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!