079: Rewriting The Narrative of Growing Up, Growing Older, and Growing Richer with Karen Sands
As more and more adults of retirement age take on new challenges, embark on second-act careers, and pursue far more than just a life of cocktails and travel, the language around aging and retirement is changing. Few understand this better than Karen Sands, who is a true “new age retiree.”
In her book, The Ageless Way, Karen proposes that women choose not to deny nor be defined by their age, but to transcend it entirely. Through a blend of intimate storytelling, historical insights, and cutting edge ideas, she’s created a powerful guide and radical new vision for women of all ages.
Today, Karen joins the podcast to talk about why she’s busier now at 75 than she ever was in her twenties, how to silence your inner ageist to enter your visionary, innovative next phase of life, and why getting older isn’t just about avoiding disease and maintaining your health, but living with purpose at every age.
Please note: For this special giveaway of Job Optional*, we do not currently offer international shipping. Residents outside of the U.S. may obtain a copy of Job Optional* via eBook format upon request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- Why Karen’s mother’s diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s led her to walk away from her marriage, as well as several businesses, to study the science and future of aging.
- How to use your past to write the story of your future on your terms.
- Why the fast-growing longevity economy is going to prove so important over the decades to come – and who will suffer if it goes underserved.
- How to start thinking about legacy well before you approach retirement age to best serve your community and loved ones.
- Why Karen believes we need to stop segregating old and young to help stop the epidemic of depression in older Americans – and why miraculous recoveries and reinventions are possible with the right support systems and resources.
- “Every listener in your audience needs to realize the opportunities are enormous. The growth of just care of people over 50 is exploding. We need 5 million new positions filled by 2020 just in eldercare.” – Karen Sands
- “I think the way I describe greatness is that it’s our signature DNA. We come in with it. It’s already there. It’s just we forget about it. It’s buried by our teachers, by our family, by society, by whatever. But that greatness is what we come in with.” – Karen Sands
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As one of the pioneers of the coaching industry, Karen has 40+ years worth of strategies, ideas, and experiences to share with you. And she’s not holding anything back. In other words: Pick her brain. It’s all yours!
Casey Weade: Karen, welcome to the podcast.
Karen Sands: Love being here.
Casey Weade: Hey, I’m so excited to have you. You know, I just recently got your manual in the mail and I say that in a loving way, The Ageless Way. I got the opportunity to read that over the past week. I really enjoyed it. You just got so much valuable information. So many things that I actually learned from the book that I’m going to be able to carry over into my conversations that I’m having with my team, that I’m having with individuals we’re working with every single day that I just couldn’t wait to get you on here so you could share all this information, all that stuff that’s going on in that head of yours, because there’s a lot going on up there. And so, I just couldn’t wait to talk to you about it.
Karen Sands: Yeah, it just keeps on morphing as we keep evolving.
Casey Weade: Well, I think the interesting thing is now, Karen, you’re of retirement age, and you’re not necessarily what you would call the traditional retiree that we see historically speaking. You’re kind of a new age retiree. And I mentioned to you in the front, I said, “You retired,” and you said, “No, I’m not.” I said, “Well, you are. You’re just a new age retiree. You’re living retirement with purpose, doing what you want to do.”
Karen Sands: Yeah. I think there are different kinds of retirement though. You can either retire and fire up or you can retire and go play golf and have some cocktails and just travel and do your thing. Or there’s me who actually is, I would say, a serial careerist rather than a retiree. I probably work as much as you do, if not more per week, seriously, whether it’s writing or speaking, or thinking or coaching or consulting, whatever it may be. So, I don’t think that’s retirement. I think it’s important. Languaging around aging is so critical including retirement. And we need to retire retirement so that we all just have another life stage of choices to make.
Casey Weade: Well, you said career, you’re a serial careerist but more of I might think of it more of being an entrepreneur, right? And I guess how has that evolved for you over time from being, you know, having the traditional career, maybe you started with a job and you had a career then you ended up, you know, retiring in a nontraditional sense and following a different path, becoming an entrepreneur. What does that cycle look like for you?
Karen Sands: For me, it’s been a zigzag. I started as an educator in my 20s. I was a district school chairman by 22 in sciences and math, believe it or not, and then I went into, okay, what am I going to do now? I was a young mom and I was seeing a lot of young moms at the times back in the early 70s, young moms really bored out of their mind, loving being moms but bored. And so, I started a number of different entrepreneurial and nonprofit situations or efforts, endeavors to bring women back into the workforce and to bring them into a wholeness of, yes, we can be moms and wives, and we have a whole lot also going on.
Casey Weade: And what drives you today that’s different from say when you’re in your 30s or 40s, or maybe even 50s?
Karen Sands: What I call beat the clock, the Beat the Clock syndrome. I was always pretty feisty, and I was always really looking for what’s around the corner, what’s coming down the pike. How do I get ahead of the curve? That always happening just like it might be happening for you. But what’s changed and I think it started when I was around 50. I got ramped up at 60. I’m now 75. So, at 70 it really went up another notch. I only have so much time left and that’s what I mean by Beat the Clock syndrome. And although it can take over your life and I work to not let that happen for my clients, and for me, it is my driving force. At 75, if I only have 20 years, 25 years of being totally cogent, and rocking it, and being able to add value, what am I going to do in that amount of time? It’s not a lot of time. Not when we think of where we’ve been.
Casey Weade: Yeah.
Karen Sands: But that’s what changes it for me.
Casey Weade: Along the way, you’ve kind of always had this passion for the study of aging it seems, even from a young age. Where did this come from?
Karen Sands: It was certainly not intended. And when I look back at the entire story thread of my life which we all need to do, story arc of my life, it started way before I even realized it. Aging grabbed me. I did not move in its direction.
Casey Weade: So, we don’t necessarily have a choice in that, right?
