076: How to “Live Forever” and Find Fulfillment and Happiness in our Longer Lives with Marc Freedman
For the first time in history, there are more people over the age of 60 than under the age of 18. As we strive for longevity, this number will continue to rise – and whether we like it or not, it’s going to have a major impact on our economy and society as a whole. Which is the topic of today’s discussion with Marc Freedman.
Marc is the President, CEO and Founder of Encore.org, a renowned social entrepreneur, thought leader and writer. Under Marc’s leadership, Encore.org has sparked a growing movement in the United States and beyond, to tap the talent and experience of people past midlife as a human resource for solving our most vexing social problems.
Marc is a member of the Wall Street Journal’s experts panel, frequent media contributor, a 4-time author, and one of the nation’s leading experts on longevity and its impact on society and the economy.
In his newest book, How to Live Forever, Marc inspires readers to find fulfillment and happiness in our longer lives by connecting with the next generation and forging a legacy of love that lives beyond us.
Today, Marc joins the podcast to teach you how to plan for an encore life that’s filled with true happiness and purpose.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- What is Grey2K and how does our push for longevity impact future generations, the economy and society as a whole?
- Why we’ve failed to embrace the most important virtues of living later in life.
- Marc’s advice for anyone struggling with appreciating their own age.
- The history of the word adolescence and the new stage of life that’s taken shape – elderescence.
- The future of retirement and closing the gap between the freedom from work and the freedom to work
- What if you’re not sure what to do in your 2nd act of life?
- How pre-retirees can transition from work life to retirement.
- The serious health scare that changed how Marc lives his life – and why you shouldn’t wait to do the things you want in life.
- What Marc really means by “Live Forever” – and the importance of focusing on the well-being of the next generation.
- Marc explains the secret to true happiness and the fountain of youth. Hint: It’s not found in some test tube at Google ;)
- “I think we need to be there for the next generation and not try to actually be the next generation.” – Marc Freedman
- “The real fountain of youth is the fountain with youth. It’s always been that way and I think that’s an essential part of the human experience that we’ve been in danger of losing.” – Marc Freedman
- “Discovering your passion is a lot less important than rolling up your sleeves and trying things on.” – Marc Freedman
- How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations
- The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife
- The Coming Death Shortage – The Atlantic (article)
- Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career
- Advanced Leadership Initiative
- Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute
- University of Minnesota Advanced Careers Initiative
- The Halftime Institute
Casey: Marc, welcome to the podcast.
Marc: Thank you, Casey. It’s an honor.
Casey: Hey, I’m really excited to have you here today. You are touching on a lot of topics that I think a lot of individuals are feeling but they’re not actually talking about and more and more people need to hear what you have to share especially a lot of our fans as these types of topics come up during our conversations and I really love your insight into these things. Before we get into all your different projects, books you’ve written to the organization that you’re running today, the organizations you ran in the past, I just want to set this foundation and it’s something that I’ve heard out of something that you’ve actually written in how to live forever, and I’ve never heard it placed this way before. I think people have fear around this idea. However, I’ve never heard this word. It was called Gray 2K and I’ve shared that with some individuals in our office, another said, “I’ve never thought about it that way, but I really like that. That makes sense.” So, just tell us what does Gray 2K mean to you? What is it?
Marc: Well, there’s been so much handwringing and nervousness and fear about becoming an older society and yet at the same time we’re working diligently investing in living longer and we’re even spending an enormous amount of money by recent account. Silicon Valley spent $45 billion last year in life extension and you go to see your doctor and they tell you to lose weight and they get more exercise so you can live longer and live healthier. And so, we’ve been making huge progress in living longer. Thirty years have been added to the American lifespan since the beginning of the 20th century and yet we’re seeing the fruits of that which is a society with a lot more older people and there’s all of a sudden this sense that maybe if it’s too much of a good thing that we’re going to have a society that is going to be filled with people who are dependent, selfish, who are a drain on the future and you hear about the coming war between kids and canes as older people, younger people. There’s even an article in The Atlantic Monthly, with the title The Coming Death Shortage.
So, you know, it seems paradoxical that we would be working so hard to live these longer lives and now that that’s coming into fruition and we’re heading towards a world which, by many accounts of soon half the children born in the developed world since 2000 will live out 100-year life. So, if we’re going to work that hard to have longer lives, we’re going to produce societies with a lot more older people and we need to embrace that, figure out how to make it work well not just for older people, but for all generations.
Casey: Well, we feared Y2K. I mean, should we really fear Gray 2K? I don’t know. I mean, I think there’s a lot of validity to it. Maybe that’s why you’re working so hard to confront it because it is a real issue. I know that you had written about this. We’re going to have more individual. We’ve never experienced this before. We’re going to have more people over the age of 65 soon and under the age of 18. We’ve already got more people over the age of 60 than under the age of 18 for the first time in history, and this is only going to continue into the future of 10,000 plus people turning 65 every day. This has to have a huge impact on our economy, and also us as a society. Do you think we should be fearing this or what do you think the real impact is going to be over the long term?
