What's your map of life?

What’s Your Map of Life?

We are working on an outdated paradigm for living argues Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center of Longevity. Our society assumes a three-chapter life – education, work and retire – where the final chapter is approximately a decade. However, this narrative doesn’t match the reality for many people today, and certainly won’t match the one-hundred-year lives of tomorrow. The life script needs to be rewritten. This week, Dr. Carstensen, along with dozens of luminaries and thought leaders, laid out the case for why it is so important to think differently about ways to live in light of a one-hundred-year life, as part of the virtual Century Summit.

To help change the narrative, Stanford has embarked on a project called the New Map of Life. The goal of the initiative is to “envision a society that supports people to live satisfying, engaged and financially secure lives for 100 years.” The initiative focuses on seven domains – early life, education, health, work, financial security, social influences and, yes, the built environment. The work has a global lens with implications for public policy and research.

Your map of life may involve lifelong learning to help create new opportunities for income and growth (Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash)

The Map of Life at the Personal Level

Stanford’s efforts are important, but the exercise of creating a map of life is most critical at the individual level. One is best to envision what is desired and then build a realistic plan to bring this vision to life. This map has a number of components to consider, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • An optimistic mindset. Dr. Carstensen asks her students what they would do if they were to live a bonus of thirty extra years. This is what has happened in recent generations, thanks largely to advances in technology and healthcare. Additional gains are expected in the decades ahead. How do you wish to spend these extra years? Do you have older role models that you would like to emulate? Who do you wish to become?
  • Work extended and supported by lifelong learning. In the context of longer lives, people have the opportunity to create intermixed chapters of working and leisure and to pursue new challenges. One thing is for certain: in an age of knowledge-based work, more educated people can work later in life. AARP estimates that about 50% of its members are still actively working. How long do you plan or need to work? Do you have new vocations that you wish to pursue? If so, what levels of additional education may these require?
  • Intergenerational engagement. A recurring theme from the Century Summit was the need and likelihood of increasing levels of intergenerational interaction. Some of this will happen naturally, perhaps through lifelong education, work and living arrangements. Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org, refers to this as the undoing of “age apartheid.” There will be a growing number of opportunities for intergenerational interaction if that’s desirable to you.
Denver offers dynamic economic opportunities, an active lifestyle and intergenerational interaction (Photo by Lonely Planet)

The Critical Role of Place

Place has a key role in the map of life. You may have specific visions of where you want to live. Perhaps it’s a warm climate or a place with four seasons. Maybe it’s a single-family home in a walkable neighborhood or a downtown condo. Perhaps the plan is to stay where you are but make modifications to make it a better place for you.

Place also has important indirect considerations. Place can help or hinder other parts of your map of life. Place can impact purpose, social connection, physical well-being and financial well-being. In short, where you live matters both directly and indirectly.

Consider work. If you are a knowledge worker and want to extend your career – or at least have the option to – living near a dynamic job center matters, even in an era of increasing acceptance of remote work. Being able to cultivate a network of people and companies doing interesting things is aided by proximity. While working remotely is more possible now than ever, it remains more challenging for making friends and work connections than in-person interactions.

Consider intergenerational engagement. If such interactions matter, you should think twice about moving to an age-restricted community, or choose one where inviting younger people to the community is part of the culture. Some living options, such as living near family or an intergenerational co-housing community, can make intergenerational interactions a part of daily life.

Something to Talk About Virtually with Friends and Family

As 2020 – the year of COVID-19 – comes to a close, many of us will have our holiday plans disrupted. Our family will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas without extended family for the first time. It’s both sad and weird. But this disruption in our schedules coupled with vaccines rolled out may allow many of us to think about post-pandemic life. I invite you to use this time to envision your map of life in the context of increasing longevity. Perhaps even do so as you virtually connect with friends and family. While the pandemic has dominated the headlines this past year, it is likely that the trends of increasing longevity and associated visioning and planning will be of greater consequence to you in the long run. And for this, taking a cue from Stanford, many of us will need a new, or at least updated, map of life.

