Stay with friends - packed luggage

Stay With Friends

This weekend I am getting together with several of my closest friends. These are lifelong friends from college. We’ve been through a lot over the decades – from international adventures and weddings to the loss or physical decline of parents and other challenges life has put in our way. We live in different parts of the country, from Seattle to Philadelphia to New York City to Austin, so getting together in person is a rare treat.

These friendships weren’t forged in 45-minute coffee meetings or 60-minute lunch dates. These friendships weren’t driven by efficiency and ROI; they were forged by circumstance and inconvenience. They happened because we were roommates and we imposed on each other’s spaces and schedules. We sacrificed sleep for important conversations. We shared pizza at 2am when none of us were hungry but just wanted to be together. We planned practical jokes that took precedence over studying.

I may have done worse in a given class because of these misadventures, but I am certain I got more out of college.

Stay with friends - old friends on the beach
Some of the best friendships are forged through spontaneous conversations

But things are different now. We are busy. Not just in the family life stage busy, but in new modern life busy.

And people don’t answer their phones anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but I get sent to voicemail more often than in the past. This is a phenomenon among my good friends, too. It’s even happening with my mom. When my mom doesn’t take my calls, it gets my attention.

But I don’t think it’s me. As a society, we are becoming increasingly enslaved by efficiency: we’re plagued by busyness.

Writer Judith Shulevitz unpacks this issue in her article Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore in the Atlantic. Part of the dynamic is driven by hectic work schedules, either through the increasing prevalence of ad hoc demands of gig economy workers or the 24×7 nature of many work environments. She highlights how enterprise work tools, like Slack, Trello and online group calendaring, are now being used in the home to help manage the chaos. Somehow, the technology that promised to create freedom and time has done just the opposite. She suggests that many of us need to do a better job of creating boundaries and elevating the most important.

For example, have we reached a point that talking to a good friend requires a scheduled call, possibly weeks out?

My antidote: I impose. I travel frequently and my new mandate is to stay with friends wherever possible. It can be inconvenient – sometimes it’s nice to relax with room service and a movie in a hotel or to feel the accomplishment of being on top of my email – but there is no equivalent to catching up with a friend in person and in their own environment. And it can be inconvenient for those hosting, too. Life can be busy enough on a given weekday night, and making a bed and an extra meal can be a bit much.

Stay with friends - guest room
No one is going to confuse this with a contemporary hotel room, but you get to stay with friends

The experiment is going well so far. I’ve been able to drop in on birthday parties and neighborhood get-togethers, grab a late night beer and go on morning runs. I’ve been able to get a window into a friend’s life that Facebook, Instagram and text messaging won’t allow. I have some friends going through harder times, and spending time with them in person and off the clock has been a gift.

Sometimes, staying with friends hasn’t worked. When schedules haven’t aligned, the gesture of asking to stay with friends has signaled that these friends matter to me. In an age of disconnection, even that message can be valuable.

The reality is that proximity matters in relationships and in your overall well-being (see The Power of Place blog for more on the research.) As Susan Pinker reminds us in her book, The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters, there is simply no adequate substitute for seeing people in person. Sometimes, you just need to take full advantage of when you are physically close to friends.

I urge you to consider staying with friends when you have the chance. And make it easier for people to stay with you. Make it known that you have space and would welcome a visit. Not everyone is as comfortable imposing as I am, bless my heart, and that nudge can make all the difference.

These considerations are important as we plan our lives and our investment in place and space, too. Do you have space for a friend or family member to visit? If not, what can be changed to make it possible? For example, can an office be converted to be a makeshift guest room? If you are looking to downsize, will your new space have room for guests? In our modern era of busyness, making it easy for people to impose can make all the difference to stay close to your friends.

So be careful. I may soon be coming to your city and you may be on my hit list.

In fact, it’s happening this weekend. For our reunion, we’re not staying in a hotel or at a resort. We’re staying at our friend’s home in the Philadelphia area. I don’t expect to get the surgeon general’s recommended hours of sleep or really much sleep at all. And I already know I won’t be taking many calls (sorry, Mom) because I’ll be with friends. That’s a good kind of busy.