Marc: Well, first, we’ve got to face up to the reality that this is what we’ve been striving towards. We’ve been trying to produce long-lived societies and as you say, 2019 is the first year in American history we’ve had more people over 60 than under 18. We’re now more old than young society and that could be a problem. If we continue to have such a heavy focus on news and don’t really face up to the multigenerational society that’s already washing over us, we’re going to have four or five generations living side-by-side in the 21st century. But if you believe that there are many contributions that older people can make to society and that there are important lessons that we learn as we go along in life, it’s possible to see this as one of the greatest gifts that we’ve been given. Not just a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to be seized. I’m convinced that it is and if you ask any of those young people today whether they want to live to 100, they’re going to say yes, that they do and if you asked them what they want to contribute in their later years, they’ll tell you they want to have a deep sense of purpose, a feeling that their life matters beyond themselves and beyond even the present that what they’ve contributed to life lives on and nurtures the future.
So, I think we just have to accept that we are in a society where people are living a lot longer where we’re going to have more older people than younger people and break free of this obsession with youth that we’ve had for so long in this country and really appreciate the benefits of the second half of life.
Casey: So, I want to know what you mean by that obsession with youth. Is that different than we used to have? Have we always had this obsession with youth? Because I think I grew up with not only respect your elders but really learn from them and take the opportunity to grow from their wisdom and I have done that for years ever since I’ve had the opportunity. When I first started in the business of giving financial advice, I was 20 years old, sitting down with individuals that were 60, 70, 80 years old, people had been married for 60, 70 years some cases, and when I sat down that room, I couldn’t wait to learn because I knew I was going to learn something from this. I said, “Even if this person doesn’t become a client, I’m going to learn and I’m going to grow from this experience.” But are you saying we’ve kind of lost that, in general?
Marc: Well, I’m just like you. I’ve always felt that way and I feel like my life personally has been so deeply enriched by knowing many older people and having close relationships with them, grandparents, great-grandparents, people at school and in work. But I do think as a society we have lost that connection. We started out when the Puritans came to America all those centuries ago, they had a deep appreciation of older people. In fact, John Winthrop, one of the founders of the Puritan colonies had an expression of, “Hoary head is a crown of gold,” hoary meaning white-haired and there’s a sense that if you lived a long life, it was a sign from the divine that you’ve lived a life of grace and the Puritans wore those white wigs. They actually lied on the census and said they were two or three years older than they actually were. We do the exact opposite. We say we’re three years younger than we are. And they had specially trained tailors who cut close, so people look slumped over because they were so reverential of old age.
And then the coming centuries that changed dramatically in this country and really the big turning point was the 1950s and 1960s, where older people have been really moved to the sidelines of society. In fact, Walter Reuther, the leader of the Auto Workers Union, got up in front of this union in 1948 and described retirees is too old to work, too young to die. People who are really relegated to this marginal role that doctors were telling them to just rock aimlessly on their porch and kind of weight out this anteroom to death, and a whole group of extremely clever marketers and brilliant developers, foremost among them, Del Webb, came in and created this idea of the golden years where you aren’t too old to work, too young to die. You weren’t this rejected group on the margins of society. You have achieved this prize of a second childhood, a life of leisure, graying as playing and you could find that dreams through moving to places like Sun City and Leisure World.
And one of the key elements though is that it is age segregation essentially keeping these communities, entirely places of older people because if everybody was old, nobody was old. You could pretend that you were a kid again and I think that there were understandable reasons why we went that direction on the golden years’ ideal has had a lot of benefits over the last half-century, but we really failed to embrace that the most important virtues of later life. And by trying to be a kid again, that Carl Young, the great psychologist, he had a beautiful phrase. He said, “You can’t live the afternoon of life by the program of life’s morning.” And we shouldn’t aspire to that. I think we should really accept our age and to really try to understand the benefits of this period in life of having lived decades, of having been around the block and I hope society can come to embrace that as well.
Casey: I think it’s probably difficult for almost anyone after you hit that say 30, maybe 40. It gets more difficult to appreciate that next birthday and you’re sitting on your own crown of white here. What would you say to someone that’s struggling with appreciating their own age? And maybe you don’t agree with that, in general, most people don’t appreciate their own age. I don’t think most people do appreciate their age, especially as they age. How have you maybe struggled with it or how old would you say to someone that is struggling with it?
Marc: Well, there’s an integrity and wholeness to life. We go through these different seasons of life and each season has it’s like the biblical passage around turn, turn, turn and I think that we’ve worked a lot harder to understand the benefits of these earlier seasons and the unique experiences of them and have been slow to, you know, it’s interesting, though I think I’m fascinated by history because in many ways when you see how things have changed, you realize how things can change in the future. So, you mentioned birthdays. Before the 20th century in America, we didn’t celebrate birthdays. People had no idea how old they were because people of different ages were so integrated in life. We were an agrarian economy, so people work together on farms, older and younger people side-by-side, multigenerational, households with the norm. Even one-room schoolhouse has had 40-year-olds and five-year-olds. The birthday song wasn’t even invented until 1934, Happy Birthday to You. It would be like knowing somebody’s blood type today. You never even think to ask it. It seemed irrelevant because people had a sense of the wholeness of life and that these parts of life were all together.