Karen Sands: Exactly. But I meant even as a field of study. So, definitely not a choice as I like. So, when I was 28, I was a young mom and I had started one of these cereal entrepreneurial businesses I mentioned. And I was waiting for my mom to show up because I had two toddlers and she was coming to visit us. And the phone rang and of course, back then you didn’t have caller ID but I knew she was coming. I assumed it was her. I picked up, you know, on those long cords that we had back then.
Casey Weade: What are those? I’m kidding.
Karen Sands: Caller ID. Right.
Casey Weade: My kids will never know.
Karen Sands: Or my grandkids for that matter. But in any case, I picked up the phone. I said, “Hey, Mom?” “Yeah. It’s me.” “Oh, great. Mom, when are you getting here?” “Well, I have something to tell you, something important.” And I said, “Okay, what?” And I’m distracted, right? I know she’s coming. And she said, “Well, I drove into a toll booth.” “What?” “I drove into a toll booth.” It gets me every time, “I drove into a toll booth head-on.” I asked her, “Why?” “Because the voices on the radio told me to.” In that moment, my entire life’s and career’s trajectory changed forever, ever, evermore. Because what happened was in that moment, I recognized that I had lost my mom. She had early, early, early-stage and early, early diagnosed Alzheimer’s. I was 28. She was 59. The blessing is I’m 75.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Sharp as a tack. Running multiple businesses. Yeah, that’s awesome.
Karen Sands: But that changed because at 59 she had just left the home bookkeeping that she did for the family and went – my dad had passed already – and she went into a call center and she was so excited. She was going to have a, as she calls it, real career outside of the home. The ageism that she encountered was devastating and this is back in the early 70s. And she literally couldn’t handle it. And I think that’s what in the end flipped her earlier than she might have into early Alzheimer’s. But what I learned about that was here was a woman who never got to have her voice. She never got to express her whole being. So, at that time in that moment to 28, I made up that mind that that would never happen to me, that I needed to find out what does it mean to be older? What does it mean to be an older woman? I hadn’t a clue. The only things I saw were not what I wanted. And so, that started me on a path that has now threaded through my entire life. And it really is a thread that started long before that, but I didn’t see it until then.
So, I left a marriage. I left a business, several of them, and I said, “Okay, I want to see where I can play in the bigger picture to have a bigger impact to really see what it means to be a leader in the world.” And so, I did. Ten years later, I am sitting in the top floor of a major financial institution with my, sorry folks, my legs up, feet on my fuchsia pink enamel table with brass trim, VP on the door wondering, “How did I get here? Why am I here? What is my real purpose?” There were a lot of reasons I got into corporate which we don’t have time now to go into and it’s in my book. But now it’s at a point if I accomplished every single thing on that bucket list that I came to do. I was a real mover and shaker and they gave me the opportunity to do it. And as a result, I became a trained, by them by the company, a trained futurist, studying the future of aging.
Casey Weade: And I still had in your book. Now, correct me if I say this wrong because I’d never actually heard the term but GeroFuturist?
Karen Sands: Yes. What happened, there’s another story here, several years ago, I don’t know, maybe, maybe 10 now, I was doing a presentation at a major positive aging conference. And it was wonderful. Standing in the room, oh it was so great. The energy was just hopping around. It’s just fabulous. And these are all leaders in the field, right? And when I was done, two things happened. A guy came up to me and he said, standing ovation was wonderful. It really filled, filled my heart up. And he said, “I got to ask you. You know, you were referring to boomers and women,” oh, the topic was boomers changing the world again, how are you going to serve us? Right? That was it basically. And so, this guy comes in. You were talking about women and the future of women, and it’s incredible how that is. And he said, “How come? Can you talk about us?” And I said, “Well, you know, what works for men doesn’t always work for women. But what works for women also works for men. So, women also are underserved and most of us as elders will be women. So, that’s why. And most of the people in the field are women, not exclusively, thank goodness, but mostly. So, ask away and I will tell you anything you want to know, as it relates to a man as well.”
So, that was the first person that really ought to get my attention. Another woman who was older than I, at the time, came up to me and she said, “Karen,” because I was speaking about feeling very fractured as a pioneer in the field. Because I have so many different facets. When you reach my age, if you’ve been a careerist, as I said, or a serial entrepreneur, etcetera, there were a lot of things you know how what to do well, whether it’s consulting, whether it’s training, or it’s coaching, or it’s writing a book, whatever. What do I call myself? Because here I was this futurist, here I was a certified trained gerontologist as well, and a pioneering coach, one of the very first as a master certified coach.
Casey Weade: Yeah. I mean, and literally one of the first because most of the people that I have on that are studying aging or positive aging, conscious aging, they have just gone into this as soon as they retire. They turned 55 or 65 then they started doing it. You’ve been doing this for I think longer than anybody that I’ve talked to.
Karen Sands: Oh, I hope not that everybody. But yes, that’s true. I’ve been in it for a long, long time and it really has taken me on a various exact path. That’s why when you asked me that earlier, it’s like, I have to think about it because it’s been a thread. You know, I’m going to bring in a story now that I wasn’t going to tell you until later, but I will now. There’s a wonderful fairy tale and the cherry fairy tale is about this princess. She’s about eight years old, lives in a great castle, right? And she’s never allowed to go up in the attic. This sounds like a lot of other fairy tales before. So, she goes up to the attic with her nurse, and the nurse takes her up and way, way up. And in the corner in the shaft of light, she could see this little, little room, very, very, very, very old woman, an old crone, which is a very positive term, a woman of wisdom and age. And she said, “Who are you sitting in my castle? What are you doing?” And the old woman said, “I am your great, great, great grandmother and I am spinning…” What do I want to say? “Thread from the spider webs and I’ll show you how.”
And so, the girl kept coming back night after night to learn how to spin from the spider webs. And what the woman told her as she taught her was, “Take this thread, this ball of thread and roll it out before you and never lose touch with it. Always keep your hand on the ball of thread for it is the thread, the story thread of your life.” It’s true for all of us. We just forget to look for the thread, or we leave it behind, or it got buried because somebody told us it wasn’t okay. For me, this thread has grabbed me around the neck and yanked me forward for my entire life.
