It’s a wrap! An extraordinary year, full of too many things to properly digest in the heady craziness of a celebratory and emotional end. Our year at Harvard ends with a packed, 2-day Symposium where 44 Fellows presented their social impact projects in a marathon of presentations, reactions and heartfelt encouragement and applause - in 5 minute increments (I ran over). From saving the oceans to saving democracy, via projects to get urban kids fishing or teaching blind kids in India who are otherwise left by the wayside, it was an inspiring (and totally exhausting) spectacle. It ended with tearful goodbyes, and everyone flying off back to their normal lives. Changed.
For me, with a project which consisted in part of observing the impact of this kind of program on people at this age and stage of their lives, it held precious lessons. When you see the energy, brains and commitment of a roomful of these ‘modern elders', and pair them up on university campuses with the energies, brains and dreams of Q1ers, it is powerful and electric. We urgently need to spread and scale ALI-like programs across the globe, to prepare and energise midlifers everywhere about the promise and potential of their 3rd Quarters. And lobby companies and countries to redesign and adapt to this new phase of life. More of that in the years to come, I hope.
Build in Q2, Leverage in Q3
Harvard ALIers are just the first pioneers, the very tip of an ageing iceberg of a new kind of older. It was fascinating to watch how people used the skills, networks and resources they had built up in Q2 to design innovative approaches to issues and passions they wanted to work on in Q3. Others dug deep into the communities and countries they come from to bring global thinking and resources home.
Paul builds on decades in governance and private equity to focus on saving the oceans. Nadezdah, a career politician from Bulgaria will build a leadership Academy for Southeast European political potentials. Renee, a former police chief from Detroit will dig down into reforming both her home city - and American policing more generally. Isabel, former Vice President of Panama will focus in on youth employment in her country (podcast interview here). Serena spent Q2 in banking and is now using the financing mechanisms she knows so well to help fund the performing arts more sustainably. The variety was limitless, but the passion each brought to their projects consistent - and communicative. My 4-Quarter Lives podcast has been showcasing some of their stories and will continue to follow their futures and their impact.
I feel especially connected to the impressive women on this perfectly gender balanced programme. From the word go, thanks to Marisol, we got together monthly to discuss… everything. Our lives, our partners, our projects, our wounds. For some, it was the first time they had ever had a peer group of powerful women with whom they could let their hair down. For others, it was as essential as breathing. The gentlemen complained of being excluded - but then grudgingly created a group of their own. It never went as deep.
Women will be key to bridging the gap between the head and the heart, the IQ and EQ. They were key to the program, and brought a lot of ‘heart’ to a program more focused on the ‘head’ - the rational and professional sides of designing and implementing social impact projects. Men and the institutions they design(ed) still prefer compartmentalising the personal and the professional, women seem to work so hard to integrate it. ALI women certainly did.
It will be interesting to see how our off-boarding goes after such a year. It’s crazily exciting to make so many new friends, learn so many new things and always have a few dozen people ready to play (to drink, go to the ballet, go fishing, visiting museums or just striking out for a walk and a talk). Leaving this kind of atmosphere is hard, even if many of us feel ready to go home. Re-entry will have its own surprises and staying connected will be a project in itself.
We now officially join The Coalition as the 14th graduating class, which is a community over 600 people strong, devoted to making the world better. It’s not easy to measure the ROI and overall social impact of all these illustrious people. But many of them regularly return to the mother ship of Harvard to support subsequent cohorts throughout their programs. Many of them were in the room with us for our Final Symposium. They asked probing questions, offered support and connections, and enthusiastically supported everyone’s ideas. One of them just emailed me a Guardian article about how 60-year-olds are redesigning ageing. Several others reached out during coffees or afterwards on Linked In. Philip Guarino, head of the Harvard Entrepreneurs Alumni, interviewed me for his podcast that landed on graduation day. It feels like a warm, welcoming embrace from a powerful network of well-wishers.
A Pack of Personal & Professional Transitions
It’s with mixed emotions roiling, then, that I pack up the million books I didn’t always have time to read, the Harvard sweatshirts and the notebooks full of brilliant ideas and enthusiastic jottings. It was an astonishing, eventful year. I was in the right place at the right time. To move into my 60s and explore the exploding issue of longevity and the new Q3. To accompany my mother’s last year and learn about so many of the issues and choices that arise in Q4. And to be able to visit my daughter during her first year in NYC as she enters Q2. Boston was equi-distant between Toronto and NYC. And 60 is equi-distant between 20 and 100 (so a kind of middle of adulthood for the long-lived).
I will long remember how heady it feels to walk down a graduation aisle with my admiring son (who flew in from Senegal!) in the room, my daughter on Zoom cheering me on and my saintly, ever-supportive spouse applauding this old lady strutting her stuff into her 60s. My generation is re-writing the script on age, and I’m honoured, thrilled and delighted to be watching it in action, right before my eyes - and the eyes of the next generation.
Now, I realise I’m moving into a strange repetition of the empty nest phenomenon. A few years back, the kids left, and I wrote about the joy and pride of seeing them fly off. Then followed the years of elder care, my grand-daughter’s birth and my mother (and my dog’s) death in September. As 2022 winds to a close, my husband and I are flying home into a whole new phase. No kids, no parents on either side, no one to take care of. Not even a dog. How strange. And how grateful I am to have had this time and this place to transition.
Everyone has flown the nest, and I have been gifted some new wings.
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Wow! Reading your articles and insights are always uplifting and helpful. Congratulations to you for your continued accomplishments and thank you for doing this work on your passion topics.... I have already started to benefit from it and feel my aspirations are attainable.