And then what happened in the 20th century is that we radically reshuffled the deck of society and offer understandable and good reasons like we had universal schooling and child labor laws so young people went into increasingly age-graded schools and then Social Security for all its many benefits in terms of assuring up the financial security of older people led to older people exiting the workforce and so after I got done this age-integrated society turned into a society where young people were in education institutions, little people were in workplaces, and older people were in really segregated institutions, senior centers, retirement communities, nursing homes, where they rarely saw people of different ages. I think one of the penalties of that, one of the damages that I think we’re ill-prepared for these stages of life that we all go through. I think that’s why young people fear growing older. They think of nursing homes and these environments that are oftentimes quite depressing where older people are.
And so, I think we need to have more contact because we all go through these stages of life, every one of us. It’s just like people are needing to get much more comfortable with our mortality. According to The Onion, the humor magazine, death rate holds steady at 100%. We all go through these passages, and I think by having insufficient contact with people at other stages, it hurts us as we go into the stage because it’s scarier, we’re ill-prepared. It’s a long ramble.
Casey: I think it comes back to understanding these stages and it can result in a ramble, sometimes because they’re not necessarily real well-defined or clearly defined and we don’t necessarily even know where we’re at any given time and then we get surprised as we realize, “Hey, you’ve got gray hair. You should retire. Aren’t you going to retire yet?” And you start getting asked these questions. You go, “Well, I guess I am that age. I guess I am close to retirement.” So, I think it would be important for us to recognize what stage we’re in. How do you view these different life cycles and stages that we go through and how is that different than the way you think that in general society views our life stages?
Marc: Yeah, I’m so glad you asked that because I have been really interested also in how life stages change over time and so you know the game of life that it’s been around since the 19th century, and it’s actually changed over the decades and the generations and different stages of life have been inserted. As we live longer, the map of life has changed and I think one of the most significant changes that’s happening now, and I think it should be of real interest to those who were tuning in is that there’s a new stage of life that’s taking shape between middle-age and anything associated with retirement or old age and it’s like the creation of adolescence, 100 years ago. At the turn of the 20th century, more history, we had children and we had adults and then we realize there was a population explosion of young people didn’t fit into either of those categories and we invented the adolescent, the teenager, and we created high schools and did all of eventually, the word teenager and then tweens and I think the same thing has happened now.
We got a lot of people who are moving into their 60s, their 70s, and you hear 60 is the new 40 or the new 50 but in fact 60 is the new 60 and I think that what we’re seeing is the creation of a whole new stage of life, just like adolescence was created 100 years ago. As there’s that population explosion, you’re talking about the 10,000 people a day flooding into their 60s of people who have all their faculties. They may have moved out of their midlife careers and are looking for something different but they’re not ready to go out to pasture and I think that it’s ironic. The guy who invented adolescence was a psychologist named G. Stanley Hall. He was the first Ph.D. in Psychology in America and he, 20 years after writing the book called Adolescence, said, “I made a big mistake. I should’ve invented a new stage of life between midlife and old age,” and he was kind of a poet. He described it as an Indian summer, more seasons, and he said that human beings didn’t reach the height of their capacity until the shadows started slanting eastward.
And what he meant by that, I think, is that there is this sweet spot in life that defines this new season that where you have the benefits of experience and the time left to do something with it. You could say in the old days, wisdom was wasted on the old just as he figured out what was important, what your purpose was. You were too old or rejected to do something with it. Now, you’ve got all these people who have time lived, time left to live, and the sense that time doesn’t go on forever either. There’s more sense of urgency because we’re more aware of our mortality, and I think that’s a beautiful season in life. It’s almost a perfect season and I think that that’s one of the reasons why the aging of society can be such a good thing for us as individuals and collectively for our country.
Casey: I like that adolescence was created and now we have elderesence and that was something that was talked about by one of our past podcast guests, Rick Hicks, and I never really heard of elderesence before. I think this is just changing. We’re actually starting to study this as really a new life stage altogether and if we have that old view of, well, we get to retirement’s rocking chair and we do some rocking chair and this is just what retirement is all about, that gives a pretty negative view of retirement. And if we’ve lived our whole, I mean, people walk-in all the time. We sit down and say, “I just don’t really want to retire. I don’t feel like I’m old enough to retire yet and I don’t really want to step into that stage,” and I think it’s because they still view it, like their parents lived it and it’s different today. I think you view the future of retirement a little differently. How do you view the future of retirement? And if we’ve had that mentality for 50 years of our working life or 60 years, 65 years of our life, how do we change it?
Marc: Well, you know, I mean, that’s one of the things that again to go back to history was how quickly we change to this retirement ideal. You know, I think we changed it because there was a purpose that in later life. You know, people didn’t want to rock endlessly on their porch until the Grim Reaper arrived. They wanted to do more of life. They wanted to be active. They wanted to be connected to other people and that’s where that sort of heart of retirement came in 50 years ago and I think it captured people’s imagination because it was something aspirational. In fact, it became a big part of the American dream. People scrimped and saved and try to get to this shining retirement dream as early as possible, but it was never really set up to be a whole season of life, that could be as long as midlife in duration. It was really designed to be a well-deserved R&R experience at the end of one’s life.
