My Journey to become a “Modern Elder”- Chip Conley Style

By, Kari Henley, Co-Founder, Age Without Borders

People always ask me, “Why are you working in the field of aging?” Most of my friends and colleagues had no idea such an industry even existed, and most people spend very little time thinking about getting older whatsoever.

And yet, to me – exploring our inner attitudes around aging is the final frontier of personal growth, and the global longevity boom is a societal issue that is about to slam the world in the face. We can innovate and evolve, or face a crisis. I’d rather learn to surf this wave, and be a part of the solution.

I started Age Without Borders in 2016. I was freaking out about turning 49, and had a burning desire to assuage my curiosity about midlife and aging. I created a startup with a global team ranging in age from the 20’s to 80’s who helped me to interview over 100 thought leaders from 40 countries about the next chapters of life. We produced two summits that reached thousands of viewers from 72 countries, and grew into our current role as consultants and experts in building virtual communities, events and experiences. It has been a blast.

I was first introduced to Chip Conley a year ago, and am so thrilled to host him as our final guest expert on our Age Without Borders World Tour on December 5th at 8am PST.  The story of how I came to engage with Chip is worth sharing…

Last November, I attended the Aging2.0 conference in San Francisco. Chip was the final keynote speaker. I must admit- I had no idea who he was, and almost didn’t stay. I had a migraine, and sat down next to someone on the balcony who was talking my ear off. I excused myself and started walking out the door. Yet, something made me stop. I had a shiver on the back of my neck. I promptly pivoted on my heels, turned around, marched back inside and this time was moved to sit in the second row.

Chip came on stage, and I was riveted. He described starting Joie de Vivre hopsitality at age 25, sold it at 50, hit midlife, and wondered what to do next. He was approached by two young punks starting some company called Airbnb, knowing nothing about tech. He nearly declined the offer, but instead decided to explore how to be both a mentor and a student at the same time. He led from behind this time, and it worked.

After leaving Airbnb, Chip wrote, “Wisdom@Work – the Making of a Modern Elder” at his new home in Baja, Mexico, where he was learning to surf and building a new chapter of life. He then came up with the Modern Elder Academy for those in midlife transitions to reflect, connect with peers, and revel in the “liminality” of this in-between time.

As Chip was describing the book and MEA, I knew he was going to become one of the biggest voices and leaders in this industry I had come to love. I found myself writing in my notebook; “I will one day meet Chip Conley and attend the Modern Elder Academy.” I had that shiver on my neck again. Two minutes later, Chip invited those of us in the audience to apply to the beta sessions. I must have dropped my pen. Destiny was calling.

After postponing two dates I could not attend, I finally headed to Baja in June. I was smack in the middle of some huge personal transitions. It was precisely the perfect time.

The beauty of the Modern Elder Academy is immediately apparent in the gorgeous landscape. The high arid desert and sparkling Pacific Ocean seems to speak of reflection, maturity and transformation.

The campus is warm, stunning in design, décor and beckons one to kick off their shoes and sigh. Chip’s background in hotels and hospitality contributed to an ideal setting for getting to know others, having time alone to reflect, and a family style schedule that created deep intimacy very quickly.

I learned a lot. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. Our group built driftwood lines in the sand, baked bread, talked in large and small groups about deeply moving and reflective topics, walked to local beachside restaurants, made home-made margaritas, danced, shared poetry, balanced rocks, and explored our vulnerabilities. Our group and yours truly even made it into the promo video.

Each person from our group of 13 came from entirely different backgrounds and stories; yet all deeply identified with this experience of midlife being a time of dissolving one part of ourselves to make room for another.

A metaphor was introduced of early adulthood representing that of a caterpillar; busy focusing on the details of work, homes, family; followed by midlife representing the chrysalis or cocoon as a time to reflect, and transform; and finally the ‘third act of life’ being that of the butterfly exploring anew. It came up again and again as we marked the solstice- the longest day of the year.

I am delighted to identify as a “modern elder.” I am committed to running a business built across the generations and geographic regions. I will soon be 52 and I have lost all fear of getting older. I admire my friends in their 70’s and 80’s and hope to be just like them when I reach their stages of life. I am inspired every day by folks who had to take care of their spouse, parent, grandparent or friend, and pivoted to starting new products and services to serve the higher good. I love my team.

