The Future of Aging: Ageless Way
BY KAREN SANDS
The following is an excerpt from Ageless Future
The future belongs to those
who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
The 1976 movie Logan’s Run, based on the premise of the novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, depicts a future in which humanity lives in a dome, shielded from the destroyed, poisoned world outside. The dome is a hedonist utopia of sorts except for its dark side—no one lives past age 30. The society is run by a central computer that tracks an implant in the hands of the citizens, which changes color with age, alerting the computer to the approach of a citizen’s last day, when he or she is killed.
Runners, who try to escape their fate by running to a mythical place outside the dome (called Sanctuary), are chased by Sandmen, the society’s enforcers. Logan 5 is one of these Sandmen, who begins to question the society after meeting Jessica 6, who plans to become a Runner.
Logan is tasked by the computer to seek and destroy Sanctuary by pretending to be a Runner, so he leaves the dome with Jessica 6 only to find that the world outside is not destroyed and poisonous but lush and overgrown. In the ruins of the U.S. Senate chamber, they encounter an elderly man who explains the outside world and tells them there is no Sanctuary. They bring him back to the dome, intending to show people that it is possible to live much longer, intending to overthrow the computer’s control.
This story of an alternative future is clearly more cautionary than aspirational! Yet I see in this story so many themes that resonate with where we are in our story today and what that means for our future story.
The society in this mid-1970s movie mirrors views of the Boomer generation at the time—hedonistic, not trusting anyone over 30. Now, many would just as easily see the Millennial generation depicted here, which more than anything shows us that the stories we tell about youth are based more in stereotype than reality. Similarly, the man Logan and Jessica discover outside the dome demonstrates the falsity of the myth that life ends after 30 (or 40, 50, and so on).
In this story, we have a woman, Jessica 6, leading the way out of a society limited by ageism, just as women will lead the way into our own Ageless Future. We also have a livable Earth only when we choose to break free from an ageist society’s constraints, only when multiple generations come together, instead of isolating themselves from one another. The central computer is our society, churning out the same old story about age and the world to the point where few think to question it. This is just the way it’s always been. In the end, when the computer captures Logan and learns from him that Sanctuary doesn’t exist, that there’s just the world out there, the computer—the old story—self-destructs. Then Jessica and Logan lead everyone out of the dome, showing them the man they met outside, and they all see what is truly possible for them. For the man who had lived alone and isolated for decades, this is a moment when he becomes visible.
ARE YOU GETTING PAID WHAT YOU’RE WORTH?
Creating a new story for our times, for our future, is a powerful act. On its own, it’s not enough. We have to question the old story, as well, the past story and the present story that was shaped by that past. This process isn’t linear. We don’t do one and then the other. We need to examine all of our stories and begin creating a future story, and then go back to see how that future story impacts the old story (does it make it self-destruct?), and then adjust our future story again. Ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, we have to share our future stories with each other, leaving our comfort zone, multiple generations coming face to face in the real world we share. Together, we can move forward, creating a new story based on our shared values, including our shared concern for the Earth and one another.
But is this how our story will unfold?
The future of the world economy rests in the hands of our aging population. Our country is behind much of the world in recognizing this. World leaders from Japan to Mexico are actively looking into the key role in economic growth that is and will be played by people over 60, who will soon number 2 billion. Europe even made 2012 the Year of Active Aging. In the United States, more and more voices are joining the chorus (from Jane Fonda to Pfizer), but most of our leaders have yet to pick up the refrain.
Yet without our leaders taking active, visible, vocal steps toward policies that take advantage of an active, productive, powerful element of society—our 40, 50, 60, 70, and our Elder population—the story of our planet Earth will not have a happy ending.
Elizabeth Isele, an indomitable voice for senior entrepreneurship, has been preaching about this for years. Isele’s tireless work is finally getting more traction after she testified at a 2014 Senate hearing on this very topic and implored our government to be more age- and senior-friendly.
No matter what age you are while reading this, the issue affects you, and not just because our national (and world) economy affects everyone. It affects us all because as long as we live we all age. People are living longer and healthier. We have the unprecedented opportunity to reinvent our own futures in ways that make midlife through Elderhood just another transition into new or reimagined ways of doing and being, rather than a time of retiring…and waiting to pass on.
There are parallels to the women’s movement and the economic growth we experienced through practices that enfranchised women. We can experience the same growth by essentially empowering (or re-empowering) this huge chunk of our population that, in the past, we as a society dismissed as useless or even as burdens. Not only do we need to recognize that the post-40 and post-50 generations are the near- and mid-term future, and that Millennials are the future leaders, we also need to recognize that women are still in the process of changing our economy. Post-50 women are especially poised to do nothing short of saving the world.
