Category Archives: Life Long Learning

Purpose-Driven Travel

If you’ve been there, done that, perhaps you are ready for a different kind of travel experience, one where you quit being a tourist and actually contribute something to the people and places you are visiting. Some folks have found an outlet lecturing and teaching on cruise ships in exchange for the voyage, which could be a good way to get your feet wet, so to speak. But if you think cultural immersion is more your speed, consider these examples.

Susan and David Cooper, 60-something world travelers, recently spent a week in Spain, helping a motivated group of business people hone their conversational English skills with Pueblo Ingles. One week of accommodations and food (both rated excellent) in exchange for their services; they paid their own airfare. Barcelona or Madrid, anyone?

Global Volunteers is an organization that puts the skills of experienced professionals to use in the developing world in what it calls a volunteer vacation abroad. Goals are similar to those of the Peace Corps: an interchange of ideas and cultures that enable volunteers and their hosts to learn from one another, but for shorter stays. World travel enthusiasts Herbert and Phyllis Goldberg are active Global Volunteers. Their first assignment took them to Vietnam for three weeks, where they “taught conversational English, advised in the hospital and medical clinics (Herb is a former plastic surgeon, Phyllis, a marriage and family therapist), taught medical and psychological policy and the American way of life.”

Your English language skills could also get you a job abroad for a longer period of time. The Oxford Seminars TESOL/TESL Teacher Training Certification Course offers a 60-hour in-class course. Graduates receive an internationally-recognized certificate and six months of free job placement assistance through its teacher placement department.

Where in the world would you like to teach? asks World Teach, a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded by a group of Harvard students in 1986. World Teach “provides opportunities for individuals to make a meaningful contribution to international education by living and working as volunteer teachers in developing countries.”

Paradigm Shift?

You know something is changing in the culture when you start to see full page ads with words and images that deliver a new message. When I was contemplating a next career as a yoga instructor 10 years ago, it still seemed a rather esoteric, out there endeavor. Today, Yoga Journal is fat with advertising for retreats, schools, yoga products of every description. Moreover, images of toned people striking yoga poses or sitting in smiling meditation are commonplace in mainstream media.

With this in mind, I have to mention a full page ad that appeared in PLAY, a magazine section of last Sunday’s New York Times, that is emblematic of the zeitgeist as regards older people and the choice of meaningful second acts. The ad is for a new partnership between the Times and, the career site. The headline copy is: FIND A JOB YOU’D DO FOR FREE…THEN LET THEM PAY YOU. “When you do what you love to do,” continues the body text, “it’s not really work at all. Now you can find the job you love, when you love to live. Your calling is calling — find it at” Good enough (and I love the idea of a job one loves), but the image should resonate with all of us 50 and beyond. It shows a mature male face, a hand holding a piece of chalk at a blackboard, the suggestion of a classroom. A teacher who loves his job?

As it happens, teaching is, like nursing and nurse-training, a profession where there are more jobs than people to fill them. These are also jobs where maturity and life experience give one an unusual advantage, and where we can exercise the ‘give back’ desire than grows stronger as we pass midlife and begin seeking our life’s work. Our calling, which we may have ignored to attend to the business of building a career and family, calls more loudly and clearly. How each of us answers can shape the rest of our lives. If enough of us in later life choose work that makes a positive impact on society, we can shift the paradigm*.

*Once used only in the scientific context, “paradigm shift” has found uses in other contexts, representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought-pattern — a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing (Source: Wikipedia)

Six Million…

seems an impressive figure (about 2% of the U.S. adult population), but Randy Pausch, the 47-year-old Carnegie-Mellon professor who is dying of pancreatic cancer, deserves a bigger audience for his Last Lecture, created as a legacy for his young children. So, we’re doing our bit to get more people to tune in. (Here’s Randy’s website that contains all the links to his various appearances, and translations in Chinese (yes!).

Published in April, The Last Lecture is #3 on Amazon and prominently displayed at airport book stores (I saw it in Chicago and Denver last week). Co-author Jeffrey Zaslow’s report in the Encore section of the Wall Street Journal is a fine preview. This is the Tuesdays with Morrie of this decade, and its success is evidence that many of us are eager to read messages about making the most of every moment of life, from someone on the verge of losing it all. The important question is: what do we do next?

Update: Randy Pausch died July 25, 2008.  Here is more about his life.

