Pulse No. 6 – March 16, 2012
Marina Abramovic is suddenly, at 65, an arts superstar. Her show, “The Artist is Present,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art – a solo piece in which she sat in a chair throughout the day with museum visitors taking turns sitting across from her – pushed her over the top.
We nodded knowingly when, in a recent interview she said, “My success has come relatively late in life.” We cheered when she announced the launch of an eponymous foundation. But we smacked our heads in disbelief when we realized she was going to work exclusively with younger artists. Does she not know that many of her contemporaries have talent and yearn to be nurtured and recognized?
Since launching Pulse, we’ve been looking at everything we encounter through a new lens. Questioning why things are the way they are and why they haven’t changed to reflect what’s really going on with Baby Boomers today.
Take programs designed to help launch careers. Invariably, they’re targeted at youngsters.
Rolex Mentor and Protégé is a prime example. It was “created to assist extraordinary, rising artists to achieve their full potential.” Last year, for instance, visionary music producer, composer, and artist Brian Eno, 61, mentored Ben Frost, a young Australian musician living in Iceland.
Or consider the holy grail of career-acceleration, the MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program (popularly known as the “Genius” grant). Of 22 fellows announced last September, just three are over 50 years of age.
Even the Defining Wisdom Project at the University of Chicago – whose very subject matter cries out for mature insight – specifically asked for research proposals from fledgling academics when it got underway in 2009.
While we say “bravo!” to each of these brilliant and vitally important initiatives, we also are compelled to ask, “Why not us?” Why aren’t people over 50 on their radar? Or if they are, why aren’t mature candidates making it onto the final lists (and in greater numbers than a scant 10% when they do)? And why aren’t there programs specifically designed for this age group – and we’re not talking macramé.
If the heads of these organizations – and hundreds of others like them worldwide – had been reading Pulse, they’d know why we’re asking. This isn’t “be kind to oldies” thinking. There are compelling reasons to include the hundreds of millions of people who’ve passed the half-century mark.
Retirement isn’t good for us. People who continue working live longer and in better health than their retired peers. Research shows that we age more successfully if we’re active and engaged.
And retirement isn’t good for the economy, either. The RAND Corporation sums it up this way, “Further encouraging longer working lives may prove beneficial to individuals and the nation as a whole.” How much benefit are we talking about? McKinsey estimates that higher rates of labour force participation as a result of longer careers in the U.S. alone could generate $12.9 trillion in GDP from now until 2035.
In fact, we’re already driving the recovery. Entrepreneurs in the 55-to-64 age bracket are growing faster than any other group (and creating jobs for themselves and others). And employment levels for women 50-plus have jumped 16% since 2008.
Like you, we want to see the names of people over 50 on fellowship and scholarship lists. We want to see them in annual round-ups of “rising stars” and “people to watch.” We want to see them singled out for attention at innovation labs and business incubation centres in every country. And we want to see them throw their mortar boards high up in the air on campuses around the world.
And one more thing. There’s another reason to encourage the development of programs for people who’ve crossed the half-century mark (including those older than Baby Boomers, who’ve discovered that retirement is for the birds). Because lots of us never had the chance to do what we wanted to do with our lives. And you might be surprised to discover how many of us are secretly hoping we can still achieve our dreams.
In fact, many of us believe our greatest contribution is yet to come. And we look to people like Doris McCarthy for hope. When she retired from teaching at 63, Doris thought the next major event of her life would be her funeral. Instead, she went on to have a nearly forty-year career as an artist.
We figure that gives you another four decades, Madame Abramovic. And, yes, we’ll be keeping you company.
As you’re dreaming up a new world, we thought you might enjoy the title track from Herbie Hancock’s The Imagine Project. It’s the latest from this musical icon, whose career has spanned five decades and ranged across all genres, challenging us to think about jazz in new ways. At 71, he’s on tour and Jon Pareles of the New York Times, for one, was blown away, “Mr. Hancock’s solos suggest that he’s constantly thinking about multiple pathways through a composition: a new melody line, a harmonic transmutation, a plunge into a rhythmic cross-current, a percussive flurry of clusters and trills, some cackling syncopated chords. He might maintain one approach for a long stretch, or hint at half a dozen strategies for a few seconds each.” (Sounds pretty darn Ripe to us.) We also love that Mr. Hancock has included other Ripe musicians and singers in this project. Imagine.
Lots of great media news to come in April. On that note, a wide range of media and bloggers now read Pulse (hooray!). To all we say: we’re big supporters of the emerging initiative known as the Curator’s Code (spearheaded Simon Dumenco, a media columnist for Advertising Age, and Maria Popova, of ‘Brainpicker’ on Twitter). The code of conduct encourages writers and aggregators to share the source of their inspiration when blogging and curating. (Thanks to David Carr of the New York Times.)
Next week’s Pulse: Say what?
In April, we’re launching our first 12-week course! If you haven’t already ordered your copy of RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50, there’s still time. We’d love you to be part of this virtual Ripe Circle. (And if you haven’t pulled together your own Ripe Circle – a support team cum cheerleading squad – take a look at Pulse No. 2, February 17, 2012, for details.)
The older we get, the more those of us who have been successful look back over our shoulders and consider how it all happened. Sure, native ability had something to do with it. Hard work and persistence, too. Yet, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we see that luck played a huge part. Somewhere along the line, we were in the right place at the right time, and someone reached out and pulled us up to the next level. And maybe, just maybe, those of us who’ve been fortunate can now do the same for someone in our cohort.
This week, ask yourself, “Why not?” at every opportunity. You might think of it as channeling your inner four-year-old, “But why?”
Look at each aspect of your life and our world questioning why it’s one way and not another. For instance, why did James Dyson, who transformed vacuum cleaners into a sublime blend of form and function (and whose greatest success came at midlife) launch a foundation that pointedly ignores his peers? To whit, “We’re focused on getting young people interested in and engaged in engineering.”
See how applying this “Ripe lens” helps shift your thinking – and helps you think about what might come next for you. Including whether you need assistance or can help someone else find their way.
Keep your finger on the pulse. There’s a sign-up option in the right-hand column of this page. (Or visit juliamoulden.com and send us an email.)
Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley have been writing and editing for the media and corporate sectors for a combined 50 years. Today, they’re reconnecting with their generation and helping their clients engage with Boomers, too.