And I think as we’ve stretched the length of life, it forced these questions of I hear from people I talked to, “I don’t want to play 30 years of golf or being a pro. That sounds like a nice sabbatical. I’d like to have more flexibility in my life, but I don’t think I can be happy. I don’t think I can have a sense of living a meaningful life if I do that.” So, I think people are looking for more and I think society fitfully, slowly starting to respond. At our organization, the US at the beginning of our Encore, we’re focused in part on this growing group of people who are having second acts that are not so much interested in the freedom from work, that old retirement dream of kind of liberation from labor and having this experience of like they’re interested in the freedom to work, define work that provides a new sense of meaning and in many cases, continues to provide income as well. And you hear about people like Jimmy Carter who is doing his most important work and now he’s 90 and still teaching Sunday school and doing all these, making furniture, and leading peace missions but it turns out that there are millions and millions of people who are living lives at the intersection of passion, purpose, and oftentimes a paycheck, having these second acts for a greater good.
Well, we did research a few years ago. We found there are 4.5 million people in encore careers that are about meaning beyond the self and that there are another 21 million who say that it’s a top priority to have that kind of second acts and they last about 10 years in duration. So, that’s 25 million people 10 years each. That’s 250 million years of human talent that can be dedicated to creating a better world.
Casey: So, you’ve got people that are stepping in retirement and then spending 10 years and this encore career of sorts, and I think for someone when I talk about encore careers I say, “Whoa, I’m not looking for another job. I’m not looking for a career to start all over again.” I think the word career can be a little intimidating.
Marc: I do too.
Casey: And I don’t know that it’s necessarily a career. I think maybe we’ve used the wrong words to label that 10-year period because it’s not really about starting a new career. It’s not just work for the sake of work. It’s a little different then.
Marc: I think you’re right and I many times have regretted the idea of attaching career to it. I think for us, it was really an attempt to say that there is a coherent body of work that so many people are doing. You know, they’re not just bouncing around from a volunteer assignment to working as a greeter at Walmart to do it. The people that I was describing in that survey and that we’ve seen through our work week, we did for 10 years something called the Purpose Prize which was for people who were entrepreneurs in the second half of life, but focused on solving problems in society, homelessness, poverty, education. Over the course of 10 years, we had 10,000 nominations for the Purpose Prize, people doing the most remarkable things imaginable. In fact, things that you could never even imagine. I think that they’re just a window on this much broader trend of people who in many cases they don’t even start out thinking this was going to be a body of work. They see a need and they decide that they’re going to step forward and help fill it and it turns into such a rich experience that they end up doing it for a while, and it’s not as long as their midlife work or their midlife career, but in their mind it weighs as much and their heart it weighs as much. When they think about their life and what they’ve contributed to the world, it’s one of the things that they’re proudest of.
Casey: So, it sounds like you kind of believe this fulfillment and that happening almost by accident because when you ask somebody what’s your purpose or what’s your purpose in retirement, where are you going to find fulfillment in retirement, they go, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it before.” I think most people haven’t really been asked that question before and it’s kind of a scary question when they get asked and then there’s all this pressure to create this thing, something bigger than themselves that maybe they’ve never even experienced before in their lives. And so, how should they start this journey? Do they just go out and do something or do they create this well-defined plan? How do you help people with this?
Marc: Yeah. Casey, I really appreciate that question. In fact, I appreciate all your questions because they’re really right on target and they’re making me think but I have a few responses to what you’re asking. I think it’s really hard on people when they hear that they’re supposed to have this magnificent second act. You read these articles of somebody’s opening a vineyard here, a B&B there, and the clouds part, and the birds are singing, and nobody breaks a sweat and it all happens magically and that is not my experience at all. And I think that to make matters worse, you have a lot of people who do want to have a purposeful phase but they have no – they’ve been working so hard in midlife raising kids, putting in long hours that it had little time to think about what’s next. And so, this combination of expectation that you’re supposed to be doing something really robust and having not thought about it and also having very little in the way of pathways and counsel. It’s kind of a do-it-yourself project for a lot of people.
And so, I think we, first of all, have to realize that this isn’t going to be easy and effortless or overnight that first, we’re talking about a period in life that could be 10 years, 20 years, decades in duration, so it’s not essential to get everything right, right away. And second, you use the word accident and I think that is true to some extent with you, but I wouldn’t even say experimentation is really important. Young people that’s how they find their path. They try on different things. They do internship.
Casey: They have a dozen jobs before they find the right one.
Casey: So, that we can learn something again from each generation here.
Marc: Exactly. So, I feel like we need a gap year for grown-ups, at least opportunities to try before you buy because I think people can have an ideal of what they want to do but oftentimes the reality is very different and there’s a wonderful book that I recommend to listeners called Working Identity and it’s written by a business school professor who used to be at Harvard and is now in Seattle, which is a business school in France named Herminia Ibarra and it’s a short book. It’s about 100 pages and it’s the basis of all of her research looking at how people successfully make job shifts throughout the life course not just at this retirement later life juncture, and it turns out that discovering your passion is a lot less important than rolling up your sleeves and trying things on. And so, at Encore we’ve been in a small way trying to model what an internship for grown-ups might look like. We’ve got something called the Encore Fellows Program, which is a one-time – it’s basically like the intern with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway and it’s people in their mostly 60s, some of them are 50, some of them are 72 spends a year in a nonprofit organization that they care about.
