Along with many others, I’ve bemoaned the creeping tide of ageism and the seeming irrelevance of those of us who are over age 50. How can I help it when I hear from so many of my clients about their sudden panic after a layoff, their frustrations in finding a new pathway for themselves as their experience climbs and their interests shift, and their irritation at the emphasis on youth in their organizations?
I’ve found an antidote to my rising pessimism in the form of Chip Conley‘s wonderful new book Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder. In it, there’s inspiration, learning, truth, examples, and hope.
Some of the treasures for me include:
- New terminology: I’d never heard the term DQ (digital intelligence), so I now have language to use to articulate what I value in my kids and their generation. One of the words that Chip coins is “mentern,” which is a combination of mentor and intern. He talks about publicly interning and privately mentoring and the value he gives and receives using this frame. His outline of the qualities of a modern elder shifts me from dread to aspiration.
- A pathway amid the disruption: This isn’t a book that dictates easy answers. It’s one that asks us to dig deep, to act from our core, and to forge ahead using a blend of our internal drive and market forces. Retirement isn’t an option for everyone, and it frankly doesn’t have the appeal that it once did. Conley urges us to “rewire, don’t retire,” and his timing couldn’t be better.
- A process for coming back to ourselves: By describing his own path to claiming his elderhood and including his bumbling and imperfect ways of getting his bearings, there’s so much permission and modeling here about being vulnerable and competent at the same time, about recognizing our own value and releasing the need to prove it using antiquated mechanisms, and about aligning our behavior and our values. One example of a tool that he used himself was to shift from offering answers to asking questions.
In a constantly changing world, great questions may be more important than answers. Traditional elders had the clever answers. Modern Elders have the catalytic questions.
I’m delighted that there’s a chapter for organizations to embrace the current demographics and to make room for the shifting tides of our extended longevity, our own urge to contribute and participate, and our new economic reality that requires work from many people well past the age of traditional retirement.
But the heart of the book is a call to action on the part of the individual. Conley models embracing and shaping this new era. He asks us to define and share our wisdom, to be both humble and assertive, and to live fully in these years that used to be spent on the golf course and in the yarn shop. Golfing and knitting may still be fulfilling and fun – they’re just not the only avenue available to us.
One final note: don’t skip the appendix. It’s almost a complete book itself, filled with quotes, resources, and a succinct distillation of the book.
Okay, yet another post-script: consider listening to the book on audio. Conley narrates the book himself, and it’s a delight to hear his inflections and emphases. Just like sitting down to an extended meal with him for an enriching conversation.