ageist industrial complex, right? Just making us feel ashamed, guilty, disgusted, afraid of our own aging when we need not be. We ought to feel that aging can be an adventure to be embraced that the later life could be a huge open plain of promise and possibilities, and that's what it can be, and that's what it is for many people but I think the ageism thing gets in the way and makes us feel bad and then trips us up.
Casey Weade: So, are you hitting on right now an age-inappropriate world?
Carl Honoré: Am I hitting on an age-inappropriate world, do you mean?
Casey Weade: Yeah. I saw that you had written about that and I wanted you to talk a little bit more about what that means exactly.
Carl Honoré: Yeah. It's interesting you pulled that phrase out because my book is called Bolder but originally, my working title was Age Inappropriate. Yeah. Because you know, there's this idea that age-appropriate seems to me part of the ageist culture. It's saying that your chronological age defines and limits you. So, if you're age X, that means you can't wear these clothes, you should stay away from those sports, probably that food's not for you, you shouldn't listen to this music, you know, all that sort of stuff when the question that rebounds as soon as you put that idea forward is why? Why should we be walled off from things that light us up just because our birth certificate has a certain series of numbers on it? It makes no sense. And I do think on the optimistic note, I think that we are moving into a brave new world now where chronological age is losing its power to wall us in and straitjacket us off. And that's why you look around now and you see people wearing backwards baseball caps in their 50s, right, or going to music festivals in their 80s. This is the age of the centenarian skydiver and people just going on and doing what floats their boat. And that's really how to make the most of your life at any stage is just to think, "Who am I now? What lights me up? What can I do physically and emotionally in this moment? Here's my list," and go for it. Not worry about what anyone else says or whether that's not right for a 41-year-old or a 62-year-old. Who cares, right, in the greater scheme of things?
Casey Weade: Well, I caught a video of you on Facebook wearing, what, I didn't even know existed, an aging suit? And I could see you being very offended that they even created an aging suit. That seems like it's almost setting the stage for, "Hey, this is what it's going to be like in the future," or, "When you're at this point, this is exactly how you're going to feel." It's this self-fulfilling prophecy that's false.
Carl Honoré: Well, yeah, I mean, it was a pretty horrifying thing to wear, right? It was designed in a way with noble purpose, which is that it was first designed in the car industry so that young designers could imagine themselves into an older body. So, the idea is you put on an aging suit and it puts 30 years on you so it gets heavier. You can't see, you can't hear, you can't move your joints. I mean, it is a full-on nightmare. It's horrifying. And actually, it was one of the first things I did when I started investigating and researching for Bolder. I'll tell you what. I almost gave up on the book. I thought, "Man, how can I write a book about being upbeat about aging when aging really is a total massacre?" But, of course, the aging suit doesn't tell the whole story. It tells a distorted story because it takes all of the possible ailments that could, in any universe, assail a person and gives them all to you at once. So, nobody is that unlucky in real life. And even if you did get many of those ailments, you'd have years to get used to them and acclimatize yourself to it all and just get okay with it. So, what it does is it gives you the full monty, right, the full English breakfast of aging ailments in the blink of an eye. And that is pretty horrific, I got to say, but it's not the truth. The person I was doing that aging suit with was actually 30 years older than me. The clip, I think you're thinking of David Suzuki, a Canadian TV presenter. And you know, you see him in the thing and I see him. He's lithe and able and agile and dexterous and alert and can hear and see. We were just night and day together there. Supposedly, I was 80 alongside him and he was the real 80. Yeah. I'm going to go with what the David Suzuki 80 looks like rather than the aging suit one.
Casey Weade: Exactly. He looked like he was doing pretty darn good. He looked like he was doing significantly better than you while you're wearing this aging suit. You had a post that I came along and that was 12 rules for aging badly. I wanted you to share. If someone was going through those rules, what is the one rule for aging boldly that you want to make sure that everyone grasps and takes with them? If you could only impart one rule for aging boldly on our fans, what would that be? And I know it can be hard to just do one so, hey, how about two?