So, say it’s an organization focus on homelessness and use the skills that they honed in their earlier career. So, if you’re working in marketing, you may go and work at a homeless shelter doing marketing for the shelter. So, it’s a combination of using something that you’re comfortable with but in a new setting that has a strong sense of purpose beyond the self, and it’s also a springboard for figuring out is this really right for you. You might be moved by stories on the evening news but the actual experience of working in a shelter is not right, or if you decide to become a teacher, for example, that might not be the right place for you, but you can try it on, and we pay people a stipend during that year about 25,000 to 30,000 and some big companies have embraced this. So, Intel has promised that every retirement-eligible employee of Intel in the United States can do one of these encore fellowships. They pay the full amount for the year and so far, a thousand Intel employees have gone through and done encore fellowships. It’s not the answer for everybody, but I do think we need more opportunities where people can experiment in this way and don’t have to kind of come up with their future magically but rather can try things on.
Casey: Well, I can see if someone’s already there and they’re saying, “Yes, I’m ready to experiment. I want to try some new things,” go to Encore.org and just try one of these internships out. That’s an interesting way to get started. But what about someone that’s pre-retirement? Maybe they’re a couple of years out and they would like to have a plan before they get there. And most people don’t, and I don’t know that they necessarily have to have a plan. I like the idea of having a sabbatical timeframe where maybe it’s a year or maybe it’s five years. You just kind of experiment with different things, enjoy yourself for a period of time until maybe you can ultimately probably accidentally fall into that area. But if you are one of those people like myself, I mean, I would want to have it well-defined. I would want to have questionnaires and resources and books read and probably a spreadsheet put together in order to figure out what my strategy is. Well, what do you just say to somebody like that? What should they do? What should be their first step?
Marc: Well, I think it is for most people giving yourself enough time and the freedom to experiment in these different ways and to learn really. So, this is what really connects in the financial planning side and that freedom to work idea. So, it’s just like with young people, we don’t assume that they just go straight from high school and to becoming lawyers or teachers. They have college to go to and in many cases, graduate school and they save for that or their parents save for that and they’re essentially buying this period of experimentation and learning and growth and we don’t have anything comparable at this other transition in life, so I think it’s really important for us to acknowledge that this is a transition period that it’s likely a bumpy road for most people. Some people know that they want to be a professor of early Italian history from the time they’re four years old then they go and follow every path. Most of us are out learning and trying things on. And so, if we can save for that period and I wish there was more help from public policy on this front too.
I’m a big fan of the G.I. Bill. We have always soldiers come back and then they have an opportunity to go to school on the G.I. Bill and it gives them more of a pathway. I’d love for people to be able to take an early year of Social Security to go back to school or to do an encore fellowship and then just work in an actuarily adjusted period later but maybe find some ways where we can help people do this and that’s not entirely unknown. Even there were stories in the media about older people tapping into their kids 529 accounts and go back to school themselves. Could there be individual purpose accounts along with individual retirement accounts but make it easier for us? So, I think we need more help getting from point A to point B, especially because so many people are going through this transition. It leads to such a long period of life and so it’s not just individual happiness, but we all have a stake in these, people continuing to be productive and engaged, those who want to.
And so, it’s not like we say to young people, “Well, we’ll see you in four years. Good luck trying to figure out.” Well, we have a whole higher ed system. We’ve got student loans. We’ve got financial aid. There’s a whole set of supports so young people can get from point A to point B and I think we need more help with this other juncture as well.
Casey: I think employers are getting more on board with that, creating more I think bridges to retirement. We’ve done that here with our employees in the past, just giving them the opportunity to work a little bit less over time, and I have seen the families that I’ve worked with that have come in five years prior to retirement, three years prior to retirement, put together a plan so they know when they go to their boss and say, “Hey, I’d like to go part-time,” if they get fired, it’s okay because they have a backup plan but now they have the guts to go ask that question and I’ve seen a lot of success with them. They have this fear of asking them but many times the employer is more than happy to give them that opportunity and then they kind of get a feel for retirement, they have the opportunity to experiment before they get there, and then they can ultimately make that transition to something else. It’s not just a hard stop from full-time to retirement and I think that’s something that we should do as a society, as employers offering those opportunities as a fantastic resource for pre-retirees.
Now, you yourself have went through this and you made this big shift. You wrote the book, The Big Shift, and I talked a little bit about your own experience, and you’re supposed to be this expert in meaning and purpose in retirement. However, you had some struggles of your own.
Marc: Yes, and I also had kids very late in life and so now I’m 61 years old.
Casey: There’s a struggle.
Marc: And I’ve got a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old. Three boys and my work horizon is certainly different from when I was first thinking about the trajectory of life. I do think that this idea of having a series of chapters that makes more and more sense in the context of 100-year lives and also redistributing work and leisure and education in ways that fit a long-distance race as opposed to a brief sprint where you’re stopping work in your late 50s or early 60s. And so, I think one of the other aspects that we really need to think about and a place where a lot of exciting developments is happening is in this new stage of education between midlife and later years. I know for me that’s something I’m really thinking about as I moved to another chapter at some point to go back to school and there’s a wave of efforts around the country started with Harvard which created something called the Advanced Leadership Institute (Initiative) where people mostly in their 60s come back, spend a year at Harvard to figure out a second act, particularly one that draws on past experience and helps create a better world.