A Long and Happy Life

It’s in our Constitution, but apparently not in our stars: happiness, that is. Perhaps the problem is that we confuse pursuit with the thing pursued, and possibly, we enjoy it far more: the excitement of the chase, the adrenalin rush of competition, the thrill of overcoming obstacles. They make us feel good.

Happiness, notoriously difficult to define (Bartleby’s offers over 500 quotes on the subject), pales by comparison. In any case, we are, according to a new study by Leicester University in England (see 60 Minutes), failing miserably in the happiness race. For all our material wealth and power in the world, we are ranked #23 in happiness, well behind Canada and Costa Rica. Bhutan’s national goal may be the Gross Domestic Happiness of its citizens, but Denmark ranks #1.

Interestingly, what four young Danes interviewed in the segment describe as happiness sounds less like pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss — to cite typical synonyms — and more like contentment, a sense of security in their daily lives (free health care and education, very low crime rate), and not giving a damn about the Joneses. We might take a page from their book and try curbing our expectations.

If advertising messages tell us anything about ourselves, you might draw the conclusion that happiness is having more, bigger, better, newer stuff. Happiness might sell, but apparently we’re not buying it. Diet books, foods and advice are big business, too, yet we have an epidemic of obesity.

Are we stuck with this unhappy state of affairs? Apparently not. According to the positive psychology movement, happiness can be learned. Gratitude, grit, optimism and the ability to forgive are among the aspects we need to cultivate, according to the work of Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of the movement. Apparently, older people have absorbed the lessons and generally describe themselves as happier than younger folk, according to research reported in MarketWatch article by Andrea Coombes: “Among U.S. respondents, 89% of those in their 70s and 87% of those in their 60s said they were happy most of the time in the previous week versus 78% of those in their 40s.” Now that’s something to celebrate.

Here’s some other things to ponder or pursue:

Doing good is the greatest happiness. (Chinese proverb)

Happiness? A good cigar, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman—or a bad woman; it depends on how much happiness you can handle. (George Burns)

Happiness is a by-product. You cannot pursue it by itself. (Sam Levenson)

Happiness is a clutter-free environment:

Happiness is a project, that is Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project 

The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.  (William Cowper)


The New Senior Moment

You know the comedy routine: a ‘senior citizen’ tears the house apart looking for his reading glasses only to find them, perched on top of his head. It’s been called a ‘senior moment,’ but it’s only funny if you find stereotypes about the aging brain humorous. Well, Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., the first Director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University, has news for us on the other side of 50: it ain’t necessarily so. The brain is far more malleable than has been supposed.

In his back-to-back addresses to the Life Planning Network pre-conference and the First Annual Positive Aging Conference, held December 5-8 at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida, Dr. Cohen mixed cutting edge evidence about brain regeneration (there’s more to the line, use it or lose it than you might think) with flashes of wit. Creativity and practical intelligence actually increase with age, Cohen told some 200 professionals including life planners, life coaches, career counselors, social workers and psychotherapists — most of them 50 or better and eager to serve clients in the age cohort.

As an example of a new kind of ‘senior moment,’ he told a story about his own parents. Visiting Cohen and his wife one winter, the elder Cohens found themselves marooned in an unfamiliar part of the city by a snow storm, with nary a taxi in sight. The solution: they ordered a pizza ‘to go,’ and had themselves delivered to their son’s address with it.

“It’s not at all about denying the very real problems associated with aging,” Cohen said. “It’s all about not denying th very real potential associated with aging. Any program that doesn’t consider both [the problem and the potential], is not state of the art.”

The fact is, the brain — once thought to have all the neurons it could — can continue to regenerate and experience can actually have an impact on brain structure. We have, Cohen said, “a built-in inner push [which is] an evolutionary component of aging. Furthermore, it never leaves us.” Midlife can and should be more than a ‘crisis.’ For many it is a flowering of creativity coupled with a feisty sense of self that manifests in ‘second acts,’ ‘encore careers,’ and a strong desire to make a positive impact on society.

For more on the conference, visit Positive Aging Conference

Here’s a report that rebuts the notion that aging and disability go hand in hand.

Here’s how to keep your brain sharp so you can give ‘senior moment’ a whole new meaning.

Learning Life, etc.