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A-Team - SmartLiving 360 blog

Who’s Your A-Team?

I probably watched too much TV as a child. A Gen-Xer, I consumed many of the iconic shows of the ’80s, including The A-Team. It was one of my favorites with Hannibal, Faceman, Murdock, and B.A. — played by Mr. T – defying the odds to get the job done. If someone was in trouble, a call to the A-Team would save the day.

I was reminded of the A-Team as a recent guest on the Dr. Cloud Show Live to talk about the intersection of place, including housing, and successful aging. One question particularly struck me. A caller asked: How can I successfully age on my own? How can I manage all that’s necessary, from housing to health to health care to finances to purpose and beyond, by myself?

The answer: You can’t.

Successful aging is a team sport.

Unfortunately, not enough of us have our own A-Team. One of the great successes of our modern age is increasing longevity. Researchers predict that half of babies born today in developed countries will live to at least 100 years of age. However, a long life is only a positive if paired with a matching health span and wealth span. It is best to create a plan that includes others to help you.

The reality is that successful aging is incredibly complicated and multi-faceted. Even with the Internet and social media, it’s impossible to stay on top of everything. It requires much more than information collection. Setbacks and curveballs are inevitable. These hurdles require emotional support and at least an extra pair of hands.

This poses a challenge for singles and couples. More than a one-third of people 65 and older, including nearly half of women, are single; 2 million of these people do not have children and are described as “Solo Agers” by author Sara Geber. In absence of a partner or children, these individuals must create a support network. But it can also be a challenge for couples. It’s unrealistic to expect a spouse to handle all that’s required to help you age successfully. No one person can do it all.

Successful aging is a team sport (Source: National Senior Games)

Creating Your A-Team

A recommended approach is to create your own A-Team. An A-Team may include a talented and committed combination of people ranging from family and friends to professionals and subject matter experts. Here are some of the areas to think about:

  • Social Connection. Who do you enjoy spending time with? Who will help you no matter what? The longer we live, the more likely we will need to rekindle existing friendships and create new ones. We need to find our kin.
  • Exercise Buddies. Exercise is critical for healthy aging, and its powerful effects are even greater if pursued in tandem with others.  Do you have friends to walk or jog the neighborhood?
  • Health Advocate. It’s easy to get lost in our complicated health care system. It is important to have someone looking out for you who has knowledge of your condition and of the health care system. Do you have a family member or friend who can help in this area?
  • Health Care Professionals. A primary care physician who knows your health history, genuinely cares about your health and has access to a network of quality specialists is vital. Consider making an appointment to better get to know your family doctor and provide an update on your current health.
  • Legal Advisor. Getting key documents in order, including a will and health care directives, is essential. Seek recommendations or online resources to make sure key documents are prepared.

Being Part of Someone Else’s A-Team

The best relationships are reciprocal. Consider not just how to build your own A-Team but how to be a member of someone else’s A-Team. Many of us could use help.

There are benefits of being a member of someone else’s A-Team. It can provide purpose which is one of the best predictors of happiness. It can be valuable to be needed and be in a position to help others.

Adult children are often key members of their parents’ A-Team. However, adult children must not assume too much responsibility and make sure that their parents have a team of support. Adult children trying to be a one-person A-Team is a recipe for failure.

Pocket neighborhoods and shared spaces can make it easier to get to know neighbors (Source: Patrick Schreiber)

The Role of Place

Place has a significant role in cultivating your A-Team. At least some members of your A-Team should be local. Face-to-face connections make a difference. It’s impossible to have your A-Team only exist on Facebook.

Consider your community and neighborhood. Do you know your neighbors? Do you have close friends that you can see on a regular basis? For older adults, the best places to live are often where support structures are in place. A lack of sufficient support may be reason enough to trigger a move. Where you live matters, including in finding your A-Team.