Casey Weade: Well, that leads to one of the questions I had regarding stories. Now, this really comes back to tell us about the stories of your life and this is what you talked about in the Ageless Way. You talked about how we can utilize those stories of our life, this so-called thread to form that new stage of our life and what retirement might look like for us. What does retirement mean? Starting a new business, being an entrepreneur or is it being a great grandparent, spending time traveling with your spouse? And pulling some of those stories back, how can we do that? How can we utilize the stories of our past to help form our future?
Karen Sands: It’s a big question and it’s what I do when I work with people one-on-one and in groups. So, in short form, the first is to start journaling all the important stories you can remember. Go back to when you were five. What was something you remember that really mattered to you? That piece of the thread is important to you, right? It’s just like remembering my mom. Oh, let me go back. I was a preemie. I was a pound-and-a-half in the 40s when they tossed preemies. Preemies do the why, right? The why and how and whatever blessed I know I’m here for a purpose, which is what my life is about, of course, but that story is critical for me because it tells me why I’m always jumping into what comes next to where the future is taking me. It’s a perspective I was born with. It’s in my DNA. So, it’s an important story for me. Each of us if we go back at different ages, just keep writing them down and as time goes on, you begin to see the thread. You can’t see it in the early years. It’s only in retrospect, especially at midlife.
Midlife is such an incredible time. And I consider as a gerontologist, I consider midlife 35 to like 70, 75 kind of, you know, kind of it’s a big span. And at the end, of course, you go into older adult and middle older adult and very older adult and into elderhood. Not everybody gets into elderhood, by the way, but in any case. So, it starts in all these, you know, all these stories are there, just keep pulling the threads through. The thing is none of us can do this ourselves, no matter who it is you work with whether it’s a religious figure, or whether – this can’t be your spouse, but it could be a counselor or could be a coach like myself who’s a gerontologist. Anyone that has that kind of background can help you begin to see those threads and see how they come together and which ones to leave behind and which ones to keep bringing through, you know, bringing the yarn through, right? And that’s what will begin to open up and show you where to go.
I’ll give you another story. It’s something I’m building right now. You don’t even know about this yet. I’m building a new academy online. And it’s called the Ageless Way Academy, AWA for short, Ageless Way Academy. And it’s for training professionals, leaders, entrepreneurs in the future about the longevity economy. It is so critical. It is a place where all of us now whether you are young or quite old or my age or just heading that way because the longevity economy is one of the most exciting concepts if you would or models if you would. It was created here in the States by a colleague of mine. Here we call it a longevity economy. In Europe, they call it the silver economy. They have other names but so we started it though. In the US, what that means is all the goods and services that are provided for, to, and used by people who are 50 plus, I like 40 plus but this trend, you know, the academics use 50 plus. Right now, it’s at $7.6 trillion worth and in, I forget what it is, 2022, it’s going to be double that, more than double that.
So, this is this humongous marketplace for those of us that are, not you, you who are serving us, me who are serving us, and the me’s in this marketplace, all contributing to this new economy. It is boomsville. It is the new not gold rush. It’s the age rush. So, not only does every sector need to pay attention to this. Every listener in your audience needs to realize the opportunities are enormous. Enormous. The growth of just care of people over 50 is exploding. We need 5 million new positions filled by 2020 just in eldercare.
Casey Weade: Well, it’s an important topic that it seems like, you know, we don’t typically focus on this until we get into our 50s or 60s and we start thinking about aging. And we start feeling maybe the impacts of ageism as we get later on in the workforce. And for me, it’s kind of interesting sitting in this position and working with people that are two or three times my age since I was in my early 20s. I think it’s helped me grow personally. I think we all need to study this whether we’re 45, 75, or 25, we’re all aging. And if we can start to recognize the way that thread is rolling earlier, that can help us make better decisions about our future as we’re aging. And I’m wondering as you’ve worked with all these different people, coach all these different people, through analyzing their thread, you’ve helped them really see you the common denominator or the sum of the commonalities and things that have happened, their experiences or stories they have from when they were teenagers to when they were 30 or 40. Can you share with us a story about somebody that you’ve worked with to help them see that thread and how it’s applied to their future?
Karen Sands: Yeah, one of the stories I was going to share with you and it’s so telltale for me because it sent me back to postgraduate studies in aging in adult development and aging. So, I was working with one of my coaching clients. At the time, she was in her early 40, 38, 40, 41, around there, sometimes, some way. She was a single mom. She had two kids and she came to me because she had been a token woman in a very high powered, great reach, great reputation, boutique branding firm. And she had some female problems and had to go out and have some surgery or whatever. When she came back, they had whittled away her client list and she was the top performer in the company, but the only woman, whittled away her clients, etcetera, all the things that people see happening when they’re saying, “Eh, we want to move you out,” for whatever reasons, right? So, she came to me not knowing what to do in total chaos, about where her life was, where her career was, company, da, da, da, da. So, it was quite clear to me that she was and is today a visionary, and a visionary leader. And she couldn’t own it. She couldn’t even see it and thought she was over. So, she came in one day and she had a dream. In the dream, she was very distracted and what’s the word I want? Just not…
Casey Weade: Distraught?
Karen Sands: Yeah. Distraught was the word I was looking for. Thank you. And she said, “I can’t be a visionary. I just can’t be.” And I said, “Oh, really now.” And I use a model that I have created that I can’t do here as much but it’s very sacred work. It’s not cocktail party talk, right? But I’ll share the story about it. So, she’s sitting in her chair, and I said, and she’s talking about all this and I said, “Well, how do you feel about this?” And she like withered up like a little, little girl that was so shy and didn’t want to be seen. And I said, “Okay. Let me speak to the visionary in you.” And I can’t tell you how I get there on screen, but in any case, she moved into that position. And we carried this conversation and the visionary said, “I’m just not being heard, in essence,” and I said, “Okay. Let me go back to this woman and reframe this,” and said, “Okay, I would like to speak to a part of you I have never spoken with you about and you probably don’t know about, that part of you that is telling you, you can’t be a visionary.”
