Phew! Another super intense week and by Friday night, I literally melted into bed after a Season 2 finale to Bridgerton (more on that one day). I slept 10 hours and was gifted the title of this blog by my yoga teacher this morning in class. Isn’t it funny how sometimes you hear something and it hits with a resounding thud? It also echoed another message I’d just received. A photo from my son, Adam, of the prayer mat he had been gifted for Ramadam.
It was a gift from his Muslim father-in-law. The very same distinguished gentleman who not so long ago refused my (very) irreligious son’s proposals to wed his daughter. No matter that her name was Awa (which means Eve in Senegal). Or that they seemed well matched in brains, character and ambitions. The answer, repeatedly, was no (very Bridgerton!). Until, like any good love story, she put her foot down – and leapt into a future of her own design (ibid!). It always takes a huge amount of courage – and love - to leap. A couple of Ramadams later, here we are. The kids are wed, their (adorable) daughter has just discovered crawling, and pop-in-law is gifting blessings. Love conquers… sometimes. Somewhere.
Tragically, war rages on in Ukraine, colouring our psyches as much as our geopolitics. Far from leaping, Ukrainians’ courage takes a different form: staying. The thousands returning to their country to fight for freedom and families, and the generations to come. The ferocious determination to defend their land from genocidal annihilation – as well as the world from the terrifying two-decades rise of the autocratic strongmen. Sending women and children to safety to ensure the future. I admire the love that connects people to their land and communities. I must admit to feeling more of the wandering Jew, epigenetically primed to flee and (almost) at home now in several different countries and cultures.
Harvard’s ALI programme is in itself a carefully crafted invitation to leap. To help address the world’s big, intractable problems. Last night, earlier ALI cohorts hosted a drink for us at the Harvard Faculty Club and we got a chance to hear the challenges our predecessors were taking on. They offered three different models of post-ALI ‘leaping’: returning ‘home’ with new eyes, going macro, and starting a new initiative from scratch. The former CEO of Hearst, returned to his company post-ALI to establish their ESG focus. Another moved from marketing some of the biggest brands in the world to working on federal policy reform around media and misinformation. The last began a new initiative from scratch, focused on early childhood education in the US. Food for thought and our own emerging plans – as well as food!
Our program is moving from exploring our intrinsic motivations (who/what we love) and where we might want to travel next to best leverage our pasts (who/ what we know). We are now moving to structure and establish social impact projects. We had a week on social entrepreneurship with Brian Trelstad, a long-time impact investor. He guided us through how to decide whether you go for-profit, B-corp or non-profit, which he suggests is one of the most crucial, early forks on the impact road. He invited the young Indian co-founder of RocketLearning.org, an Indian early-childhood education platform (already reaching a million kids and their parents) to present her inspiring startup to the class. She was impressive. Modest, quietly brilliant, and absolutely determined to reach the 50 million Indian kids who are so dramatically underserved by the status quo.
We rounded out the week with an impactful session with Lisa Lahey around her (and Robert Kegan’s) decades of work on why people find change so difficult. Their book and work centres around the idea of immunity to change. That people don’t shift behaviours because they are attached to defending deep unconscious scripts they are holding onto without knowing it. It’s always fun to be in a room where there are a large number of individual ‘aha’ moments – where people suddenly see themselves and their lives with new eyes. What did I personally discover?
A very female tale, I think. A semi-conscious assumption that my personal freedom and happiness hurts others. As you, dear reader, knows better than most, I’m at Harvard having the time of my life while my mother is facing a series of challenges – and my husband is stepping in to help, at some cost to himself. He says and repeats he is delighted to support. My mother is incredibly well cared for. But the guilt I feel is not just mine alone, I discover, but is widely shared by a generation trying to manage elder care individually. We are all doing the best we can - and feeling like we are falling short. Lahey challenged me to explore the accuracy of my big assumption. I’ll let you know…
The immunity to change theory says some of our behaviours are driven by erroneous beliefs – and directly impede us from changing and achieving the goals we set. We focus time and energy defending our assumptions rather than our stated goals. Daunting stuff. My goal is to define a next-decade life, work and geography. But, if I grapple too much with guilt, it will be hard to liberate the creative juices and energies to make the leap.
I welcome all suggestions, comments and personal tales. What are your big assumptions? What goals have you set that you may feel aren’t progressing as planned? What stories are you repeating in your head that aren’t serving your next chapter?
It takes a lot of courage to do this kind of work. It’s distinctly and intentionally uncomfortable. But if at our age, you don’t consciously edit your internal tale, you’re likely to live it out. Leaping always feels a bit like jumping off a cliff – at any age and stage. And it’s impossible to do this stuff alone. I’m incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such a loving and supportive group of people. We’re getting to know each other rather well.
But I’ll leave you with one last trip. This week’s picture is of Miss Daisy, a real-sized car inside MIT’s AgeLab surrounded on three sides by huge movie screens. I had the fun of taking it for a queasy-making virtual test ride. Seems Americans No.1 fear of ageing is loss of driving, so Prof. Jo Coughlin and his team are up to a million tests on all kinds of cars, self-driving or not, to monitor … everything. Where you look while driving (in every possible kind of condition and geography), what you notice, how long it takes you to stop, etc. The new generation of electric cars mostly older people are buying are so different from what ‘cars’ and ‘driving’ used to be that it takes a big readjustment (with no training).
The more I learn about the Fourth Quarter of life (75 to 100), the more I realise we are going to have to be better prepared for a very different kind of leaping, which takes just as much courage as all the other kinds. Into loss, physical decline, shifts in identity and coping with an ageist world. Learning how to make meaning and reap the rewards of later life will require a very conscious leap inwards, to find resilience and purpose in new places and new bodies.
So I’ll conclude with a lovely cartoon a new friend shared earlier this week. And leave you with a wish – for lots of love and leaping.