The Time is Now to Create Your A-Team

In the famous words of Mr. T, I “pity the fool” who does not make time and effort to assemble an A-Team. To be fair, this is hard work and may require resources. At a minimum, we should recognize the significance of successful aging as a team sport and be resourceful in attracting others to join our journey.

Dr. Cloud points out that people should look to build their team at a young age, as early as their 30s. My A-Team is a work in progress, partially because I recently moved to a new area. I hope my answer to the talk show caller was instructive, but the question was an important reminder for me. I’ve got some work to do and so may you.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.

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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.

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Are you prepared to live to 100?

Are You Prepared to Live to 100?

When Living to 100 is Not Uncommon

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” However, it’s not too challenging to see that many of us will be living longer, often much longer, than previous generations. Remarkably, researchers predict than the first person to live to 150 is alive today. Event Yogi is example of increasingly longevity: he lived to 90 years of age.

We’re on the brink of where living to 100 will not be uncommon. In fact, demographers predict that a child born in the developed world today has a greater than 50% chance of living to be over 100. It’s not just about young people, however. If you’re 65 and healthy, odds are you will live to at least 90 years.

How Do You Plan to Live to 100? Start with Realistic Expectations

How do you plan to live to 100? Carefully (but be flexible!).

We need to be honest with our particular circumstances and range of possible outcomes.  For those nearing traditional retirement age, be realistic about how long you may live and focus on lifestyles that work financially and make you happy overall. For those in mid-life, there will most likely be changes in your job or career and related fluctuations in income. At the same time, it’s good to make an effort to stay in touch with friends while also reaching out to new ones. For those earlier in life, gain an appreciation for the change that will occur over your lifetime and be open to navigating these changes successfully.

In every case, we’re all trailblazers for a new era.

Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott recently tackled this subject in their award winning book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in the Age of Longevity.  With Ms. Gratton’s background as a psychologist and Mr. Scott’s as an economist, the authors – both professors at the London Business School – provide a blended perspective of how to prepare for such a long life. They conclude that how people approach life will change profoundly.

An End to the Three Stage Life 

The traditional stages of life – education, employment and retirement – will end. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has long advocated for reimagining this standard life course as she describes in the video The Big Idea in Four Minutes. She posits that there is an opportunity to work less during the child rearing years and to work more later thereby pushing out the traditional retirement stage. Ms. Gratton and Mr. Scott see the same thing: life will become multi-staged and transitions will become the norm. Visionaries like Marc Freedman and his colleagues at Encore.org are helping create a stage after one’s work career but before retirement which they call the “encore career.” Encore.org encourages people to use their gifts and experience to help society at large, increasingly in an intergenerational context.

The Role of Work and Financial Planning

The nature of work will change. With technology disruption around the corner, such as with artificial intelligence, machine learning and other advances, people will need to evolve to make sure that their skills fit with the needs of the workplace. Job changes are already changing at an accelerated path: LinkedIn found that Millennials have switched jobs at twice the rate of GenX.

One of the likely outcomes is that more people will work beyond traditional retirement age. Signs indicate that this is already happening (see graph below). Given pressures on pensions and social security, it is unlikely that government will be able to provide the same benefits prior generations received, particularly in the context of longer lives. More of the responsibility will fall on individuals to navigate financial security in this new era. Indeed, the power of compounding returns – applied to the spread between income and expenses – becomes even more significant over the course of a long life.

Percentage of People Working for US and UK 64 years and over
Source: The 100 Year Life

Note the Impact of Compounding Returns for Many Aspects of Life

While getting finances squared away is critical, there is much more to succeed in long life planning than having a proper nest egg.  A key part of the equation is having properly invested in other elements of life. Are you able to have a clear purpose at each stage of life? Do you have relationships to support you in your journey? Are you actively caring for your health? Much like compounding investment returns, good habits in these areas can ultimately have an outsized impact in your overall well-being.