So, I asked her to do a few things like moving in positions and stuff. And she moved over and I said, “Okay, I would like to speak to that part. Could you tell me? Could you tell me why she cannot be a visionary?” Well, at the time, my office was much bigger than this space. It was a big loft in New York. And I used it for all my work. And this woman sitting and I will tell you that the whole room, literally, I was like filled up with energy. I don’t even have words for it, because I could feel it. I could sense it. I couldn’t see it but I could hear it. Out of this little beautifully spelt woman, right, comes this RUWAA! energy. It answers me “She can’t be a visionary.” And I have to hold this energy in this space while this woman is like, whoa, what’s going on here? And I said, “Okay, why can’t she be a visionary?” “She can’t be a visionary because she has wrinkles. Don’t make waves. You have wrinkles.” Well, the ending of this session was that these voices which are in all of us are introjected what I call midlife dragon or our inner ageist is resonant deeply within us. So, before you can even make sense of anything, you have to get past that blockage. That woman would never be able to step into any visionary, innovative, next, unless we can move her past that.
Casey Weade: Well, I think it’s just having, however crazy that might sound, I think the idea is that and it’s a very important concept. As you age, I think some of these things get really buried in your past, buried in your psyche, and you don’t really realize what’s holding you back and a lot of times, yeah, it’s this societal thing that’s been placed in you. It says you are supposed to retire, you are no longer going to work, you’re no longer going to be a contributing member of society, you need to go sit in a rocking chair. And sometimes we don’t necessarily realize that we still have a lot left to give. And I think that’s what you’ve mainly helped people with is to go back, figure out why they feel that way, what might be holding them back, and let them recognize that that’s what’s holding them back, but also point out different areas throughout their life that they’ve been able to achieve great things and achieve greatness and then remove that barrier that is say age or whatever that barrier might be that’s in their story to allow them to achieve that vision or find greatness in retirement. And that leads me into my next question. You talk about greatness in retirement. What do you define as greatness in retirement? Is this something that is just the same for everyone? Do you have your own personal belief, that everybody can be unique? But what do you see in this?
Karen Sands: Well, first of all, I think the way I describe greatness is that it’s our signature DNA. We come in with it. It’s already there. It’s just we forget about it. It’s buried by our teachers, by our family, by society, by whatever. But that greatness is what we come in with. And what I mean by that is, it’s just like the rest of our DNA. It is our unique mark if you would. And so, that is what we carry through life. We can choose to ignore it, we can choose to stuff it, or we can choose to bring it out. And I find that in midlife when we’re no longer having to prove ourselves. You know, we’ve already started being a real citizen if you would, right, a productive citizen, but then we come to midlife and we have all these, who am I now? The biggest question I hear all around the world is what I call an umbrella question, I’ve made it, is who am I when I’m no longer young? And that’s a biggie and that starts in midlife. And so, that’s the time so rich to pull and find that DNA, your own greatness, and live it but you first have to find out what that is for you and I have found that most people can’t do that on their own.
Casey Weade: Is there a wide array of people you’ve worked with that have just gone completely different directions to find and define their own idea of greatness and retirement? Because I think some people get intimidated by that. It’s, “Oh boy, greatness in retirement? That sounds like a lot of work. You know, I’m done working 50 hours a week. I want to enjoy myself and I don’t even know if I want to go down that road.” How do you treat those conversations?
Karen Sands: This is really defining what greatness means. To me, it’s being your fully expressed self. So, whether you’re fully expressed, taking care of your grandkids, which I love to do or whether it’s volunteering for something that means so much to you, you’re still bringing your greatness to it. If you actually have logistically retired and you want to return or you want to do some other career, you’re going to bring that same greatness to it. It’s yours, no one else can do it like you can.
Casey Weade: And that must be what you identify with as being the purpose in retirement or what retirement’s all about, or what life’s all about is identifying what that purpose is. And many times, we don’t have the opportunity to even think about it as we’re just trying to stay on the treadmill that is life and then we have some time to identify what that might be.
Karen Sands: Yeah, exactly. Well, and I don’t think it’s, that’s very linear. I don’t think it is linear. I think it’s more cycles and phases that we move through in life. You know, when we used to study adult development, it was always very linear because we took it from the long career life path, then women came into it where we keep taking breaks at various times around the cycle of our lives. Now, that’s true for any gender. It doesn’t really matter that we’re more cyclical than we were in the old days. We aren’t so rigid and maybe that’s because of the gift of the Great Recession. It forced us especially boomers to our knees. Everything we believed in, you know, the blessed generation, so to speak, crashed in the Great Recession. So, we had to find ourselves, not just boomers. I don’t mean just but that generation especially that’s now in retirement age, right, legal retirement age.
Casey Weade: Sure. We’ll get to that.
Karen Sands: Engage, reengage, recreate, again, even more so. And that’s the gift of that time. You know, a lot of us got broken down. You know, we really had to find out what really matters. That’s that DNA. That’s that greatness DNA, what matters, what we bring to life, whether we’re 100. I have a mentor. I have two mentors who I adore. One is a woman. They’re both very well known. One is she is going to, let’s see, she’s going to be 103. My other mentor is 100-and-a-half and they are out there still. That’s what keeps me going, still transforming, still changing the world.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, I think the cool thing, you say, “I’m 75,” and I think someone goes, “Well, you’re 75. Why don’t you slow down? Maybe only you have 10 good years left.” And you’ve got friends that are in their hundreds that are still out there charging hard. I think it’s hard for us to, I don’t know why, but it’s just so hard for us to wrap our heads around, “I’ve got 30 years left.” My dad’s this way. He’s turned 70 this year and he goes, “I’ve only got 10 good years left. I really got to enjoy them.” And you’re 70. You could have 30 good years left. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for us to get over that hump to realize this is, you know, potentially a third of your life that you still have left to enjoy and live fully.