I will be interviewing Chip from Copenhagen, Denmark where I am proud to be accepted as a new Board Member for the International Federation on Ageing.  Chip will be hanging out in Baja with the latest crew at the Modern Elder Academy, Judy Rough, my co-founder will be minding the fort in Colorado, and Gabriel Monteiro, our International Director, joins from Paris. It is a very small and wonderful world.

Join us. The calls are a blast. We use a video conference platform that looks like the Hollywood Squares and has a powerful energy of synergy and connection with virtual breakout groups that is infectious. Aging industry solopreneurs, educators, innovators, and leaders from around the world have been coming together once a month for high level education, networking and community building that is impossible to accomplish at an annual academic conference.

Our 2019 season of the World Tour will be posted soon, and will be making stops in some incredible places with extraordinary modern elders making a difference. See you there!

How Do You Perceive the Timeline Of Your Life?

How Do You Perceive the Timeline Of Your Life

This week, I had the great pleasure to speak about this with Dorian Mintzer, M.S.W., Ph.D. She is a retirement coach, author, owner of Revolutionize Retirement and an adjunct professor teaching a “Multidisciplinary  Introduction to Gerontology” class at Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts. She was kind enough to assemble a few of her diverse students together – ranging in age from young twenties to early 50’s. Our crew included Karen from El Salvador, Yunez from Turkey,  Adamnatu from Sierra Leone, several American students as well as Alan O’Hare, Ph.D., one of the guest speakers for the course.

How we perceive aging is vital.  “What I’ve found in my clinical work and teaching is that often people embrace whatever are the prevalent stereotypes about aging–generally with an ageist lens–and therefore don’t want to think ahead since “aging” is fraught with fears about all of the negatives about getting older,” said Mintzer.

“Certainly there are many changes that occur as we age, positive and negative, but it’s not all “down hill” unless you believe it is. I find that people are surprised when they learn that by the time you’re 65 is less about genes (about 30%) and more ( about 70%) about things you can “control”–such as nutrition, exercising your body and brain, spirituality, meaningful relationships, connection, engagement and finding purpose and meaning in life. With this paradigm shift it can become less scary to think about getting older.”

Mintzer offers a Boomers and Beyond Special Interest Group (SIG) for Interdisciplinary Professionals once a month to bring together people interested in positive aging.  Revolutionize your Retirement Interview with Expert’s Series is the 4th Tuesday of each month (except December) at 12:00 noon Eastern time. Sign-up each month, 7 -10 days before the call, at 

Studies have shown that most people can only imagine about 5-10 years into the future. If you think back, to age 12, for example, being 18 or 20 was really grown up. When you were 25, being 35 was “old” and 50 was inconceivable. We were never taught to plan ahead and anticipate the many stages of a potential 100 year life. Today, many can expect to enjoy another 20 to 30 years of active living AFTER age 65. How do we expand our minds to embrace, celebrate and prepare?

Now it’s your turn! Leave us a comment in the box below, or up on our Facebook page.  How do you perceive the years ahead? Can you see your life through to 100? What would it look like? We love to hear your ideas and stories!


A Different View of Aging  When Bonus Years Are Added to Your Life

By, Judy Rough

My perspective on aging might be a bit different from others. When I was 47 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had 6 tumors in my right breast and the treatment was a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy. Due to the fact that I was alive in an era where these medical advances were available to me, I continue to live 14 years later at this point.

Living is very different now versus pre-cancer life. I have painful neuropathy in my feet every day for the last 14 years. Many of my internal organs have not always been happy post-chemo. In medical terms, I am probably not considered a “healthy” person. When it comes to my emotional and psychological health, I am in tip top shape.  I maintain a positive attitude and luckily I can move freely and easily.

If I lived at another time or in another place, if I had inadequate medical care, if I had a terrible attitude, if I lacked a fantastic support system, and if other negative random circumstances had been a part of my story; my life could have ended at 47 years old.