Valuing the Importance of Place

The role of place – or “Power of Place” as outlined in a SmartLiving 360 blog from last year – is an important element, too. The right living situation can strengthen our social connections and reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness. There is simply no equal to regular, face-to-face interaction with people who know and care for you; and certain neighborhoods, for example, are conducive to creating such relationships.

Further, the right housing can keep us healthy. For example, about 1/3 of older adults fall each year leading to over 700,000 hospital visits. Most of these falls occur within homes which is not surprising given that less than 5% of all housing stock is designed with features accommodating people of moderate mobility difficulties. Fortunately, new, attractive housing options designed for people of all ages are emerging.

What’s My Next Step? 

Where do you go from here? For some, talking to your financial planner is a good next step to make sure the key assumptions driving your plan are conservative and account for the odds of increasing longevity. There are several free online financial tools that can assist in this, too.

But the opportunity is broader. Ms. Gratton and Mr. Scott have created a website to accompany their book: www.100yearlife.com. This website includes a diagnostic tool to help evaluate your readiness across several dimensions, including those that are tangible, such as your finances, and those that are intangible, such as the strength of your friendships. Designing Your Life, a NY Times best-selling book by a couple of Stanford professors, is also a useful guide and was the subject of a SmartLiving 360 blog (“Design Thinking for Your Life”).

I would expect more and better tools to emerge in the future to help properly plan and execute on these plans in the context of an increasingly long life.

A Mindset to Thrive, Not Just Survive

The most important step is to have a mindset to see these extra years as a gift – in the form of thousands of days as compared to prior generations – and one worth planning for and embracing. While we learn to seize this opportunity, we should also an effort to educate the next generation as this trend will impact them even more.

Design Thinking for Your Life

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As 2016 draws to a close, many of us will reflect on the year that was and the year ahead. For some, this will involve New Year’s resolutions. This was often the case for my family growing up. However, as one considers bigger life changes, a simple new year’s goal may not be the best approach.

Impact and Opportunities Provided by Increasing Longevity

As we benefit from unprecedented increases in longevity – experts believe the first person to live to 150 is alive today – life’s chapters can be written very differently than in past generations. It’s not as simple as grow up, go to college, work and retire.  In fact, an increasing number of people are not looking to retire at any age. Others simply can’t afford to retire at sixty-five. And, for those who are younger, there is an opportunity to fundamentally rethink about how to allocate time by life stage. (Here’s a four minute video that looks into the implications and opportunities.)

Making the most of our lives in an era of increasing longevity is a complex problem. Fortunately, there are innovative people helping out. These people are taking tools that have worked for other complex problems and applying them to our lives. One of these tools is Design Thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking has brought us the computer mouse, among other famous breakthrough innovations. Design Thinking, according to Wikipedia, is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result. It is centered on a users’ needs and preferences and is anchored in learning from real users’ feedback often through quickly and inexpensively assembled prototypes. Design Thinking started in the engineering field but has now influenced business more generally.

Design Thinking for Your Life

Now Design Thinking is being applied to one’s life. In the recently released Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, outline a process for using Design Thinking principles to build—design—a life one can thrive in, at any age or stage. Mr. Burnett, a professor at Stanford’s d.School, and Mr. Evans, a seasoned hi-tech entrepreneur and executive, teach “Designing Your Life”, one of the most popular elective classes at Stanford. Their book brings these ideas to a much larger audience, including those from a wide variety of life stages.

The initial step is to identify the problem with a Life Design Assessment which involves creating a Health/Work/Play/Love dashboard. After this assessment, the next step is to create a Lifeview (simply one’s ideas about the world and how it works) and then to observe one’s life through journal exercises to see what areas of life provide greatest engagement and energy. Next, there is ideation (i.e., efforts to brainstorm in a semi-structured way around possible directions) and then to begin prototyping specific actions because the best learning is by doing. Lessons from these prototypes provide feedback for future directions.