Karen Sands: Because people don’t realize that there are in gerontology terms anyway, there are four quarters. There is the third at what we’re in now while you’re not either yet, but the third and fourth age is what people more in my range are. So, in midlife is third and older life and older adult stage are the fourth stage. So, it’s just another stage just like childhood and adolescence and adulthood and now older adulthood. Some of us even have the pleasure which I do know that I am experiencing of eldership. It’s not just growing old and older has the attributes of agelessness. They’re tuned into that DNA of greatness and they’re bringing it out. They’re expressing it wherever they are to everyone.
Casey Weade: That brings us to that definition of what it means to be ageless because I think you have a different definition than what we hear from the anti-aging community. We’re not talking about the fountain of youth here. You wrote the Ageless Way. You talk about the Ageless Way and people want to know what is the ageless way.
Karen Sands: Ageless is a belief. It’s a shift. It’s a new paradigm. It’s taking the whole life’s course or not lifespan, life course. That’s what we’re talking about. So, whether you’re 20, you can be ageless or whether you’re 90 or 103, you can be ageless. In other words, it doesn’t define us. It doesn’t limit us whether we’re 20 being told we’re too young or 100 being told we’re too old.
Casey Weade: Yeah. It’s something we live with though, isn’t it? I mean, I know when I first became a financial advisor, I’m a 22-year-old financial advisor and I’m sitting in. My dad was an advisor for 40 years. He takes me on appointments with him. I went and sat in this couple’s farmhouse and the gentleman looked over at me and said, “Your dad’s good, but you are never going to make it in this business until you have gray hairs. Nobody’s going to trust you with their life savings.” And that really got under my skin. I think a lot of people would go, “You know, they’re right.” And others would go, “You know, it doesn’t matter how old I am. I can work harder. I can be smarter. I can be better than everyone else because I’m willing to do things that they’re not.” I think that’s an important topic. I think it’s really important for us to recognize whether we’re 20, we can be as successful as when we’re 60. If we’re 80, we can be as successful as when we were 20 and we always have something to give.
Karen Sands: And we have to redefine what success means for ourselves. Each of us has to redefine what that means. And I don’t mean just at my age. I mean at your age. When you can define what success is that you can have so-called successful aging. I much prefer conscious aging.
Casey Weade: Yeah. You know, I am a little confused by all that. You said you went to a positive aging conference, and I got to, it just seems like there’s so many different terms floating around now that it’s getting kind of confusing. We got positive aging, we’ve got conscious aging, we’ve got aging consciously. Can you help break down what all these things mean?
Karen Sands: Yes. To me, it’s all a fear of aging that’s creating all these subsets of aging. And a lot of it came out of because, you know, I was a strategic marketer earlier in my life. So, what it came out of was boomers specifically did not want to hear about it. Remember, that’s the generation that was don’t trust anybody over 30. Right? So, for them to deal with lingo languaging around age is really tough. We were always told the marketing and in gerontology marketing. I told people don’t use the word age or aging. They won’t listen to it. We have a trouble with seniors. I’ve had professionals coming up to me at conferences and speaking and stuff saying, “I run a senior center and it’s fabulous and I can’t get boomers to come.” And I said, “Well, that’s your first problem. Don’t call it a senior center. You’re still doing that.” There is no, I don’t know them anyway, boomer that I know of that is willingly saying, “Oh sure, call me a senior. Put me in that category.”
Casey Weade: Also, my dad loves a senior coffee at McDonald’s.
Karen Sands: Sorry?
Casey Weade: My dad loves a senior coffee at McDonald’s though. Some areas we don’t mind too much.
Karen Sands: But it’s the labeling though and we have this labeling. We’re labeling everything and it separates us. It’s crazy. So, positive aging is probably the most recent and it’s kind of an umbrella term for all those terms you’ve mentioned. So, what happened was, it’s a perfect story. When I went after that the woman I told you, who I was trying to help realize that she is a visionary with wrinkles, which by the way, I’m sorry to tell you this, tada, that’s how I got the name of the book, Visionaries Have Wrinkles, from that woman, from that experience. But anyway, wait, where was I going with that? Excuse me for a second.
Casey Weade: Those were some of the conversations you had with, as it said, conversations with wise women who are reshaping the future. I wanted to ask you about some of those.
Karen Sands: I know one. Right. Okay. So, when I went to postgraduate school in adult development and aging, everything I learned in the first year, I went, “I’m out of here. I’m quitting.” And I just came out of like a hyper two big corporate, right? Big Shot, I’m quitting. So, I went to my advisor who was the Head of the Institute, and I said, “Look, I’m like really turned off. I have this kind of a background. I’m really depressed being in this program. I think I’m quitting.” And he said, “Well, why? Let’s go out.” So, he took me out for Thai food in a hole in the wall restaurant. I was like, “Oh my god, head of the program. What am I doing? What did I get myself into?” And he says to me, “So what do you think aging is about?” And I said, “Well, it’s not about disease. And that’s what everybody is teaching. And you’re an institute on aging. It’s not about disease. I don’t want it be about that. I want it be about life.” So, he said, “Okay. So, tell me something.” He snuck it in on me. “What do you think conscious aging is?” Now I say this to you because he’s the leading name in conscious aging and the fact that a lot of them didn’t quite get that right. My mouth dropped. I tried coming up with all these terms, expressions of what it might mean. And he said, “You know, when you figure it out, come back to me. And then I’d like you to teach the first course on it.”
Casey Weade: And at this point, it wasn’t something you could just go home and google.