What do we do next? Today, I want to ask every one of you, women and men, at every age and stage, to reach out to the leaders of our nation, our companies and nonprofits, academia, our communities—and ultimately transform the conversation about aging. Ask them what they are doing to take advantage of what we have to offer in our fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and beyond. Don’t forget to ask if the pre–Great Recession demarcation of “over the hill at forty” is still operative, or if the newer “fifty is the age of the tipping point, with age sixty the end point!” espoused by today’s HR executives is the new game rule. It’s apparent that our aging Boomer leadership is forcing a shift in the over-the-hill mind-set of current leaders, employers, and even our electorate. But where does it stop? At what age are we truly over the hill?
Those of you who are these leaders are in an even better position to guide this conversation and, even more, to go beyond lip service and act. How will you change your business, your community, your country to incorporate an active aging workforce, to harness the wisdom and experience of the people who just might be the only ones who can jump-start our economy and protect our Earth (and harness other planets) for generations to come?
The future of the world is in the hands of our aging population, and ultimately that describes all of us. So how about it? Are you ready to save the planet and our way of life?
The Time Is Now
In 1826, as soldiers marched across a bridge that spanned the River Irwell in England, the bridge began vibrating in time with their steps, ever more violently until the bridge collapsed. From that point on, British soldiers were ordered to break step when marching across a bridge.
What happened was a physics phenomenon called “resonance.” Not only were all of those soldiers vibrating the bridge at the exact same time, but their steps created a vibration that just happened to coincide with the bridge’s own frequency of vibration, magnifying it to tremendous effect.
Resonance occurs in the mechanical and the natural world. Think about pushing a child on a swing. The swing’s motion is its resonance frequency. If you push at the right time and with the right force to match that frequency, the child will swing higher and higher. But if your timing is off, if you push too soon or too late, you’ll slow or stop the swing.
This same principle applies to great movements and epochal transitions. The First Wave Feminist movement (as mentioned at the book’s outset, this is better known as the Suffrage movement, which extended voting rights to women across the United States), civil rights, the 1960s peace movement, the Second Wave Feminist movement, and so on. The Occupy Wall Street movement was a perfect example of this phenomenon: People who were essentially vibrating on the same frequency came together at the right time and magnified the frequency collectively, until it grew in impact and in size all over the globe. When our timing is right and we are able to come together with like-minded people, members of our tribe, those who are on the same frequency, we can reshape the world beyond our imagination.
The big question, then, is how do we know when the timing is right?
You simply have to keep acting in some way on your vision. The bridge never would have collapsed if the soldiers hadn’t been moving forward in lockstep across it. Each of us must determine when we are in sync with what truly matters vs. going over the cliff like lemmings running amok or soldiers not choosing to break their step.
Collectively, however, timing takes an interesting twist, which again relates to physics, specifically “dissipative structures.” Ilya Prigogine first coined the term to describe higher or more evolved ordered structures that arise out of chaos, out of a system that is not in equilibrium. Cyclones, hurricanes, and dissipative Bénard cells (which are formed when a viscous fluid is heated between two planes or plates to eliminate surface effects in the gravitational field) are examples of dissipative structures, self-organizing systems. So are we!
In 2011, Occupy Wall Street emerged because of the economic chaos we are in as a nation and as a world. The greater the chaos and uncertainty, the more likely an ordered movement will emerge. In fact, every self-organizing system, including our own human system, planetary system, organizational system, is affected in the same way. Each can move from the triggering event to collapse, dissipate into nothingness, or reorganize into a new, higher-ordered structure.
This effect is why now is the time for us to pursue our greatest visions yet. Now is the time for visionaries to come together, particularly Ageless Visionaries, to pursue individual re-storying of our lives and work that makes a difference in the world. Order will emerge from the chaos—economic, environmental, and social. We can either watch it happen or we can make it happen and, by doing so, create the aspirational or preferred future we want to live in and leave behind a legacy for generations to come.
When people are ready to, they change.
They never do it before then, and sometimes
they die before they get around to it.
You can’t make them change if they don’t want to,
just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.
~ Andy Warhol
A colleague of mine, another coach and consultant, recently talked about why people so often do not take that next step and act on their vision. He said they are fearful, and those fearful thoughts bring them nothing but things to fear. There is some truth to this. Perhaps you’ve heard it phrased another way, made popular by the 2006 film and the companion book, The Secret (Simon & Schuster, 2006) This concept has been around for much, much longer. I state it this way: “Our thoughts create our reality.”The truth, of course, is much more nuanced than this—and much grander.
For one thing, the universe is a pretty big place. Earth alone, although infinitesimal in the scale of the universe, is itself an elaborate and complex entity. Did my thoughts create the increasing hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes sweeping the globe? That’s a little arrogant, don’t you think? Billions of people on Earth, and my thoughts are producing large-scale weather events?
On the other hand, our collective actions have certainly contributed to the climate changes that have led to these events. Their general occurrence was predictable (and predicted), even if the specific times and places were not. Not to acknowledge this would also be a tad arrogant.