Design Thinking at Work at Smart Living 360

We used Design Thinking methods in creating the first Smart Living 360 community, The Stories at Congressional Plaza in Rockville, Maryland. We partnered with graduate students studying Design Thinking at the The University of Virginia Darden School of Business and Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to create, test and iterate on some of our physical design, marketing & leasing approaches and delivery of services. Critical to this was for the students to spend time in people’s homes to better understand what they may be looking for when ‘rightsizing’ to an apartment community in a walkable mixed-use setting.

Ironically, a number of our residents employed Design Thinking principles in deciding to move to The Stories. One recent resident, a recruiting executive, felt that she was isolated and had too much space to maintain in a three story townhome. Curious to see what else was available in the market, she discovered The Stories and was drawn to its design and efficient use of space, community-orientation and affordable and predictable cost. She signed a short term lease to try it out but expects to sign a longer term lease in the future. She is “prototyping” this new lifestyle and is very pleased with the results.

As people engage in life planning exercises, it’s entirely possible, even likely in certain cases, that changes in living environments will be a natural outcome.

Practice What You Preach

A recent new year goal for my Dad was to create a life plan. He’s made progress but he’s not there yet. My Christmas gift is to help him finish out a plan, using Designing Your Life as our guide. Who knows; maybe it will help my parents think through the best living environment for them in the years ahead.

On Purpose


It’s That Time of Year

This is commencement speech time.  Some of my favorites are the fictitious “Wear Sunscreen” commencement speech from the late ‘90s (which was later tuned into a song), Steve Jobs “How to Live Before You Die” at Stanford in 2005 (viewed over 8 million times on YouTube) and, from this year, Atul Gawande’s talk to CalTech on the importance of scientific thinking for all of us.  In our age of constant connectivity through text messages, tweets and facebook posts, these commencement speeches perhaps have never been more important to help us slow down for a moment and focus on what’s most important.  This time for reflection often points us to our purpose.

However, as much as thoughtful and inspiring commencement speeches are provocative, it feels like something larger is happening.  It seems like the narrative of finding one’s purpose is of increasing importance for people of all ages.  Indeed, Millennials have developed a reputation for seeking purpose in their jobs, not just a paycheck.  As Boomers enter retirement age, they, too, are increasingly looking at ways to use their gifts to make a difference, rather than just exit stage left from society.

Purpose Matters

The research community has an opinion on purpose.  It matters.  Dr. Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, points out in the video The Big Idea in 4 Minutes – Coming of Age In Aging America that “there isn’t anything in the psychology literature that suggests that it’s good for people to go on vacation for decades.”  People need purpose.  And, with purpose, people are more likely to look out for their health and well-being.  According to a research paper “Purpose in life and use of preventative health care services” by Kim, Stecher and Ryff, people with greater purpose are also more likely to be proactive in taking care of their health, including being more likely to pursue preventative health care services, such as flu shots, cholesterol tests, etc.  In other words, having greater purpose can be both better for the individual and for our society.

Institutions Supporting a Movement

Have a Purpose - Metropolitan College - 6-16Institutions are recognizing this greater sensitivity to purpose and are providing onramps.  Colleges, such as Metropolitan College of New York with their “Why just a have a job? Have a Purpose” campaign, are signaling to prospective students that their curriculum will help them find purpose.  Stanford University started the Distinguished Careers Institute, founded by Dr. Philip Pizzo, to attract established leaders eager to deepen their knowledge and/or embrace new fields and reflect on their life journeys, explore new pathways and redirect their lives for the common good.  AARP has a separate division called Life Reimagined and has created a set of tools, including a “LifeMap” to help people of all ages discover their purpose and create a plan of action.

Housing that Increases Purpose

Housing can have a critical role in increasing purpose, too.  At Smart Living 360, we believe that residential communities can be a catalyst for people to find greater purpose.  We encourage residents to share their goals and aspirations with others in the community.  We facilitate friendships between residents and provide opportunities for people to help each other use their unique gifts, which is particularly powerful in an intergenerational context.  We have relationships with life coaches and host workshops on life planning.  We have connections with local groups for volunteering opportunities.  (If you’re wondering how we achieve these lofty goals then check out the three minute fast pitch talk at the Encore conference earlier this year.  It outlines in greater detail my vision for creating communities of purpose.)