Karen Sands: Not at all. And he offered me the chance that if I could figure it out, I could teach the first-ever course, Conscious Aging 101, which I ended up teaching to postgraduate students and experienced people in the field. Because it was such confusion. And nobody wanted to hear about the disease part of it. They wanted to hear about the life. So, conscious aging is being conscious. It’s being aware. It’s realizing that I have 25 probable years left and I want to be really conscious with what does it mean to age? What does it mean about where I’m headed towards? What’s the connections I can make between the spheres of life and non-life? Because that’s where I’m heading. So, it’s that enormous opening to the connection. So, we don’t have time, but I’ve had some amazing things people would go, “Are you serious?” Unfortunately, I had witnesses. Yes, amazing connections with energies from other dimensions in terms of dream time, giving me messages of where I was to head. We need to pay – that’s like right out of Jungian psychology. It’s not weird stuff. It’s just real stuff. But we don’t pay attention. It’s just like Jung said, “You can’t know what’s going on from your own perspective. You need someone else’s perspective. It’s unconscious. How could you find out?”
So, conscious aging is becoming more conscious about the realities of our aging, and also the spiritual dimensions of our aging. It’s very different as we age, but yet it’s so similar to when we were little kids, when we were so connected to everything. We have that when we accept that consciousness around aging and you are as we age. The other side of it is when I call aging consciously, that’s different to me. That’s doing what you’re doing when you’re a financial advisor. It’s making sure I have directive setup. It’s making sure I know what kind of living style I want, lifestyle I want next. It’s much more concrete. It’s much more black and white, although it’s based on obviously personal desires. But that’s aging consciously, take care of business so nobody else has to do it.
Casey Weade: This really triggers a thought of an experience I had with a couple that I worked with a while back and she really wanted to no longer work. Not necessarily retire. She would not use the word retire. She didn’t want to work anymore and she knew she was leaving her job and they were going to make her rollover her 401(k) but she just couldn’t do it. She said, “I just feel like then that’s the end then I’m retired. I just don’t want to do the planning.” I think it’s exactly what you’re saying. She wasn’t being conscious of her age, “Hey, I am of this age. This is where I’m at in life and now I need to age consciously by actually taking some actions to plan around this particular stage in life.”
Karen Sands: Exactly. And there are other people that will only focus on aging consciously as in taking those steps like you’ve just described, and they leave out the other part. And that’s a very empty place to be aging.
Casey Weade: Yeah. It’s just like wills and power attorneys and so many times I’m working with individuals that are in their 70s or 80s. And we’re going, “Hey, you’re not going to spend all this. We need to start setting it up for the grandkids or charity or the church or whatever it might be,” and it’s so hard to finally go. And I get it. It’s got to be so hard to go, “Yeah, you’re right. I have worked my whole life to create this. And now, I don’t even need it.”
Karen Sands: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And there’s so much more that’s more important than all of that. And that’s what conscious aging is about.
Casey Weade: You said that you kind of almost I would say, really led this field of conscious aging and aging consciously. And, as you said, you went into school, and it seemed to be all about disease and health maintenance and it had nothing to do with aging purposefully or positive aging or whatever you want to call it. It didn’t have to do with the real vein of life. And it sounds like that – you talked about the old narrative of aging, the new narrative of aging. Is that what you mean by this? The old narrative being kind of just negative overhaul the new negative being something different?
Karen Sands: Well, yes and no, because there’s a middle now. Now there’s the anti-aging, which you mentioned before, and just the term alone, right, is ageist. If you’re against – look, I use wrinkle creams and all that and I take good care of myself and I look great for 75, whatever that’s supposed to look like. I keep telling people this is 75 but that’s not what it’s about. So, this whole thing that we’re not okay if we’re aging is what we have to change. That’s the old story about aging, that we’re over, we’re done, we’re irrelevant, we’re useless. In fact, we’re invisible. Now, we can choose that if you want to go that model. You can. I chose out of that obviously. I want my whole life to be purposeful. I’m a whole being. And so, that’s where all this wonderfulness of being an elder is about. I have those attributes of being an ageless being and you can do it at your age. It’s having presence. It’s being a truth-teller. It’s being open to what comes to us.
Casey Weade: I can see how some might see this as conflicting. Well, you said I’m supposed to live agelessly and I can be anything I want at any given time, but I need to age consciously and recognize, “Hey, I’m 65,” or, “Hey, I’m 35.” I need to recognize where I’m at and still live agelessly. It almost seems like conflicted.
Karen Sands: You’re talking about yin and yang, which is not conflicted if you look at it that way, right? We’re more than one part of a whole. We’re a whole being. So, yes, we have to say, “Hey, I’m 75. If I only got 25 years, I’m going to build this academy I want. I’m working with a major university. This is cool stuff. I’m filled and I’m leaving a legacy because this is legacy-making time. This is what this is about.” You know, this is where we leave our mark. Why were we here? What did we do? Whether it’s taking care of our grandkids, or building an academy, it’s all about legacy-making. That’s the conscious part. It’s what am I here for at this time in this epic? And what am I going to do to make it a better place for those that come behind me when I leave?
Casey Weade: I think that’s it. You use the word legacy. And I think we wait far too long before we start thinking about that word. And that’s what you say about living agelessly when you’re 25 or 35, I think is recognizing that you may not make it to 75. You might make it to 100. You may not make it to 35 or 45. So, at any point in time, you have to be thinking about your legacy, whether you’re 60, 20, 30, 40, 50, we have to figure out what that legacy is going to be because that should be a real driving force, right?
Karen Sands: Exactly. And it’s a wakeup call. You know, just like when I said when I was with my feet up on the fuchsia desk in my late 30s, I realized that I had done what I came for, but it was not really fulfilling the next part of my purpose, which is why I love when you talk about purposeful retirement, because it’s really living a purpose-filled life. That’s what we’re really talking about. So, it’s leaving a legacy as we go. Of course, that purpose comes with us. And I know there’s a lot of yada, yada, and the new-age talk about purpose, but the reality is there is a driving force. We just have to find it and tap into it. And that’s at every age. For me, if you had told me I would have been a leading thought leader in the aging field? I will say, “Come on. Nah. Ain’t going to happen. Me? No.” And yet here I am. It’s happened. But if I had seen the threads, and the thread coming through, it makes total sense.