For the last 14 years, I have experienced my children graduating from college, my daughter getting married, my children gainfully employed, 2 granddaughters, a son-in-law, a new job, caregiving for my mother, my husband’s career success and his retirement, enriching friendships, travel to Italy, personal and professional rewards. These bonus years bring me great joy and have caused me to focus on the pleasure I get from having gray hair, older skin with new markings and texture, aches and pains, a great mind, profound influence in my society, and continued curiosity that motivates me daily to keep learning and applying the knowledge to leave the world better than it was when I came into it.

On the day I returned from the doctor after being diagnosed with cancer, my husband was driving me home after our appointment, an image was imprinted in my brain. We were turning the corner on to our street headed home and there was a couple about to cross the street. They were holding hands and both had perfectly white hair. I pointed to them and said to my husband, “I want to be like them”. I was not finished. I wanted the great privilege of growing older.

Now that I am considered an “older”, I show up with confidence knowing that I as well as my peers have a lot to contribute. I work constantly on changing my own ageist beliefs and I stand up to others (politely) who are using “elder speak” or displaying ageist behaviors. I will show by example and express with my voice that ageism, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-faith behaviors, and negative judgments of any kind are not acceptable and not tolerated.

I have the privilege of these bonus years that brought me to being an “older” and I proudly display the marks of my years.

Judy Rough is on the Executive Team at Age Without Borders, and is the Senior Director at the Society of Certified Senior Advisors is the premier membership organization certifying and educating professionals who serve older adults.


Ashton Applewhite Kicks Ageism in the Face

Ashton Applewhite Ageism TedTalk

Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, our society has made dramatic improvements in our understanding and tolerance of one another. Our ability to accept others of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientation or spiritual preference is far from perfect, but at a macro level – we are evolving.

However, while most forms of discrimination are towards one sector of society, there is an insidious type of discrimination every single person on Earth shares. All of us are going to get old; and we hold a powerful collective prejudice around aging. The accepted idea that “getting older” generally sucks, and leads to decline, unhappiness and misery is a myth. (Actually, studies show we are happier later in life.)

No matter the color of your skin, who you love, or how you worship – we are all subjected to the pervasive impacts of ageism. Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’m too old,” or, “I’m having a senior moment,” or thinking, “What is she doing wearing that at her age?” or deciding, “I could never pursue a degree or new profession at my age?If you recognize any of these warning signs, you are limiting your life for no reason.

In my last blog, I wrote about how I fretted needlessly about reaching certain milestones of aging. Turning 39, 49, and then 50 were “Freak Out” years – until I met a few ageism activists like Ashton Applewhite and Dr. Bill Thomas, who blew my limited mindset wide open. Once I started exploring my own inner ageist attitudes, I experienced dramatic and widespread epiphanies. I began to see examples of ageism everywhere I looked, and saw how destructive it can be.

Ashton has become one of my mentors, and colleagues. I am also lucky enough to consider her a dear friend. She has been thinking about ageism for a long time: deeply, widely and broadly. She has brought her fiery spunk to forcing this topic to the surface. Her book, “This Chair Rocks- A Manifesto Against Ageism,” was my favorite book last year. I gave copies everywhere. Ashton has been blasting through the white noise, and forcing the conversation with her book, New York Times articles, and online forum, “Yo is this Ageist?” She asserts,

“Aging is living.  We are all going to get older, and most of us are scared stiff at the prospect. Yet, ageism is a global human rights issue.”

As I fine tune my own perceptions of aging, I STILL ask Ashton if she thinks something is “ageist.” We are so oblivious to the societal norms, sometimes ageism or ageist attitudes are hidden, subterranean even.

With over 76 million baby boomers currently blasting through an unprecedentedly healthy and vibrant second adulthood, many easily living to age 100, there is no better time than now to chuck the ageist barriers we share, inside and out.

If you only watch one TEDtalk this year, watch this one. Eleven minutes of fire and brimstone truth.

So, let’s get a fiery aging and ageism conversation going in the comments below and on our Facebook page. Have you confronted any ageist attitudes in yourself? What were they and how did they show up? How have you been impacted by an ageist society? Let us know!