We all benefit from the momentarily lift of an inspirational commencement talk. But the real opportunity is to have purpose more wired into our day-to-day actions.  Research demonstrates that it is good for our health and our society.  So let’s get going!

Well Being


Longevity: Nature vs. Nurture?

My grandparents had a strong influence on my life.  My maternal grandfather, “Ace” as his basketball teammates used to call him, wrote scores of letters to me and encouraged me to play hoops which I still enjoy today.  From Pittsburgh, my paternal grandfather, an academic researcher and owner of dozens of patents, influenced my interest in innovation and sparked my loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Of course, one of the reasons they had a big impact was that they lived long and healthy lives.  Each of my grandparents lived past age 75 with my paternal grandmother living into her early 90s.  My parents are also healthy and are in their early 70s.  I feel blessed to have good genes and to have comfort that I am predisposed to also live a long, healthy life.

Or so I thought.  Actually, it turns out that as we get older, our lifestyle is more important than our DNA in influencing the length and quality of our life.  Yes, as Dr. Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, points out in her book, A Long Bright Future, “except in extreme cases — when an inherited illness causes family members to die before age 60 — ancestral longevity isn’t a very important predictor of individual longevity.”

In short, as you age, your lifestyle is more important than your DNA.

While this may be disappointing to people like me with good genes, I think it is a net positive for all of us.  It means that we really can influence the trajectory of our lives though our life choices.


Well-Being 101

So what is lifestyle?  What do good choices look like?

One approach is to focus on well-being.

Bill Novelli, a professor at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP – and moderator of The Future of Housing For Grown-Ups: A National and Local Perspective hosted at The Stories (read a summary of this event in Forbes), first introduced me to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.  This self-reported index focused on five areas:

  1. Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  2. Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  3. Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  4. Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  5. Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

The index has been tracking well-being along these measures since 2008 and has data from over 2 million surveys.  In its most recent survey, among the largest 190 metropolitan markets nationwide, Naples, FL ranked first and Charleston, West Virginia scored the lowest.

Well-being is of increasing interest.  To an individual, as mentioned above, it can help influence the trajectory of your life.  To companies, improved well-being can reduce employee health costs.   To health systems and our government, higher well-being across a population can help manage health care costs as we move from fee for service to value based health care as part of the affordable care act.


Rethinking the Role of Housing

Sometimes, we think of housing as simply a place to just hang our hat, but it can be so much more.  What if housing played a key role in elevating personal well-being and such options were available for people of all ages and stages and income levels?  What would this look like?

I believe it starts with an intentional physical blueprint as well as an intentional culture to help bring out the best in each person.  Physical design elements, such as spacious and well-located common spaces, can help promote social connection.   Universal design features and state-of-the-art fitness centers in a walkable location can help improve physical health.  Resident-led programming and greater connectivity to each other can help people feel a greater sense of pride and security in their community.  Greater ties to resources in the local community – often facilitated by some onsite staff – can also elevate purpose (see my three minute fast pitch talk at the 2016 Encore Conference on the opportunities to create communities of purpose).  If thoughtfully and efficiently conceived, such an environment can be fiscally wise, too.

With so many changes and advances in our culture, this is an exciting time to rethink the role of housing.  It can become a foundation for personal well-being and have an impact on all of us ranging grandparents to empty nesters to young families to young couples to singles.  As my grandfather, Ace, would often pen to me, this is an exciting time to be alive.

Mainstreet Map


Carlota might be the most well-read person I ever met. Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, among others, seem to be her friends. She seemed to literally exist in some of her favorite books.

Carlota was an older neighbor growing up. Sadly, outside of her housekeeper, my mom, sister and I seemed to be the only other people that visited her. She lived in a single family home in the suburbs but was invisible to many. At some point along the way, she would have had a better life in a different living environment.