Want to have Ryan speak at your event? For speaking engagements or media inquiries, please contact Ryan.

What Will You Do with Your 8,000 Days? Retirement Planning and the Importance of Place

What Will You Do with Your 8,000 Days?

8,000 days and growing. This is the number that Joe Coughlin, head of the MIT AgeLab, uses to estimate the amount of time we’re expected to live beyond the age of 65. It’s roughly the same period as from growing up to graduation from college (early 20s), post-college to mid-life (40s) and from mid-life to retirement age. This “retirement” stage represents 1/3 of adult life today.

It’s great to be living longer but I imagine few of us want to live them as Bill Murray did in the movie Groundhog Day. For 8,000 straight days?

A key question quickly emerges: what will you do with your 8,000 days?

It’s becoming increasingly relevant as more people wish to rewrite the script for retirement planning, particularly as compared to their parents. In some cases, it’s a necessity based on financial realities; in fact, more than half of U.S. workers plan to work past 65, the traditional retirement age. For others, it’s a sense that there is more to life than permanent leisure. The research bears this out: as Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, states in the Big Idea in 4 Minutes, “There isn’t anything in the psychology literature that suggests that it is good for people to go on vacation for decades.”

The general trend appears to be towards a more active retirement, according to Catherine Collinson, President of the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Work and time for personal pursuits or leisure are not mutually exclusive. This transition to a new stage of life is highly personalized, not as monolithic as the days of receiving a gold watch and moving to Florida.

The 2018 Class of Stanford’s DCI Program - An Effort to Reinvent Retirement Planning
The 2018 Class of Stanford’s DCI Program – An Effort to Reinvent Retirement Planning (Source: Stanford)

Some are looking to go back to school to figure it out. Literally. Five years ago, Stanford started a program called the Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI) that brings together a cohort of “highly accomplished individuals from all walks of life who are eager to transform themselves for roles with social impact at the local, national, and global levels.” As part of the program, these older students enroll in classes across the university. Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative is a similar program with a particular focus on helping leaders’ transition from their main career to their next years of service. More universities across the country, including the University of Texas, are creating similar programs to support this group, often catering to their alumni.

Other resources are becoming available to help think through what to do with these 8,000 days. Designing Your Life was birthed out of an elective class at Stanford University. It applies designing thinking to one’s life (click here for previous SmartLiving 360 blog on the subject). The intended audience is recent college grads but it has struck a chord with older people, too. Faith-based thinkers are entering the conversation as well. Earlier this year, Jeff Haanen released An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life. His book provides a basis for how to think about retirement in the context of faith and a specific approach to create a customized plan.

Another trend is to avoid age-segregation. That’s not to say that older people don’t wish to be around people like themselves but to do so exclusively is less desirable than it may have been in recent generations. Beyond personal preference, there is recognition that age-segregation is not good for one’s health: according to a Harris Poll, 74% of people believe that age-segregation is harmful. Another poll found that the vast majority of people (92%) believe intergenerational activities and relationships are particularly helpful in reducing loneliness for all ages.

Tomorrow, I’m excited to be moderating a discussion with a friend and mentor of mine, Marc Freedman. Marc has given these extra 8,000 days considerable thought as a gifted social entrepreneur and founder of Encore.org. He sees tremendous potential in the longevity revolution for both personal and societal good and envisions a particular opportunity through greater intergenerational connectivity as outlined in his book, How to Live Forever. And, as he enters his early 60s, planning for these 8,000 days is becoming less theoretical for him.

New Retirement Housing Models on College Campuses that Integrate Residents, Students & Faculty
New Retirement Housing Models on College Campuses that Integrate Residents, Students & Faculty (Source: NY Times)

One of things that Marc gets is the importance of proximity. Location, location, location. We can have the best vision for this life stage but place can either hold us back or propel us ahead.

Take housing. Margaritaville has made a splash with their Jimmy Buffett themed age-restricted communities in the southeast. They promise to inject fun and a sense of belonging – both areas often neglected in this life stage.  However, will Buffett songs hold their charm for 8,000 straight days??? And, if you value intergenerational relationships, it’s hard to see how living separate and far away from younger people is conducive to developing and nurturing such relationships.

