At my last PAC conference I had the privilege of meeting a new audience of professionals in the field of aging, all convening on the East Coast in beautiful Sarasota. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to introduce my newest work on the narratives—the real stories and conversations—upon which we can evolve and restory our “Aspirational Aging” for the Age of Greatness that we are entering, and to explore our never-before-imagined Ageless Futures.
Jack Levine subtly set the tone for our time together in his opening invocation’s succinct prayer, likening the conception of our movement to bringing seeds to loaf. The seeds we were able to plant in this conference alone were too numerous to recount here, but I would like to share some that are continuing to grow in my own body and soul.
PAC 7 Seeds of Wisdom
The conference rocked from the engaging opening by Tom Esselman, followed by Katrina Rogers, President of Fielding Graduate University, the leading institute for adult learners in human and organizational development, our host from 2010 to 2013, and that year’s co-host.
Passing the PAC Master of Ceremonies baton to Tom Esselman, President and CEO of the Institute for the Ages, Katrina created a vessel for what was to come by sharing the “4 Principles of What It Means to Age Well”: positive aging rests upon creativity, community, life transitions, and wellness. Dipping deeper ever so briefly, but profoundly, Katrina deftly wove together the themes of this year’s conference, Positive Aging Transcends, when she anchored us by sharing that “one aspect of transformation is transcendence” and closed by cajoling us with a caution: “Aging is not all happy talk.”
I was, and am, deeply appreciative that Katrina held the dark side of aging up to the light of transcendence around the conversations we have about aging positively.
Katrina ushered us on to an always enlightening keynote speaker, Marc Freedman, who explored “The Generativity Revolution: A New Movement of Americans in the Second Half of Life.” Marc shared his apt observation that a new myth of America is emerging, one not based “on the notion of eternal youth,” but one that “appreciates the true value of experience.” Here, here, we clapped. But what remains in my recall still today is Marc’s pronouncement that “Stages of life are fiction, not a fixture!”
Throughout his keynote, Marc referenced many of the early voices of human and adult development and aging. He discussed how the visionary Mary Catherine Bateson’s “Active Wisdom” was a pathway to social innovation. Memories flooded back from when I had been a post-graduate student in gerontology and adult development.
I had been blessed to take probably the one and only Aging Literature course given anywhere. What a gift! I didn’t realize till hearing Marc mention Bateson’s writings what an imprint that literature course had left on me. I had been exposed to all the visionaries and pioneers in our fields from way back to modern times. Like Marc, I’ve seen the truth of their groundbreaking work and words as positive aging reaches its tipping point. Marc also had a few urgent recommendations for public policymakers: Create new public policy such as a gap year for adults and new educational opportunities.
Our second day together started over breakfast, with Victor Strecher sharing findings that “declaring one’s life purpose is a driver for changing behavior and giving life meaning.” To all of us in life planning and all genres of coaching, counseling, education, and positive psychology, this is not a surprise. Rather, it’s a welcome affirmation and confirmation of why we do what we do.
In between plenary sessions, many of the best of the field’s pioneers and newbie innovators conversed about new approaches to positive aging, life and retirement planning, reinvention, and eldering as well as elder care. We discussed the importance of declaring purpose to our wellness; spirituality and dementia; intentionality in older adults; second-half adulthood; the challenges of the coming Alzheimer epidemic; multigenerational dialogue versus discord; aging and technology; and so much more.
Harry (Rick) Moody spoke about “Voices of Older People.” Demonstrating the passing of the baton as part of our legacy-making years ahead, Rick introduced and later interviewed the newest generation of NPR journalists on aging, including the highly popular Ina Jaffe, who shared her recordings of wonderful vignettes of older adults’ life stories.
Rick carried this subtheme forward as he interviewed Connie Goldman, the first NPR reporter covering older people and aging back in the seventies, who is also a prolific writer on caregiving and caregivers. My personal take on Connie in the short moments I’ve shared with her this year and last is that she is one of the warmest, most engaging wise women I’ve met in a very long time. Connie is so present and authentic; she is a gift to know.
For the first time, I heard Nancy K. Schlossberg, EdD, Founder of IFA, Board Chair, Professor Emerita at University of Maryland, author of Revitalizing Retirement, speaking on “Mattering Matters,” and then responding to Rick’s questions. Nancy, who is deeply honest and provocative, queried back, “Do we have an adult development story? How do you want to do this adult development story?”
To my surprise, Nancy asked a similar rhetorical question to the one I had posed in my session on the first morning of the conference. I had challenged my fellow attendees to take with them the questions of What story am I in? and What positive aging story do I want for myself, my employer or organization, my work and career serving 50-plusers? as they moved through the conference, in both their storytelling and conversations with colleagues.
Most important, I challenged them to take the questions home afterward, when they returned to their communities and life routines. Instead of putting them aside on a bucket list, bring these questions back home and keep asking them so we continuously improve how we serve and are served.
The mission of the annual conference is to sound the clarion call for positive aging. It was spreading organically, certainly not intentionally structured. Or was it? We were spreading the seeds from the opening till closing, when they emerged as a rising loaf!
On the next to last morning, I was drawn to hear and meet Juanita Brown, PhD, and David Isaacs, Co-Founders of the World Café. They were co-leading a short-form breakout session. As an advocate for creating multigenerational solution-finding conversations to make Ageless Futures the norm, I was magnetized just by the title alone, “Wiser Together: Partnering Across Generations for the Common Good.” I was not disappointed. It made me feel like I was coming home to my kin, other professionals who share a similar mission, a mission expressed in simplest terms by Juanita “to enliven across generations and be a catalyst for collaborative action.” How cool is that? 🙂
Karen Sands, MCC, BCC
Address: PO Box 43 Roxbury, CT 06783-0043