Our actions are a direct result of our thoughts, and even small actions can have a large effect. The Butterfly Effect is alive and well—one small action, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, can cause a chain reaction of other small actions that build up into monumental events. Consider this as well: The absence of those flapping wings also has an effect. That particular chain reaction doesn’t happen, but another one does.In other words, even our inaction has an effect on our world.
We all have an Ageless Visionary inside us, but for some, it lies dormant in its chrysalis while their lives go on quietly around it. Imagine what the world would be like if we all completed our personal transformation, broke free from the chrysalis, and allowed ourselves to fly? What kind of chain reaction could we start with thousands, even millions, of visionary wings flapping? Even the small steps we take toward reinventing our lives to have more meaning and impact could have a significant effect on our Earth.
I think my colleague and The Secret have it half right. Our thoughts do create our reality. But we are complicated beings with multiple inner voices giving rise to an elaborate web of thoughts. Before we start thinking our vision into existence, we need to make sure it’s the Ageless Visionary within us who is dominating the conversation and informing the stories we tell others and ourselves. Even then, all the visionary thoughts in the world do not produce change if we simply sit around thinking and waiting for change to come to us. When you think over all you’ve accomplished in your life, you know this is true. Your attitude and thoughts played a huge role, but you couldn’t have done any of it without one thing—action.
What keeps many of us from awakening that visionary voice and listening to it is that we are unsure of the actions we need to take. We want to make such a monumental impact on our lives and on the world that we can’t help but think every step must also be monumental—and that’s a little overwhelming. That is where we’re wrong. Those first steps must be meaningful, but they can be as small as the flapping wings of a newly emerged butterfly. The results, if you just keep flying, can be nothing short of world changing.
You are not alone in wanting to fulfill your purpose on Earth and realize your destiny encoded in your Signature Greatness DNA. The more of us who flap our wings, the bigger the effect we can have on our lives, the lives of our families and communities, and ultimately the planet. We can create an Ageless world.
The New Story of Our Age
Our past, present, and future stories are the three-legged stool upon which our lives rest. Ignoring or denying any of them is like cutting a leg off the stool, throwing our lives, our organizations, our communities, and collectively, our Earth, off balance.
A final story apropos to our writing our new story is The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel, The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald, 1872. These stories are more than fairy tales because they are filled with multiple layers of symbolism.
An 8-year-old princess Irene had explored her castle unattended by her nurse, and in the attic, sitting in a shaft of sunlight, was an old, old Crone woman, a beautiful old woman with silver hair, long silver hair. The old, old woman was spinning thread from spider webs. As she spun, she told Irene that she was her great-great-grandmother. Her newfound Grandmother told Irene that she must always keep her finger on the thread, and that Irene should allow it to roll out ahead of her so it would lead her where she needed to go. Grandmother cautioned Irene that she should keep her finger on this magic twine, for it is the thread of her life, and it is the thread of meaning for her life.
We accumulate knowledge over a lifetime, bits, bytes, and pieces of it, but the wisdom of age is the sum total that comes with experience and with having lived a full life. There are things that we know very clearly, particularly when we’re very young, before we’ve been totally socialized. But at the middle, and even more so at the end of life, we’ve collected so many stories and so many experiences that the actual words or concepts may still be the same as in our youth, but they’re clothed in much richer adornments.Just as we are simultaneously the young girl and the old, old woman Crone, and everything in between, our past, present, and future stories exist simultaneously within us. We need to recognize and embody the shadow and the light, the myth and the truth, the strengths and the flaws—of our stories, of who we are at every age and stage, of our place in a much bigger picture of humanity, our planet, our universe. We need to carry it all within us, and find our balance as we walk along the thread in the hands of the Fates and the old, old ones, as we shine the light now in our hands.
My woman’s story is a Boomer woman’s story. We can’t be kept down. We are the portal to The Ageless Way. We are being called to light the way to a new triumphant Ageless Story for our times. Our Ageless Future doesn’t stop with Baby Boomers! It starts with Boomers! It finishes with all of us of every age, stage, and cycle.
I beseech you not to be content solely with the stories that precede you. Instead, re-story your own myths for your Ageless Future. The new story for our times transcends time while simultaneously carrying past, present, and future deep in its bones. The new story for our times is Ageless.
It is my hope that this book provides you with that ball of twine, so you can see your own life thread for yourself…that golden thread that goes through all of our lives and connects us to those (and that) which we love. It is the thread that leads you where we’re supposed to go, so you can help others to find and hold their thread and show them how to fling it ahead of themselves. Together we will weave a new Ageless story for our times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – KAREN SANDS
Karen Sands is the author of The Ageless Way, Visionaries Have Wrinkles, Gray is the New Green and Ageless Reinvention. She is a CCE-BCC and ICF-MCC certified Master and Mentor Coach, the leading GeroFuturist on the Longevity Economy, an online entrepreneur, a strategic marketer and founder and Chief GeroFuturist of the AgelessWayAcademy.com.