Others may wish to “age in place”. However, if that increases social isolation and presents physical hazards then it may not be a very effective strategy, regardless of how long one has lived in a home.

Fortunately, new housing models are emerging at a range of price points and locations that offer more choice for people in this life stage. The Stories at Congressional Plaza, an intergenerational community co-developed by SmartLiving 360, is one example. There are also a growing number of retirement housing options near or affiliated with universities. I would expect these and other options, particularly ones that lean more heavily on technology to help people stay healthy, to accelerate in the years ahead.

Simply, it starts with a vision and a plan for how to lean into these 8,000 days – understanding there will need to be flexibility and contingency planning – and to make sure that one’s place and home is aligned with this vision.

No doubt, it’s not easy, but it’s probably better than the alternative of not living as long. As my friend, Paul Irving of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, puts it, “We’re living longer, now what?” That’s for each of us to figure out.

Want to have Ryan speak at your event? For speaking engagements or media inquiries, please email media@smartliving360.com.

Perennials

Are you a Perennial?

What is a Perennial?

For garden enthusiasts, a perennial (plant) is a plant that lives for more than two years. Perennial flowers, like lilies, daisies and poppies, grow and bloom over the spring and summer, die every autumn and winter, and then return in the spring from their rootstock. These flowers are ever-blooming.

However, according to Gina Pell in her blog “Meet the Perennials”, a perennial can mean something else. She asserts that a Perennial is a type of person. A person that is “ever-blooming, knows what’s happening in the world, stays current with technology and has friends of all ages.” Perennials get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, collaborative and so on. Her examples include: Lady Gaga + Tony Bennett, Pharrell Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Malala Yousafzai, Senator John McCain, among others.

Most important is a Perennial is not defined by age, but by a mindset and way of life. They push beyond traditional boundaries and don’t see life as a “one-dimensional timeline that runs from birth to death.”

From Demographics to Psychographics

Marketers tend to bucket consumers into categories. One of the most common categories is by age or generation. Millennials. Generation X. Boomers. Greatest Generation. Teenagers. 55+. Seniors. And, of course, each of these categories comes with their own stereotypes, like how all Millennials eat avocado toast or can’t afford their lifestyle (watch Millennial International video for a fun spoof on this).

Available consumer data makes demographic analysis easy. But what if the straight forward analysis is the wrong analysis? Consider this: I may have more in common – what I am drawn to purchase and consume — with my curious teenage niece on the opposite coast or my wise friend thirty years my senior in suburban Texas than I do with my fellow 40-somethings in the urban mid-Atlantic. Demographic analysis can’t spot Perennials.

This is why psychographics – the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria – is becoming increasingly relevant for marketers.

When It Comes to Housing, Perennials Prefer Age Integration, not Segregation

Where do Perennials want to live?

Maybe it’s good to start to look at where they would not want to live. A recent article in the NY Times real estate section (“Resort-Style Living for Graying Boomers”) which highlights the growth of 55+ age restricted housing in the greater New York market may provide some insights by looking at the online comments section. Perennials offered plenty of opinions like:

  • “I don’t mind getting old, but the last thing I want to do is to surround myself with other old people. I like living in a neighborhood populated by Millennials and young families.”
  • (on living in an age-restricted resort community) “I couldn’t justify the cost and unsettling feeling of being surrounded by people who lived to go to the clubhouse daily, and made it seem that was the main reason for waking up every day… having moved, now I am with people of all ages with different outlooks, making life much more interesting.”
  • “I don’t want to live among a bunch of people my age or older. I’ve been in this house for 38 years and am watching a third generation of new babies. The younger folks do appreciate our knowledge and experience and I have all the tools any one needs to borrow and I keep with the changing mores just talking to them.”

Perennials see the benefits of living in the cities and more dense suburban areas – “sub-urban” according to Smart Growth America describes – that bring people together of different backgrounds and talents all within close proximity of desirable amenities.