Eons, TeeBeeDee, and now AARP are moving into the social networking for the 50+ space. Just today came news that The University of Minnesota has launched a new social networking site called Learning Life and we think this could be the wave of the future: focused, useful, and definitely not trying to be all things to all people 50+. In short, a mature way to do social networking for a specific purpose, and a universe away from the ‘see and be seen’ style of the top runners in this hot space. Although it is not age-specific, Linked In is another very grownup approach that focuses on professional relationships. At the moment, all these are gratis to the user, but so were ATMs once upon a time.

Social networking is probably here to stay, in fact, some believe it will become as commonplace as email and may actually begin to compete with it. I have friends — albeit a generation younger than I — who seem to prefer to use Facebook to stay in touch. One benefit: the chain of message is clearly displayed, sort of like comments in a blog. Exchanging photos this way is great, too.

If you have yet to jump in because it all seems overwhelming, here’s a little video that might change your mind: Social Networking in Plain English. The video was created by Lee and Saachi LeFever of Common Craft just because they are passionate about sharing what they know. Poke around their blog. It’s informative and fun.

Collective Wisdom

Even before the current hubbub about social networking as a source of insider information and tips, it has been possible to contribute — and read — reviews of products and services via sites like and In fact, the input of ordinary people can build credibility for retailers — or discredit them — and is empowering for both contributors and those who read their reviews. Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia, lets anyone with a passion for a subject become an instant expert — at least until his or her entry is challenged and/or edited by someone else.

With its 2 Cents Project, the San Francisco Chronicle hopes to create a pool of citizen-journalists “who agree to be accessible to The Chronicle via e-mail to provide commentary on the news of the day and share their expertise and experiences with our readers.” The project is open only to residents of Northern California (with the exception of Chronicle employees and members of other Bay Area news organizations). Priority is given to those who live in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Sonoma and Solano counties. But it’s a model we’d like to see replicated elsewhere.

Here’s how it works:

Two Cents correspondents get a shot, says the Chronicle:

  • When news breaks and we need to gather input from people but are constrained by tight deadlines.
  • When traditional means of finding sources for stories fail.When either of these circumstances occur, we e-mail requests for information or commentary to our correspondents and ask them to respond or to forward our e-mails to people they know who are able to respond. Sometimes we contact people who respond to our e-mails and interview them for stories. Sometimes we run a column of correspondents’ comments, along with their name, photo and name of the town they live in.

The new science of predicting success also draws on ‘the collective intelligence” of groups of people. The Hollywood Stock Exchange, for example, is adept at accurately predicting box office success and Oscar nominations. “Nobody knows anything,” concludes James Surowiecki, author of the article (The Science of Success), “But everybody, it turns out, may know something.”

Recareering: It’s the Future

This past weekend, troubled automaker DaimlerChrysler announced restructuring plans that offer incentives to its most experienced workers to leave. A couple of days later, the company made buyout offers to its union workers. The fate of the auto giant isn’t exactly clear, but what is crystal is the human side: a large number of ex-autoworkers who are way too young to retire. Despite everything we know about labor shortages, certain businesses believe they have no choice but to cut jobs in order to remain profitable and people 50 or better usually take the hit. It’s a prime example of short-term thinking.

The truth is, downsizing isn’t the only change agent operating in the workplace. Burn out and discontent with corporate life is fueling the trend to recareer to something more personally fulfilling. Downsized workers with generous buyout packages will swell these numbers. If you happen to be a career counselor, coach or other professional trained in helping people assess their skills and untapped talents (or want to be), that could be good for your career.

It’s only a matter of time before older workers become sought after — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2012, workers 55 and older will grow to 19.1 percent of the total workforce — and that will make your job a lot easier. In the meantime, how can you best position yourself to serve this potentially large market? How will you connect with these folks and attract them to the services you offer? Here are a few thoughts:

1. The stigma once attached to job-jumping is long gone. Serial careers are the norm, in fact, people who have developed skill-sets across a number of industries will be seen as flexible and adaptable, two traits in demand in a fast-changing work environment.

2. Many people who want to start a new career will head right back to school. Your community college could be the ideal place to offer a course or workshop.

3. Centers that cater to the needs of people 50 and older are offering outplacement services, e.g. Scottsdale Boomerz, a program of Next Chapters. Check out their courses and workshops for ideas.

4. Add certification as a 2young2retire facilitator to your credentials as a coach, social worker or career professional. Learn a process that helps people in the age group get clear about the work they want and how to take steps in making it a reality.

5. Educate yourself on this broad trend. What are the thought leaders in your community saying about recareering? Read the local papers. Check out the chamber of commerce.