Carl Honoré: Yeah. That is hard. You can bend the rules for me. Well, you know, one thing I usually feel I start with when people say what it is the learning thing is to keep on learning. I touched on that earlier, the importance of lifelong learning and so on that, A, people can go on learning new stuff all the way through their lives. You don't fall off a learning cliff sometime in your early 20s. And the actual act of learning, you know, pushing open new doors, testing yourself, probing the limits of what you understand and can take on. That energizes you, right? It engages you and it keeps you fighting fit physically and emotionally. So, expose yourself to novelty. Get out there and do new stuff, and it could be, I don't know, play a new video game or try a new cooking technique or learn a new language or a new dance step or just something. Just always every day get up and think, "What's one new thing I can do today that's going to challenge me a little bit?"
Casey Weade: That's great. And I've seen that. My grandfather, when he was 90, he was offered a three-year contract for employment as a superintendent, and he's what they say contending to learn into his late 80s. He was selling large basically HVAC units to schools around the state. And I think that has led to him today. He's going on 94 here this fall and he has had this passion for ongoing learning and education as a whole and just helping people more than anything else.
Carl Honoré: Right there, role model.
Casey Weade: Oh yeah. And that's where the name of the company comes from in part, Bailey, Ralph Bailey. So, I want to hit on your last book selfishly because as a parent of an almost one-year-old, four-year-old, six-year-old, you have a book that is titled Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting. And as a parent that says, "I just don't know if I got all this figured out," I want to get as much information as I possibly can from those that have been down this road and really studied it as well. Can you share with us what hyper-parenting is? What is hyper-parenting and why do we need to rescue our kids from this?
Carl Honoré: Yeah. Well, I suppose hyper-parenting is good parenting run amok. So, it starts from a noble and natural instinct, which is to do the best for our children. You can't argue with that. That's what we should all aspire to. The trouble is that over the last generation or so, that instinct has morphed into a caricature of itself. So, as parents now, I think we feel under immense pressure to push, polish, and protect our children with superhuman zeal. We feel we have to give them the best of everything and at the same time, make them the best at everything. I think for a lot of children, childhood has come to resemble the race to perfection. They come out of the womb and they just hit the ground running. It's Baby Einstein DVDs, baby sign language classes, Baby Goes Pro sports clinics, Mandarin lessons, the Moses basket, and endless extracurriculars. That's hyper-parenting which turns parenting into a cross between product development and a competitive sport, which ultimately is not a good thing for parents, for children, for teachers, communities. It backfires because children need slowness, right? They need it probably even more than adults do. It's in those moments of unstructured time of not knowing what's coming next to boredom, even. Think about boredom. We're all so terrified of boredom nowadays. Throughout history, when a child came to a parent and said, "I'm bored," your parent would say, "Well, too bad. Go outside and play or find a friend," or they'd use that eternal expression, "Use your imagination," you remember?
Now, child says to a parent, "I'm bored," the parent panics and thinks, "Oh no, I'm failing. My kid's bored. Where's the iPad? Maybe we need another extracurricular activity in the schedule." No, no, no, no, no, no. You need to back off. Slow down. Let the boredom happen because it's in those moments of unstructured time, restlessness, not knowing what's coming next, no tests, no target, no timetable, that's when children learn how to play, how to use their imagination, how to invent, how to create, how to socialize, how to look into themselves and work out who they are rather than what everybody else wants them to be. So, that's kind of hyper-parenting and its alternative. Actually, I've been on the parenting trail for many years now as well, and I feel like there's been a big shift from when I first started out to now. There's a whole slow education movement, slow children, slow parenting movement. And I think in some ways the pandemic helped with that because it's forced the whole world to slow down. It was like this global workshop at slowness. And what did a lot of families do? They hunkered down at home and hung out. They couldn't go off to tennis, Kumon, badminton, hockey because there was no FOMO because there's nothing to miss out on. So, we stayed at home with our kids. We played board games. We cooked. We baked. We laughed. We listened to each other. And a lot of families that come out of the pandemic saying, "You know what, that was a pretty nifty silver lining right there, and I'm going to make sure that my parenting is a lot less hectic, a lot less full-on, a lot less full throttle when the pandemic passes."