It’s a Good Time to be an (Older) Perennial

At some point, physical needs and accommodations become important and relevant factors in housing for older Perennials. Fortunately, a number of trends are in favor of Perennials. One, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a global Age-Friendly cities and communities initiative and has spurred hundreds of cities and communities to make their environments more accommodating for people of all ages. Second, technology – as we have looked at previously – is making it easier and easier to have services delivered on an as needed basis and cost-effectively. Third, substantial real estate development in walkable, vibrant areas is creating a swath of new residential options.

At Smart Living 360, we have a residential model that incorporates elements of a walkable location, smart design and sense of community to attract an intergenerational mix of people, including Perennials, and people like it.

So, Are you a Perennial?

Maybe Gina Pell is right. Maybe for most of us how we think and what we value should matter more than what generation we are part of. Maybe we may have more in common across generations than within them.

Maybe even “perennial” will more commonly be used to describe a type of person than a type of flower. Regardless, it should be associated with something that is ever-blooming and aspiring for more.

The Power of Moments

I’ll Push You

I recently heard 40 somethings Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray share their story about a great adventure to traverse the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek through Spain. This story is captured in the recent documentary, I’ll Push You. Justin and Patrick have been best friends their whole lives: they grew up together, when to school together and were best man in each other’s weddings. Starting in high school, Justin was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease that eventually required him to use a wheelchair. Patrick and Justin were committed to neither let Justin’s deteriorating health negatively impact their friendship nor limit their dreams.

So when Justin heard about the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek through Spain, he wondered aloud to Patrick whether the two of them could ever do it. Patrick’s immediate response was: “I’ll push you.” The movie is a powerful story of their journey and is full of peaks and pits. (It should be noted that the Camino de Santiago is a challenging trek for even the most fit athletes!)

The Best Memories are Just for the Young?

Justin and Patrick created a peak moment in mid-life. However, there is a prevailing belief that many of our best moments occur when we are young. In fact, people predict that most of our peak memorable events occur before the age of 30. In an era of increasing longevity where an increasing number of us will have at least 2/3rds of our lives ahead of us, our mindset needs to change.

We can do something about this. As Dan and Chip Heath highlight in their recent book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, there are things we can do to create more powerful moments at any age. Part of their recommendation is to be more intentional about seizing and creating such opportunities.

The Art of Creating More Powerful Moments

They see a defining moment as a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful. The Heath brothers outline four elements of creating such moments: elevation, pride, insight and connection (“EPIC”). Elevation indicates moments where we reach a new milestone or accomplishment. This can often involve something that boosts our sensory pleasures, introduces an element of competition (thereby raising the stakes) and breaks the script of what’s normal. Pride indicates situations where you are especially grateful of what you accomplished. Insights refer to situations where you learned something about yourself and can often happen during times of challenge or transition. Connection relates to times when an experience is shared with others.

The most powerful moments combine these elements. For Justin and Patrick, their experience included all of these dimensions: elevation in their accomplishment of traversing the mountains, pride in their ability to overcome an insurmountable challenge, insights in what they learned about themselves and connection in having this shared experience. With their documentary, they have allowed others to vicariously be inspired by their peak moment.

Creating Moments is One of Our Aspirations

At Smart Living 360, we see a big difference between residing in an apartment building and living in an engaged community. Particularly in an era of increased longevity, we see value in helping people of any age think about ways to add more memorable and meaningful experiences in their lives. This can come in a wide variety of forms. For some, we have witnessed special moments occur when a connection is made between new friends or when a resident seizes the opportunity to try something new. It’s particularly gratifying when residents take the initiative to create events or gatherings in the hopes of engaging others around a common interest and craft memories together.

We’ve also learned that empathy is particularly important in creating moments. A number of residents have downsized from larger homes which they have lived in for many years. This transition can be both exciting and terrifying. Helping smooth this transition in thoughtful ways, with the help of our Lifestyle Ambassador, can lead to very positive moments.

Scripting Your Own Moments: A Thanksgiving Example

Thanksgiving has always been one of our family’s favorite holidays. We took a step towards creating a special moment several years ago when we experimented with a kids vs. parents soccer game among families in our neighborhood. As the kids have grown and become more skilled, the games have become increasingly close and intense. In fact, this year the kids prevailed, surely a peak moment for them. However, we’re coming back stronger next year, and, as adults in our forties, will continue to make memories and hopefully bring back a win.