We are all leaders, every one of us. You may be leading multiple generations of your family, or leading a team or a company or a movement. Leadership, as I define it, is the ability to guide oneself and inspire others to act in the face of challenge and change, with clarity of mind, body, and spirit, to create good in the world. To that end, I’ve delved into the bank of knowledge I’ve acquired from a deep investment into fields adjacent to my own—neuroscience, mindfulness, positive psychology, bio-hacking and more—to create this list of the seven most impactful actions you can take in 2023 to embrace the demographic gift we’ve been given and continue to have the energy, focus, purpose, and connection to create a roadmap for your well-lived life.
1. Choose Your Words Wisely
Words matter. Seemingly insignificant quips like “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” “Act your age,” and many other expressions associate midlife with an initiation into a downhill slide to decline. When I choose my words carefully and refer to “adults midlife and better,” the response is always positive. People giggle, then thank me, and often I’ve noticed many of them even take an unconscious breath of self-acceptance. To reframe aging and reclaim midlife, renaming is in order. If you name it, you can tame it.
Until recently, from the standpoint of history, midlife was the beginning of our declining years. But life expectancy has expanded by about 30 years in just the past century, and most of those three decades show up as powerful years in the middle of life. By embracing Middlescence and speaking its truth with a fitting name, we can better understand and appreciate it for the ripe, sometimes awkward, sometimes do-something-kind-of-crazy, often rich and enriching stage.
2. Create Your Own ‘No Regrets’ Model
Years ago, an article written by a hospice nurse changed my life. She cared for patients in their last months and, with decades of experience, she noted the top five regrets of the dying. Guess what? None of their regrets of the dying had to do with either one of the top two stressors—scarcity of money or time. Instead, the regrets included spending time on things that genuinely matter, expressing love with those we care about and being courageous enough to allow ourselves to be happy.
Around the time that I read that article, I had cause to create my own ‘no regrets model. It was a devastating time in my life. My children were 6 and 4 years old, with a 6-week-old to boot. My father had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease and lived 3,000 miles away. I was torn between caring for my children and caring for my parents. Finally, my husband, Scott, asked the right question: “what if you asked yourself which decision would help you have ‘no regrets?” And that’s what I did. It wasn’t easy and required sacrifice but framing my thought process in the guise of minimizing regrets was a game-changer.
3. Invest in Multi-Generational Relationships
If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that we need one another. A sense of belonging is primal, and our innate need to be seen, accepted, heard and appreciated is foundational. Unfortunately, along with Covid and all its variants, loneliness and isolation have reached epidemic proportions. According to the National Institute on Aging, the health risks of prolonged isolation and loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes daily, shortening a person’s lifespan by as many as 15 years. Diversity and inclusion aren’t merely buzzwords; they constitute part of your health. Generational diversity, by the way, is a wildly underrated element impacting our families, communities, companies and culture. Bringing generations together is elemental to making your life more joyous, colorful, generative and connected.
4. Stay Curious. Always.
Staying curious and being willing to learn new things (self-awareness, skills, hobbies, languages, etc.) is a silver bullet for vibrant longevity, maintaining value in the workplace, and continuing to feel connected. And it’s catching on, as evidenced by the growing number of matriculated students over 40. By 2027, there will be well over 3 million of them! Fortunately, the market is recognizing and beginning to meet the growing demand, helping Middlescents ‘upskill’ and learn how to embrace change and better navigate transitions.
Some programs include the University of Minnesota’s UMAC Program, Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative and Stanford University’s Distinguished Career Institute. The Modern Elder Academy offers online and immersive programs, with scholarships available. Midlife is a great time to unearth wisdom, learn about who you are, embrace lifelong growth and personal or professional development, and even learn simply for the joy of it.
5. Ditch Retirement for Preferment
The concept of retirement was popularized around the time Social Security was enacted when life expectancy in the US was about 58 for men and 62 for women. Today’s life expectancy hovers around 80, meaning there are decades to finance after 60. The problem is that the number, 65, has stuck in our cultural psyche while life expectancy has increased dramatically. Today, chances are that you either can’t afford to retire at 65 or wouldn’t want to retire anyway. We all want to have more control over what we do, when and how we do it. That’s more realistic for some of us than others, but the same mindset applies.
Friends, it’s time to retire the word “retirement” and trade it for an upgraded and more appropriate term. My friend Liz recently introduced me to a much better option. Preferment. Preferment implies designing your course of action. So, for example, rather than planning for a withdrawal from work, preferment reflects a frame of mind in which you make a course correction towards things you prefer more—even if having an income is still a requirement. The point here is to buck preconceived notions and follow a path that fuels your passion and meets your financial, emotional, social and physical needs.
6. Give Your Time, Talent, and Treasure
Be. Of. Service. Being a contribution through sharing your time, talent or treasure is the gift that keeps giving right back to you as well as to those you serve. All faith traditions understand this, as does every Girl or Boy Scout or Candy Striper or reading tutor or hospice volunteer. Being of service to others benefits both the receiver and the giver. Altruism is like solar energy—renewable, powerful, and readily accessible. And the world needs you!
When you give, you reap far greater rewards. So give your time, share your talents, and offer some of your treasure as circumstances allow. Imagine all the good that could come from those billions of volunteer and pro bono hours. We could have thousands of thriving schools and non-profits, millions of disadvantaged students on the path to higher education, billions of trees planted…the possibilities are endless.
7. Align Your Healthspan and Lifespan
Both the New Map of Life and my formula for a life well-livedshare an understanding that longevity is not simply a measure of the quantity of years or Lifespan, but it is about the quality or Healthspan of those years. A burgeoning medical specialization known as Lifestyle Medicine is “the systematic practice of assisting individuals and families in adopting and sustaining behaviors that can improve health and quality of life.” It’s not only because five of the seven leading causes of death in the US can be attributed to chronic, lifestyle-related conditions. Lifestyle medicine recognizes that your physical health, emotional well-being, and the accumulated effect of your daily lifestyle choices are inextricably linked.
Cultivating your health and wellness doesn’t require expensive participation in the behemoth wellness industry or the latest trends, only that you begin with micro-steps and intention. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Your health and wellness journey can start today, and I’d like to help simplify it. In the Five to Thrive process, I unpack the building blocks that ancient traditions and modern research agree bolster your health and wellness.