And then Stanford followed. They’ve got the Distinguished Careers Institute and these programs have been incredibly popular. It’s harder to get into the Advanced Leadership Institute (Initiative) at Harvard than it is to get into Harvard. There are 30 people applying for every slot and Notre Dame has just started up a program that’s particularly focused on character formation, University of Texas at Austin, University of Minnesota started something called the Advanced Careers Initiative, and these efforts are almost a fantasy for those of us who have long thought wouldn’t it be great to be able to go back to school and not just in a way where you’re just taking a course here or a course there but you get some of the opportunities to step back to look at your life and what’s been accomplished, what lies ahead to have a group of peers who are going through the same experience and also to be around young people. One of the great things about the University of Minnesota program is that and these others as well is that the older students who come back are taking classes with young undergraduates, graduate students, and having this wonderful intergenerational contact.
In fact, one of the students at the University of Minnesota, young students in the future work class with a lot of these older people who come back and she said at the beginning she was skeptical, “Why are there always old people in my sociology class?” and then the end she realized, “Well, because they had actually worked.” So, I think they’re age integrating universities in ways that I think are really healthy as well. So, I think one of the excitements along with some of these new internships try before you buy programs is a whole new kind of higher education, and I think ultimately, we won’t spend as much time and money on higher education at the beginning of life. We’ll save some of that for later on because it makes sense if life is going to be 80, 90, 100 years old rather than loading up all of that investment at the front end, you need to save some of it for these other key transitions.
Casey: Actually, going to school and enjoying, actually learning something, just taking the test and getting that piece of paper to get the job, but actually enjoying, actually learning something. But you know there’s still going to be some folks out there that will say, “I’m not going back to school. I don’t have time for that.” My dad’s one of those people. He’s going on almost 70 and he said, “Well, I only have five good years left. I only have ten good years left. I don’t have enough time to do something like that.” It’s our mortality. I think we have to have this discussion about our own mortality, and you have experience with Parkinson’s disease and that brought that up for you. I wonder how that experience with Parkinson’s change the way that you view your life course and maybe even gave you this idea, “I can go back to college.”
Marc: Yes. Well, you know, it was really very scary. It turns out I didn’t have it but I had some of the symptoms that made my doctor think that that was the case and I went in and had all these tests and waited nervously, but I think the benefit of having gone through that experience was a reminder that life doesn’t go on forever and it doesn’t. You can’t count on your health forever and I think that gets back to that idea of the idea that there’s this almost kind of thunderstorm or purpose that happens for so many of us in middle or later life where we’ve got this experience and we have the great gift of knowing that statistically we probably have a bunch of years ahead of us but also there are all of these reminders and my healthcare was certainly a profound one for me that we better get going. You pick up your high school yearbook, you go to your reunion, and you realize not everybody’s there or you go and have test at the doctor’s office and wait for results, all of these ways in which life reminds us that we better get going that, that that road doesn’t go on forever.
And I think that that’s a very healthy balance of having this desire to do something significant, and a growing sense of urgency to not wait too long to do that and I do feel that. I feel that with my kids. I don’t take for granted that I’ll necessarily be able to do things with them in 20 years that I can do with it now. And so, I think that’s one of the – you could look at it as a deficit of later life, but I think…
Casey: And sometimes we feel, “Well, I better shut this thing down. I don’t have a whole lot of time left.”
Casey: And you’re on the other side of this saying, “I better get going because I don’t have much time left.”
Marc: And, Casey, I think for me, like you, I’m always somebody who’s been interested in older people but I always thought of myself as the young person who was interested in older people and then I became the older person interested in older people and just amazing how best of time flies.
Casey: Somehow that happens.
Marc: And one of my mentors a wonderful guy named John Gardner, I watched the speech he gave, and he was in the 70s at the time. He told a great story about his mother calling him up and she was 101 at the time and saying, “Sean, this whole aging thing has gotten me down,” and he said, “You’ve got all your faculties, you can still get around. You know, you’re doing great.” She said, “No, no, it’s not me I’m worried about. It’s you and your brother.” I think in that same speech he said we’re more conscious than ever of the passage of time, and I do feel that way. And one of the reasons I wrote this most recent book is that I feel like we’re not handling that right. We’re spending this $45 billion a year on life extension and some of that’s good, but Silicon Valley is hell-bent on conquering mortality itself. Larry Ellison has been quoted as saying that he is contemptuous of death. He never thought much of it that we need to conquer death to which Michael Kinsley who’s the founding editor of Slate said, “It doesn’t so much matter what Larry Ellison thinks of death. What’s much more important is what death thinks of Larry Ellison.”
Casey: When I picked up this book of How to Live Forever, I thought well this will be great. I’m going to extend my life by another 5 to 10 years and you start thinking about Peter Diamandis and thinking about Dan Sullivan and all these guys that are saying, “Well, I’m going to live to 150 or I’m going to live forever,” and have a different idea of what it means to live forever.
