The Power of Longlife Learning
And Covid bugs!
Well, like most of you, we tried our best. But our little weekend in New York may have gotten the better of us. After over two years of dodging the little bugger, he wormed his way into the back of my throat in a city where cases are skyrocketing yet again. He got Tim too. Our anniversary celebration: Covid got us - together.
Luckily, thanks to the four vaccines we’ve benefited from, it wasn’t more than a mild hit. Tim was knocked horizontal for a day, I had a runny nose. An excuse to huddle in at home and binge-watch The Lincoln Lawyer (makes us feel as young as our kids who seem to do this regularly). Sadly, I missed the last two days of classes which were a climactic, 3-day coming together of several ALI cohorts. After five months, we were all invited to present the state of our projects to each other and to colleagues from ‘The Coalition,’ what they charmingly call the 600+ ALI alumni network.
What started out in January as vague ideas or sketchy outlines of interest have slowly but surely morphed into some impressive and engaging social impact projects. They range from big global issues like climate change and inequality to more specific commitments focused on everything from sustainable financing for the arts and affordable housing in specific urban centres, to innovations in public safety data management – and I only heard a handful. We each got the opportunity to ‘pitch’ our idea to a small group of colleagues and get feedback, advice and connections. Priceless, affirming and a general acknowledgement that we’ve all come a long way. I’ll be introducing and interviewing many of my classmates over the coming months so you can hear their stories - and plans.
I missed (but saw echoes on our WhatsApp group) all the nostalgic goodbyes as most of the class dashes back to their home countries, communities and a handful of adorable grandkids. Until the end of August when the final term starts back up again and we all reconvene. My friend Devorah is already complaining of ‘ALI nostalgia’ and I share her anticipatory regrets. What will it be like to re-emerge into the ‘real world’ when we’ve got used to hanging out with a bunch of hugely energetic and idealistic new friends ever ready to learn, share, debate – or just drink, dance and go to Van Morrison concerts? (Seriously. Tanglewood, Labor Day weekend.) Talk about getting in touch with your inner teenager. We all need to do more of this sort of thing. It’s actually a matter of life and death.
Been reading Yale professor Becca Levy’s new book, Breaking the Age Code. Her work has, for years, been pointing to the very physical impacts of negative ideas and stereotypes about ageing. And the now-famous factoid that a positive attitude to ageing can gift you an extra 7.5 years of longevity. Our attitudes to ageing are baked into the cultures we are born into and seep surreptitiously into our unconscious as early as our first few months of life. So if you are ageing into youth-addled anglo-saxon cultures, you may want to read this book and try to detoxify your stereotypes before they undermine the pleasures and pursuits of your latter decades.
Education, and more specifically years specifically designed to support midlife transitions and what Chip Conley calls ‘long-life learning’ are key. We will want to renew and re-create ourselves – probably several times – over the course of our lengthening lives. And we’ll need the community, the curriculum and the context in which to do it. Universities, who will soon be facing the demographic decline of their traditional markets (the ‘young’ 18-25 year olds), are going to need to transform profoundly. The solution could well be the huge tsunami of people entering their Third Quarters. Higher education won’t have much choice but to adapt their offerings across a broader swathe of our lifespan. One dose in the early 20s is hardly going to fuel the knowledge needs of a 100-year-life. Harvard and Stanford have led the way. I’ll be writing more about who is following in their footsteps over the summer as I’m interviewing a bunch of different players.
In the meantime, as far as I and my ALI colleagues can judge, halfway through our own year, everyone deserves a dose of this. It’s not just a fanciful sabbatical for the few - it’s going to become a survival tactic for the many. It’s like an electrode up your brain, a balm to your heart, and probably one of the more important role modelling exercises you could ever offer your kids – and anyone else watching.
Now, we just need to spread the word. Watch this space.