Casey Weade: Well, Carl, you're making me feel a little guilty. And now I realize going back to my childhood, my parents had a different reaction, just as you said, when I would say I was bored. Now, our kids, I had never heard this before but I think it was our six-year-old a couple of months ago who had said, "Dad, I'm bored," and now I feel guilty. I go, "Okay. What do we need to do? Maybe we need to go outside. Maybe I didn't provide him with enough stuff to do. Maybe we need to go get something to draw on." And when I was a kid, I remember all of those moments of, "Hey, I'm really bored," so I'll figure it out and go outside. And I would eventually figure it out. There's so much value from that.
Carl Honoré: Yeah. I mean, I remember those moments and you'd go up. We would invent games. I mean, we came up with all kinds of stuff, right? You know, it's a little bit uncomfortable at first but the discomfort is part of life. I think we're setting children up for a fall if we give them a childhood where there's no rough. It's just all smooth. It's frictionless. Everything just moves seamlessly along this high-speed train of activity and distraction. That's not life, right? It maybe explains why so many kids are coming out of homes now going to college or not starting their early adulthood and having real trouble emotionally, right?
Casey Weade: Anxiety.
Carl Honoré: Mental health problems and anxiety up through the roof. And I suspect part of that is that they haven't had that space. I mean, Virginia Woolf talked about childhood as she described the Great Cathedral Space, Childhood. And that sense of adults just getting out of the way and just the world being this huge open space to play around in and learn and scrape your knee and get hurt and be scared but come through it, marshaling your own devices. So much now is about parents right alongside the child, fighting their battles, getting their foot in this door, sorting out that for them, fixing the other thing instead of just backing off and saying, "You know what, in the long run and maybe hurt a little now, you're going to feel a little ticked off with me but if you figured out yourself now, you're going to thank me later on."
Casey Weade: Well, that is beautiful and powerful. Carl, thank you for that. I want to wrap up our conversation here with one final question that I'd like to ask a lot of our guests, and I would just like to ask you, Carl, what does retire with purpose mean to you?
Carl Honoré: I want, and in some ways, this is not just for my retirement or whatever that later time is going to be, but I want to feel like if I wake up every morning in that stage of my life and I think, "Yes, another day," then that's retirement with purpose for me. I don't know what that purpose will be but if I wake up each one to think, "Yes, another day. I'm going to grab it by the scruff of the neck," then I will have, I won't say one, because that turn sets it up as a competition. I'll have got where I want it to be.
Casey Weade: Well, that is, without a doubt, one of my favorite answers as a result of its simplicity. So, Carl, thank you so much for joining us. Before you go, I'd like to offer your book to our audience. So, if you'd like to get a copy of Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives, our team is going to be giving it away for free to you and all you have to do is this. Write an honest rating and review for the podcast over on iTunes. You can do that then at RetireWithPurpose.com. Just click on the podcast tab that says Leave a Review there. Go ahead and do that. That's how we get recognized. That's how we get noticed. That's how we get our message out. And this is a message that I'm sure if you're anything like me, you want to share with the world. So, write an honest rating and review for the podcast and shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will send you out a copy of Bolder: Making the Most of Our Longer Lives for absolutely free. Carl, thank you so much for joining us here. It's been a wonderful conversation and I can't wait to continue to see the impact that you make in the world.
Carl Honoré: Thank you very much. I've enjoyed it from start to finish, and I could chat to you all day. Thanks so much.
Casey Weade: Until next time, Carl.
Carl Honoré: Definitely, a deal.