Marc: Yes, you know, a less literal one, I think we need to be there for the next generation and not try to actually be the next generation. It goes against the whole human project and I think that JFK said it probably better than anybody. 1963, he got up a few months before the end of his own life in front of Congress and said, “We’ve added years to life. Now, it’s time to add life to those years.” And since that time, we’ve added two months a year to the American lifespan. So, we’ve been making great progress on the years to life part but the purpose side of things, why I want to live out these extra years have been much less successful. In fact, some have described the spirit as a season in search of a purpose which is why I think the shuffle is so essentially important. We need to ask that question of why do we want to live longer? What can we do during these years? Is it to try to recapture our youth or is to do something more important? I think the most important thing, and this is we kind of just putting all my cards on the table is the focus on the well-being of the next generation.
Rather than trying so hard to be young, we need to be there for those who actually are, and I think that that’s the secret to happiness in later life. The Harvard study of adult development, 83rd year, the biggest longitudinal study of happiness that’s ever been mounted and actually it started with JFK’s class at Harvard but includes all different kinds of demographics has shown that that happiness is all built on relationship and connection. One of the leaders of the study, a psychiatrist of Harvard named George Valliant says, “Happiness is love. Full stop.” These connections that we have are absolutely critical, but even more important there’s a direction to all of that connection so older people who connect with younger people. Again, think Robert De Niro in The Intern and mentoring Anne Hathaway in that movie, older people who connect with younger people are three times as likely to be happy as those who fail to do so. That is really the essence of fulfillment, purpose, well-being, even living longer in later life. It’s connection and connection that flows down the generational chain.
So, I’m convinced that the real fountain of youth is not in some test tube at Google or at Singularity University. The real fountain of youth is the fountain with youth. It’s always been that way and I think that’s an essential part of the human experience that we’ve been in danger of losing.
Casey: I think it’s important to clarify that you’re not talking about just being a grandparent. It’s not just taking care of babies and toddlers, small children. And maybe that’s not even nearly as impactful as it is connecting with generations that are a little bit closer to you. Maybe teenagers or people in their 20s and 30s and 40s, how can someone that say not a grandparent, how should we view this? And how do we make those connections? If we’re not thinking about doing this just as a grandparent, how do we best connect to those younger generations and live a more fulfilling, happy life?
Marc: Yes. I really appreciate that you said that. Just a personal experience, we live in a small town in Northern California and we have two neighbors who are in their 80s and my mother is in Philadelphia. My wife’s parents are in Southern California and our neighbors, Joyce and Jake Anderson, have become like grandparents to our kids and they still see their grandparents plenty and have a wonderful time, their grandkids plenty, but they live in Idaho and so they only come a few times a year and so in the interim, they act like grandparents to our kids. And so, I think it’s not just about family as important as that is but it’s really about community and making these connections and in our world of so much mobility, people living so far from family, but also as he say, it’s not just with little kids. It’s with younger generations. I spent much of my adult life being mentored by older people, and when I look back on my life now as a 61-year-old that some of the richest experiences I’ve ever had and it’s a big part of our cultural experience that there’s a Greek proverb that says that society grows great when older people plant trees under whose shade they shall never sit.
And I think that those words have never been more timely than now, as we’re in this world than young society. And I think we need to find ways to have these cross-generational ties and your question is such a good one about how. I think it starts with proximity, trying to set our lives up in ways where these kinds of connections happen more naturally. So, even if you’re going to live in an age-segregated retirement community, pick one where there’s a lot of activities out and beyond the walls of the community. I’ll tell you, a great example that, one of my favorite stories from the research on the book is a place in Cleveland called Judson Manor. It’s an upscale retirement community in an old 1920s luxury apartment building near the Cleveland Clinic, near Case Western Reserve University, and also near the art and music schools in Cleveland. And a few years ago they decided to have graduate students in music live rent-free in Judson Manor in return for playing concerts for the residents because it’s a group of people who love music and what started out with this exchange and efficiency concerts for free rent just turned into this beautiful intergenerational living experience.
So, I met a woman there who’s actually in their 90s who lived next to a young violist who got engaged to another young violist while she was living in Judson Manor. When they planned the wedding, they asked her to be the maid of honor. This is what happens when people live near each other in other generations. It’s not always like that but I think we need to remake society. We need to find new ways to do old things. Those things that used to happen a century ago, naturally, I don’t want us to go back to the 19th century. I want us to find how do we organize life. Now, in Singapore, every new senior center that’s built is built in conjunction with a preschool because they want to create these kinds of bonds and so I think we need to do more than to enable those kinds of connections to blossom.
Casey: Well, I think this is a good segue into a couple of our fan questions and if you’re out there, you’re listening, you’d like to submit a question for our future guest, all you have to do is sign up for weekend reading and we will notify you of upcoming guests, and then you can submit questions for us to ask them. And this first question I have is from Mark Wooden and he says, “How does one find job serving opportunities specifically with churches and/or ministries?”
