During a trip to Sugarloaf, Maine, in my freshman year of college, I saw snowboarders flying downhill and knew I had found my passion. As soon as the academic year ended, I moved to Colorado to “take a year off.” Leaving behind my close-knit, multigenerational family in New Jersey, I moved to Breckenridge, Colorado and began to learn the sport of snowboarding. I was obsessed.
Little did I know at the time, but my twisty path of a life would ultimately take me to a Baja oasis where I would co-found an academy for mid-life adults! Let me explain . . .
Snowboarding was all I did, all day, every day. My life became the standard ski bum fare, maximum time on the hill during the day and hustling restaurant jobs at night for the tips and food. It was a great, high-energy, life. Eventually I began competing locally and found my way to the World Cup Halfpipe circuit. I had the great good fortune of getting paid to travel, compete, and shoot photos; it was a dream.
But the writing was on the wall; the next generation of women snowboard competitors was scary good. I had always wanted to transition into the business side of the snowboard industry, and this was my chance. Over the next few years, I held a variety of positions, mostly within and around the snowboarding industry, until my world was rocked by the death of my friend, Krista. My young, vibrant, absolutely ass-kicking, skateboarding, snowboarding, motorcycle racing, fearless friend was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. In her honor, I decided I would not waste a moment of my life ahead of me. My then boyfriend and now husband Josh, and our two dogs, packed up and left for a five-month Baja sabbatical.
We loved Baja instantly – Baja California Sur specifically. As we began to immerse ourselves in this beautiful new world, we met and created relationships with people and opportunities that would ultimately turn our sabbatical into a permanent move.
One of those relationships was with Chip Conley; a multi hyphenate – famed hotelier, thought leader, writer and Ted Talk-er, among other things. Chip had written a book, Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, about his time mentoring one of the founders at Airbnb. The book explores the concept of ageism in the workplace and advocates that age is just another type of diversity. Along the way, he de-stigmatizes the term “elderly” and defines the new “elder”; by encouraging the concept of embracing wisdom as a path to growing whole, not old.
For the past half-century — since the time, the phrase “midlife crisis” emerged into the popular lexicon in the mid-1960s — midlife was defined as 45-65 years of age. But, today, in many industries, geographies, and cultures, people start feeling “old” in their mid-thirties. On the other end of the spectrum, if an increasing percentage of us are going to live to 100, it is plausible that midlife and your career might extend into your mid-seventies.
The increased longevity we may have, compared to previous generations, doesn’t necessarily mean an extra ten years tacked on at the end of life. Rather, it means we have an extra decade, in our midlife.
Many conversations with Chip later, imagining how to best spend those midlife years, led me to where I am today. In partnership with Chip (and Jeff Hamaoui) we created the Modern Elder Academy, the world’s first midlife wisdom school!
Modern Elder Academy has been a fascinating project. With a Pacific Ocean beachfront campus in Baja California Sur, less than one hour north of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, Modern Elder Academy provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience in order to grow whole, not just old. During the first half of 2018, we had more than 150 people (average age of 54 but ranging from 37 to 72) go through one-week or two-week beta programs to test out the Academy and we found that the experience was transformative. To date, we’ve had over 750 people attend our programs. Our alumni community has rated us 99% in satisfaction and remain incredibly engaged post-visit. We have quarterly digital town hall calls with hundreds of alumni, in person meet-ups and regional groups. It’s magical.
In an era that prizes digital intelligence, we believe the need for wisdom, emotional intelligence, and the ability to collaborate and coach is greater than ever. The Modern Elder Academy was created to help people in midlife to repurpose their knowledge and embrace their mastery while appreciating the roles of both a wisdom keeper and seeker. As teens, we’re given all kinds of tutelage to guide us as emerging adults, but we receive none of this as emerging elders.
Our programs are designed to encourage a mindset shift toward greater relevance and to empower mid-lifers to consider what’s next on their career roadmap. Life is a trip, and modern life is a two-tank journey (your mileage may vary…LOL). Society’s outdated model of a three-stage life (learn, earn, retire) taught us that this was a one-tank ride — where we fuel up with curiosity and counsel in our learn period (mostly our teens and early twenties), and burn most of our old school fuel in the earn period. But today, with increased longevity and accelerated changes in the modern workplace, many of us are running on fumes and in need of a midlife pit-stop.
Because this journey requires multiple fill-ups, we have opened a refueling station at a pivotal fork in the road. With a certificate in Mindset Management, our graduates are given tools to dramatically reduce stress and ramp up resiliency and adaptability — leaving campus renewed and ready for their next few decades.
I can’t imagine any place I’d rather be.
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