About 75% of people 65 and older live in the suburbs and the vast majority of these people live in single family homes. One challenge is that many of these older homes were not designed with older adults in mind. There are complications related to stairs, antiquated bathrooms and kitchens, and other features of older homes. It can be complicated and expensive to retrofit. Home maintenance is a hassle and often expensive; some costs, such as for a new roof, can be substantial and unexpected – not good for people on fixed income. These homes are often not energy efficient and equipping them with the latest technology can be very challenging and, sometimes, not feasible.

But challenges extend beyond the physical environment. Most suburban homes are not close to services and amenities; they were designed with the car in mind. Therefore, people need to drive to Main Street or The City often to get things they need. This distance coupled with the geographic dispersion of single family homes makes it difficult for services to be delivered efficiently to the home.

But the biggest challenge is that of isolation: individual isolation. Researchers tells us that isolation is more dangerous to your health than smoking.

As neighborhoods change, social networks change and it is not unusual for older adults to not be as socially connected as they once were. This was certainly the case with Carlota.


Carlota had no interest in moving from her home. There were a few reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason was that she couldn’t imagine moving miles away to live just with old people. She got a thrill when our young family would visit; she didn’t want to lose this connection. See, she couldn’t fathom moving into Shady Acres.


The primary option we provide for older adults is Shady Acres, the retirement home miles away on the hill where all the old people live. Here, even more so than a suburban home, you are far away from Main Street and The City. It just doesn’t feel like home. For many, there can be a sense of giving up control. Even just giving up.

But the challenges go beyond location and mindset. Shady Acres often tries to recreate Main Street. There are multiple dining venues, beauty salons, programming spaces and so on. It’s expensive to build and even more expensive to staff and maintain. Correspondingly, it is expensive to live in Shady Acres. Particularly as we enter an era where pensions are less prevalent, few people can afford Shady Acres.

But the biggest problem is that it is separate and apart from society. It’s all old people. See the biggest challenge is also isolation: institutional isolation.

What if we flipped things upside down? What if, instead of being far away, we created housing environments for grown ups that were amidst people of all ages? What if, instead of having people on their own for services or paying for bundled services they didn’t want or need, we created a way for services to come when they were needed? What if, instead of dated single family homes or outmoded floorplans at Shady Acres, we created an attractive, forward thinking built environment that support health & well-being?

What if we could trade isolation for connection?

What would “Sunny Mid-Rise” look like in walkable, mixed-use, intergenerational environment?

We’ll explore this further next month.



Ryan & Betty Cobb - 9-22-15At age 29, I did something a bit unusual.  I moved into a retirement community.  I left Silicon Valley with the notion that there was an opportunity to improve the quality of lives of older adults through innovation.  I figured there was no better place to start to learn about older adults than to live among them.  I headed to Atlanta.


I have always had a fondness for older adults, or “senior citizens” as my grandparents and their peers didn’t mind being called.   Though we lived across the country from my extended family, I was close to my grandparents, especially my mom’s father who routinely wrote me long letters about life.  He must have spent hours on these letters – hunting and pecking for the right letter on his well-worn typewriter.  His letters on the Great Depression were particularly detailed.  I have kept them all and, from time to time, I re-read them.  I often wish I read these letters a little closer when I was younger.

But the most impactful life experience that fueled my interest in older adults was a buddy program established by my sixth grade teacher, Marge Zellner.  Through her program, we played the recorder and sat down with residents of Lytton Gardens, an Assisted Living community in Palo Alto.  I was matched with Melba Rowlands.  Melba was blind but otherwise healthy.   She had no immediate family in the area. We filled a void for each other. While the program was intended to be just for sixth grade, I so enjoyed my time and relationship with Melba that we met regularly for three years, until I was absorbed in the demands and distractions of high school.