Marc: That’s a really interesting question. You know, there’s a wonderful article in a recent issue of Christianity Today by a guy named Jeff Haanen, which talks about the roles churches can play in helping to connect their older members in roles in the community but I think there’s a lot more faith institutions can do to help with these ties that this is almost a non sequitur. It is a non sequitur but there was the lead piece in the New York Times Style section yesterday was about a group called Nuns & Nones, and it’s a group of millennial nones because so many millennials respond to surveys that they’re religiously oriented but they’re not connected to any particular faith tradition who’ve reached out to older sisters and communities all around the country who’ve spent their lives working on issues like poverty and homelessness and are asking these older sisters, “How can we live good lives like you’ve lead?” And that a lot of the sisters are in orders whose size is shrinking and they’re trying to find young people, maybe not through the same route that they took where their life’s work can continue on.
And so, it’s this beautiful. There is a residency now at a convent in Burlington, California, the Mercy Center, where a bunch of young millennials have moved in with nuns and they’re trying to think of projects they can work on together in education in areas like that. So, anyway, there’s a lot of things going on out there, but I think there’s so much more that can be done.
Casey: Well, maybe that’s Marc’s new purpose. He can get out there, get involved in a church and set things up so that they could reach out to these retirees and get them involved specifically. Mike Ventrilla also had a question, and this had to do with finding encore programs in your local area. If someone wants to find programs from Encore in their local area, how do they do that? And if you don’t have an Encore say group organization necessarily in your local area, do you have affiliates or organizations that share your own Encore’s ideas and goals?
Marc: We do. If you go to Encore.org, there’s a list of all of the communities around the country where there are already Encore organizations in operation, but if you don’t live in one of those communities, there are connections, all kinds of resources that can help you online and through affiliated organizations get connected to this movement of having a second act for the greater good.
Casey: Awesome. I think there are so many great resources out there that are just getting developed and, well, I’ve been to Encore.org. I have dug deep into that website. It’s robust. There is a lot going on there and if you’re in retirement and you got some time on your hands, you could spend hours on that website and there’s a lot of great resources there. I think you’ve done a great job putting that together and so, again, if you have questions you’d like to submit to future guest, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll get you signed up to get those notifications moving forward. So, I’ve just got a couple of wrap up questions here for you, Marc, and the first one is I’d like to ask you, being that you are in your Encore at this time yourself, I’m wondering if you could go back and revisit yourself the day before you retired, what kind of advice would you give and why?
Marc: Well, I think it goes back to some of the things we’re talking about earlier. One is to recognize that this is a really important life transition that it’s going to take some time. It’s going to cost some money to find your footing and it’s really important to cut yourself some slack, did not expect to get everything right, and to do it in an overnight period of time to expect some missteps and also to connect with other people who are going through the same kind of passage because, again, to go back to your 10,000-a-day, there are lots of us who are trying to navigate this pathway and it’s not as well paved as it should be. You know 20 years from now, the 40-year-old of today will have a much easier time getting from what’s last to what’s next. But this opportunity to do some of our most important work and also to have an extraordinary and joyous experience in the spirit of life. So many of the people that I’ve had the privilege to connect with who’ve gone through this say that this has really been the most fulfilling period of their entire life.
Even people who’ve had tremendous success in like one of our benefactors at Encore.org is Sir John Templeton, who was one of the founders of – whose first big international investor made a vast fortune in the first part of life and considered the philanthropic portion that occupies the second half of life to be the most purposeful and the most rewarding. So, I think that there is an incredible opportunity ahead to find deep meaning and to finish well. It’s Bod Buford, the wonderful philosopher of this period of life and entrepreneur has said.
Casey: Yeah. We have had Dean Niewolny of the Halftime Institute on our show before. He’s fantastic, but I think what you said and also some of the things that that being said on the show was learning from others that are already there and it sounds like, I mean, you just have this appreciation for the next generation. It’s right ahead of you. What is the say if you can just say the number one thing you learned from interviewing and speaking with people that are ahead of you in this lifecycle that we all go through, what is the number one thing that you’ve learned?
Marc: Yeah. It’s to not wall ourselves off while there’s so much to learn from our peers to not wall ourselves off from other generations and that one of the great joys of life is through connecting with younger people, working together with them and seeing them flourish. Eric Erickson, who was the kind of great psychologists of later life. He said, “I am what survives of me,” and William James, who was a wonderful American philosopher said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast us,” and I could keep going on with these quotes but I think there’s some essential truth there that invested in the next generation. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s an incredible source of joy.
Casey: Well, you’ve got such a beautiful view of retirement, I think, and so it’d be interesting to see your answer to the last question here and that is what does retirement mean to you in a concise way?
Marc: I think it is the freedom to explore and to invest in our true purpose in life. You know, lots of times it takes decades to figure out why it is that we were put here on earth, but I’ve had this opportunity to meet thousands and thousands of people who are making a monument out of what is often considered the leftover years and I hope to be able to reproduce in my own life what I’ve seen them doing in theirs. And in many ways to pass on to younger people what so many older people have done for me, which is to take me under wing to believe in me, and to help me have a good life. So, I hope to be able to pass that on to others.
Casey: Well, Marc, I think you’re having a huge impact on our society. You’re living a huge purpose. You bring a lot of meetings, not just your life, but people’s lives all over the country, hopefully, all over the world and I’d love to see you just continue to kick butt in the work that you’re doing here and looking forward to catching up again soon. Thank you so much for joining.
Marc: Well, I enjoyed talking to you. Thank you so much for those great questions.
Casey: Thank you.