Casey Weade: And you didn’t follow the typical line in the sand that a lot of people found, that retirement age. I mean, you’ve passed it. It was supposed to be 65 or 62 and you’re still working and I see so many people that come in and they say, “I’m going to retire next year.” I say why? And they said, “Well, I’m turning 65. I got Medicare.” Well, what’s that have to do with your career or your work? Why are we retiring at 65? And a lot of times they just never thought about it. They don’t have an answer. I would love to get your thoughts while we’re talking about specific ages on setting retirement age. I mean, should we retire the word retirement age?
Karen Sands: I think so. Remember, it came out of a time a manufacturing age where we really couldn’t – we had to cut people off, right? It’s just the way it worked. That was just the mindset. But there’s no reason to. We’re not dying that early. We’re adding 30 years on to longevity. You can’t just say, okay, you’re done. Because we’re not dying some more, of course, but most of us are not dying at that age. So, it’s a restart. You got to hit the restart button. And it doesn’t have to be a career per se. Look, I write books. I do things I love to do. It’s not about I got to make a buck. It’s about I got to do what I came here to do, what I meant to be doing, and adding value.
Casey Weade: Well, I think maybe that’s what we have misconstrued. It’s more of an age of independence and I think we should set an age. It could be 45. It could be 60. It doesn’t have to be these ages that the government has set for Social Security or Medicare. It’s, hey, I want to have complete financial independence autonomy in order to do the things that I want to do in life every single day, follow my God-given purpose. And in order to do that, I have to set that line in the sand for myself so that I know what kind of planning I need to do to make it work.
Karen Sands: Exactly. And how to shift when things don’t go quite that way. One of my lesson mentors again also in my life was Buckminster Fuller, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. They all form my thinking. It’s all in me. I don’t know what else to do with it. So, Buckminster Fuller had this thing of right-angle precession. Precession. And it’s one of his main concepts that I adore and what it’s saying, he studied nature a lot, right? And what he saw was that bumblebees, the way in which they find food. They’re flying along horizontally in a straight line. And then all of a sudden, they go down, and they get the nectar. And if not, they come back up, they move on, and find the next flower with the nectar. I’m making this very simple. So, he translated this to that as you go along in your life, you can either keep going on that linear path, because that’s the way you’re supposed to go until the end of time, right? Or, like a bumblebee, something comes out and says, “Check this out.” That’s a right-angle precession. If it really doesn’t suit you, that’s what I do with career counseling for every age, think, come back, you checked it out, come back in and go back on the path you were on. Or if it’s the right right-angle, that’s your new career path or life path. And it’s the same thing, you go on that one and then like the butterfly, there’ll be another right angle.
So, we don’t teach people this. We have to go back to school and make it intergenerational, make it an intergenerational experience, I mean, way back just beginning of school and all the way through it. We need to teach about agelessness, and we need to teach that it’s a continuum. And it’s not linear. Yes, there is an end and we will – sorry. There is a beginning and we went all in. That’s the only thing that’s linear. But how we get there is a right-angle precession. So, we don’t teach our young people, much less our midlife and older people, it’s okay. Follow that right-angle precession. It’s part of your story arc. And if it’s wrong, close the chapter and go to the next.
Casey Weade: I think it’s about experimentation as you say, and I think it seems like millennials are doing a lot of that. The baby boomers didn’t. It’s like they found one job, they stuck with it for 30 years. The millennials have this thing figured out. They try this thing, didn’t like it, going to try something else, didn’t like it, going to try something else. That’s how they end up with a dozen different careers before they’re 30. And, you know, as I think there’s something to glean from that though. As you said, we’re stepping into retirement, this is a time to experiment. Learn from millennials. Start acting like that, because I think most of the time, we don’t really know what we love, what we want to do, what our purpose is unless we experiment a little bit and just test the grounds out. Would that be some of your advice you’d give to someone let’s say five or ten years out from retirement trying to figure out what they want to do when they get there?
Karen Sands: Absolutely. It’s the best time to experiment. Absolutely. Try the flavors. You know, especially if you’ve got a job that’s paying the bills, you don’t need any money, or you already made a lot of money, you don’t need it, it’s a perfect time to do that. There’s nothing holding you back from doing that. Absolutely. Yeah. You know, and part of this too. It’s like the myth. I’m totally fully behind free press but I’m pissed, excuse me, at the press or at media for dividing the generations. There needs not to be a generational gap. It’s all made up. it’s dividing us. It’s so sad, especially in the workforce. And the point is the millennials have broken the mold. Those of us that were in the boomer generation, we created new molds, and then we got stuck in them. So, if we bring them together, this is the only way the earth is going to survive, and it’s the only way America is going to survive, is if we bring the generations together. We have to do this across generations. It can’t work otherwise. It just can’t.
So, the right-angle precession style that the millennials have is a gift they can bring to the older generations. And the gifts that the older generations have, they can share with the younger and together we can do anything and everything. There’s nothing that can stop us when we bring generations together. The experiments that are happening even in aging, how people live in their older age in Europe and Scandinavian countries blows me away. The intergenerational mix is so rich, but we’re doing it here in this country. There’s a great place called Mirabella in Arizona and Phoenix affiliated with ASU, Arizona State U, that’s doing just that, intergenerational residences.
Casey Weade: And we’re doing largely the opposite of that across the country. We’ve got retirement communities across the country. We’re segregating our elders from the young, and we need to learn from each other. And I think that just the research that shows this being around younger individuals, children, or teenagers, or even those people in their 20s or 30s, just being around, you live a longer life.
Karen Sands: Fuller and longer.
