Interview with Barbara Waxman, President and founder of the Odyssey Group, and Author of How to Love
To celebrate May being Older Americans Month as observed by the Administration on Aging (AoA), we have conducted a series of interviews we will be posting on this blog throughout the month. The theme issued by the AoA for this year is “Age Strong! Live Long!” to recognize the diversity and vitality of today’s older Americans who span three generations. The interviews are with several outstanding people who share how they live this year’s theme each and every day, and give us insight into the profound contribution and influence of older Americans today.
Barbara is a certified Executive and Personal Coach through the Hudson Institute, and holds both a Masters degree in Gerontology and in Public Administration. She is one of the only professionally trained Gerontologist–Coaches in the field today. In addition to her work as a coach, Barbara has authored several articles and is currently editing a book on retirement. She is “America’s favorite coach for adults, midlife and better”.
What does it mean to be an ‘older American’? Has its meaning and role changed? Close your eyes for a moment and picture what you have always thought of as an ‘older American’. What comes to mind? You might imagine a guy in a Hawaiian shirt heading to a golf course or someone walking hesitantly whom you might want to assist. We tend to lump anyone 50+ into the ‘older adult’ category. Does it make sense? Absolutely not. If we can distinguish young adulthood into stages such as pre–teens, tweens and teens, we can and should certainly recognize that there are stages associated with those 40 or 50+. When I think of someone around 50 years old I think about someone ready to focus their potential to do so much with the newfound time they find at that juncture when full time work often morphs into one aspect of a flourishing portfolio of activities. I am a coach working with adults midlife and better and have come to learn from the wonderful people I have the opportunity to support that the role of older adult is being redefined in courageous and exciting ways. Over the course of the next couple of decades, being an older adult will be viewed as some of the best, most productive and rewarding years of our lives.
How are older Americans redefining retirement? We need to retire the word retirement! Taken on a literal basis, the word retirement has a variety of meanings ranging from “to withdraw from circulation” to “to cease”, even “to go to bed”. Any of those sound like something you’d like to do? Retirement as we know it was largely created during the Depression to shift ‘old folks’ out of the workforce to make room for a younger generation. It served a societal purpose at the time. But no more. We need all hands on deck more than ever before. President Obama rallied our country during his campaign with a call to civic engagement—regardless of age. We are redefining retirement by living life on our terms. Some of us continue to work for pay, others spend time volunteering; almost all of us who report being happy are engaged in meaningful pursuits. We have certainly not withdrawn, ceased or gone to bed!
What unique contributions do older Americans make to our society? One of the greatest challenges facing human resource departments today has been referred to as the ‘brain drain’. They are not referring to the intellectual acumen of today’s younger workers but to the life experience that can only be developed over time. What is so wonderful and unique to being an older adult is having the wisdom of years and knowing how to use it to make the world (or workplace, or home) a better place. Perhaps that is why studies show that people’s perception of their own happiness has increased with years?
What do you think will be the legacy of today’s older Americans? When you think about the fact that almost 8,000 Americans turn 60 every single day—you can’t help but realize that this generation of folks will change the face of how we see and experience being older in America—just as this generation—the baby boomers have morphed how our society functions at every stage of their lives. The legacy of today’s older Americans will be a re–imagining of the possibilities inherent in a healthy, aging society. It’s very exciting and, in fact, will be the best years of life for many people.
What older Americans do you admire? What inspiration or wisdom have they imparted to you? As a gerontologist I am asked this question a lot. If I were to list all of the older Americans I admire this would be a book rather than a blog—so I’ll stick with the inspiration part. Somehow I was born without the DNA that told almost everyone else that older people were: scary, weird, not to be listened to—you take your pick. I have always been drawn to people’s stories and I have always been inspired by the wisdom that only real life experience can impart. Older adults (and I mean 50+) have had enough wins/losses and gritty experiences to get very clear about who they are, for better or for worse.
What is your advice to living the theme ‘Age Strong? Live Long!’? There are a few things I advise: First: understand your personal energy requirements—what physical, emotional, purposeful and cerebral requirements do you have to feel in sync with your best self? Second: Live your values. Clarify and list what it is you value—from ethical qualities like integrity, truth and compassion to those things you want in your life on a regular basis like friendship and humor. Third: Give. When we offer our time and ourselves we reap far more than we contribute. And finally, announce your intentions. Once you feel in sync with your best self, announce what you plan to do to the world. Have you ever noticed that once you do so you tend to actually commit and follow through?
What does your future work hold for you? What is your next challenge? I am fortunate to have found my calling. In the course of my work with adults, midlife and better I have developed strategies and insights into how people can live their best years when they are 40+. I have developed a coaching model called Entrepreneurship Turned Inward (ETI) that has been used successfully time and time again. My future work will be taking that work to a larger audience.
Can you share with us some of these insights into how people can live their best years at 40 and beyond?’ Whatever insight I may have comes from the inspiration I feel when talking to and working with people in the “40 and beyond” category. As the editor of the forthcoming book, “How to Love Your Retirement,” I’ve been reading the stories of hundreds of people who changed their lives for the better, in ways they couldn’t have imagined when they were younger. For example, a man in North Carolina wrote, “I take four or five classes a semester. I’m really geeked out about this Quantum Enigma class—I can’t wait until Monday morning!” A 62–year–old overachiever in Wisconsin told us, “At some point, motorcycles, diving and drumming will be difficult to do. That’s when I will have to switch to photography, oil painting, and keyboards. The world is a big place: there is so much to do and so little time!” A woman from the Bronx responded: “I want to go everywhere! I want to go to India, Vietnam, Egypt, Patagonia, Alaska. I want to go by train through the National Parks. And from Chicago to California, through the middle of the United States and the mountains. I want to do all those things.” The energy our interviewees express makes me want to do all those things, too: Nothing can stop them.
How to Love Your Retirement is published by Hundreds of Heads, and will be released in August 2010.
To reach Barbara at the Odyssey Group: email@example.com
Web site: www.theodysseygroup.net.