Casey Weade: I’ve got so many families I’m working with. They’re moving into these retirement communities across the country and I just had one the other day that he and his wife are in their early 60s, and they’re moving into a retirement community. And I was just perplexed. You guys are in your early 60s. Why are we moving into a continuing care retirement community? Yeah, we get a villa and it’s going to be very cost-effective to go from the villa to the assisted living and the nursing home, but haven’t you just set yourself on a…? You’ve put yourself on that path now. It is going to become reality and probably a lot sooner now that you’ve excluded the young individuals from your life.
Karen Sands: Exactly, yes. The biggest issue is depression in older people. You separate us. Not you. I mean, we separate ourselves out and the depression will just go away. There’s no purpose. You’re not living life in the real world. You’re off in a bubble. And, you know, there are people that are enjoying those communities, by the way, because there are a lot of. It’s shifting with a boom. I think what’s happening is the boomer generation is demanding a different retirement community than it was in the past. So, this little…
Casey Weade: Got the new Jimmy Buffett community down in Florida, right?
Karen Sands: Exactly. But it’s true. Yeah.
Casey Weade: Yeah.
Karen Sands: So, there is some value to that because there’s so much to access, and it’s age-friendly, and that’s a big word. And so, it will suit certain people. For me, it was a wonderful story. It’s all about purposeful retirement too. The other night we went to the first I think Art Garfunkel, I assume you know who Art Garfunkel is.
Casey Weade: Yes.
Karen Sands: Simon, right? So, this was Art Garfunkel just went on tour again after years and years and years. What I didn’t know and learned was that he lost, he’s 78, he lost his voice like 10 years ago, magnificent Bridge Over Troubled Waters voice 10 years ago. He regained it, which is hard to believe, right? But he regained it. And he’s now coming out, this is his first and a new book, to talk about where he is in his life and to sing because what he realized was what he came to life he learned at age five to sing that he wanted to sing that he had given up the singing. That was his life, and that’s what he loves. So, he came back. He went through the struggle of reclaiming his voice. And to me, that’s more than just a singing voice, his voice, and he was bringing it out. And he was showing us as we age, yes, I got arthritis, I got this, I got that, you know, all the things we happen as our bodies grow older. But what he was showing was it doesn’t matter because what drives him is singing, he said he realized that he’s still chasing after goosebumps his whole life. That’s what we all have to do. We need to chase making goosebumps for everyone including ourselves. So, here he was at 78 starting over and bringing out his work. He is reinventing himself again, which is why I referred to ageless reinvention. At every age, we reinvent. So, he’s bringing the story out, traipsing the country in small venues to bring that message out, as he ages.
Casey Weade: What a great story to end on, you know, focusing on your – I think that really just puts it all in a nice, neat box, the idea as we’re stepping into retirement. Really what retirement is all about is finding those new goosebumps and maybe revisiting some past loves that we had reinvigorating that drive that we had, when for whatever it might have been when we were younger, be it singing or teaching or running an organization, whatever it might be. We have to uncover that thing for you. And that’s one of the things you do. You coach people through this process of identifying what it is that they’re really going to love in this stage of life. The next thing that that’s really going to drive them, the next thing that’s going to keep them alive an extra 10 years, that’s going to keep their health around another decade, another 5, 10, 20 years for their grandkids. So, you do something with the families you work with, and I want to leave everybody with this. You kind of talk me through it right before we got started, and that is your world shaker discovery call. I love the name of that. Can you explain to our audience what this call was all about and how they might be able to get any contact with you and have the opportunity to uncover that passion for themselves if they’re maybe struggling?
Karen Sands: Absolutely. So, I not only coach executives, professionals, and people that are at any point in life but especially 40 and above, but I also consult as well but for individuals, it’s very hard for them to understand what is this about? How does this fit me? Should I really be working with her? I don’t know. So, this is my gift. It’s a gift of 20 minutes, one-on-one, whatever you need to ask me about, about you, about what you want to do, where you are, where you’re headed. But it has to be very, very focused because I want you to walk away from that 20 minutes going, “Oh, wow, that was awesome. That had an impact. I got something out of it.” But I can’t let it become with things all over the place. So, it got to be one focused thing you want to focus on in 20 minutes. And it’s my gift.
Casey Weade: Awesome.
Karen Sands: You like the east, you come…
Casey Weade: How can people find that? Because you’ve got a little fact-finder they need to fill out and you have so many people filling this thing out on a regular basis. You can’t possibly work with every single person that submits it. So, maybe just share with us where to go, how to fill it out, and how you’re making the decision on who you’re actually going to have that 20-minute call with.
Karen Sands: Great. Well, first of all, you just go to KarenSands.com and go to the homepage, and you’ll see on the top all these things you can select. So, go to where it says coaching and then you’ll see a section that says, “Click here and go to the discovery call,” and then it will take you to a form to fill out. So, if you don’t fill it out, there’s no chance we’re going to speak to each other. I need information so I can get up to speed quickly for our 20 minutes so you must fill that in. And then you’re led to schedule an appointment on a date that works for you that I’m available on the scheduler. And then you call in and we do a Zoom call, just like we’re doing now, for that 20 minutes. What I do is I mean if I get inundated, I have to be selective and say, “Okay. How clearly focused is this person? Can we do this in 20 minutes?” If they come in with five different things, I’m going to say, “Sorry, try again.” So, if it’s clearly focused and I feel that I can have an impact, then those people will rise to the top. Obviously, it has to be a win-win-win all around.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, I know you don’t like this word, you’re kind of retired so you get to make the decision on how you want to spend your time. Well, we will be sure to put a link directly to the form there in our show notes. So, if you would like to check Karen out and see if you can get into that 20-minute complimentary call, just check out the show notes at RetireWithPurpose.com. We’ll have a link right there. And, Karen, thank you so much for joining us here today. I really appreciate the time.
Karen Sands: It’s super fun. Thank you.
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