Even though it was only for a few weeks, I couldn’t talk my wife into joining me in living in the retirement community.  I warned her of the risks.  Sure enough, I was the only male on my floor and only person under 75.  The ladies loved me.  Cookies, brownies, love notes streamed in.  I had a number of meals with my friend, Betty Cobb.  Betty loved living in a retirement community.  She loved the comradery.  She loved all her meals in the dining room.  She loved bingo.  Just like my grandparents, she didn’t mind being called a senior.

One day, I got a call from my mom.  I could tell she was concerned.  She was wondering what career path would involve living in a retirement community.  This was not the life she envisioned for her son. Thinking quickly on my feet I said “Mom, I’m doing this for you.  I’m trying to create a place that you’d want to live in.” She felt relieved but also empowered.  She said, “Good because I’m not moving into one of those communities when I get older. I want be around people of all ages, not just old people.  I can’t possibly imagine going to the same dining room every day.  I don’t play bingo.  And don’t dare call me a senior.”  Do you know anyone that feels that way?


Sure, Betty and my mom are from different generations and have different preferences.   But’s it’s so much more than that. We’re entering a new era of longevity. If you are 65 and healthy & educated, odds are you are going to live past 90.  It’s a whole 25 years beyond traditional retirement.

But it’s not just about older people; we’re all living longer.  They say the first person to live to 150 years is alive today.  It’s crazy. It’s difficult to understand the full ramifications of this change.  Researchers are telling us that your lifestyle is more important than your DNA.  It turns out that how long your parents lived isn’t a very important predictor of individual longevity.  It’s becoming more about choosing a lifestyle than enhances your well-being.  This is something that’s important at any age.  If we’re now blessed with these extra years, the real goal, I believe, should be to make these years the most rewarding and fulfilling as possible, not just exist and wait to die.

In the next blog post, I will explore the current housing options for today’s older adults and how they tend to suffer from a common and significant challenge: isolation.  I will also introduce a new approach – one that is anchored on connection and integration into the broader community.


FrederickMom-200x300You didn’t hear it from me but two years ago my mom turned 70 years old. While she may qualify for “senior” discounts, don’t make the mistake of calling her a senior.  Even the word ‘grammy’ is reserved for just three people, all of whom are presently ten years old and younger. See, she will not let herself be defined by her age or supposed limitations. She is constantly looking for ways to learn, grow and find new areas of purpose. Take technology for example. Several years ago she didn’t have a cell phone. Now she has a laptop, iPhone 6 and fitbit. She’s ready to Skype on a moment’s notice. She’s even been recruited by an Apple Store to teach a class on genealogy using Apple products.

She plans to rewrite “retirement”; her post-full-time work years will look far different for her than for her mother.

One of the gifts of our modern age is increased longevity. In 1900, life expectancy for woman was 51 and increased by approximately 30 years by the end of the century. Today it is 82. Some predict that by 2050 it will be 87. And, for those healthy today at age 65, they can expect to live at least until the age of 90.

The main stream media has caught a hold of this trend. There has been a litany of recent newspaper and magazines articles exploring this topic. A recent Time magazine cover article featured a baby with the caption “This Baby Could Live to be 142 years.” Feature articles in the Atlantic Monthly have explored the upside and downside of this phenomenon, most notably October 2014’s cover article “What Happens When We All Live to 100?.” The Wall Street Journal has a periodic section and portion of their website dedicated to older adults called Encore.

However, nothing more succinctly captures the implications of increased longevity than the “The Big Idea in 4 min – Coming of Age in an Aging America” produced by PBS.

All these analyses point to profound impact for all us. Our government institutions – including but not limited to Social Security, Medicare and US Housing & Urban Development Department (HUD) – need to change. It also means we will have to change the way we think about financial management, career planning, health & wellness, housing, health care and so on. We will also have to get more comfortable embracing technology and the ever rapid pace of change associated with it.

But none of the implications are more significant than how we view and structure our life course. With good fortune – and a healthy lifestyle – many of us will be granted new chapters in life and opportunities for greater significance and purpose. What we will we do with this opportunity?

Smart Living 360 was created for people who wish to lean into these new opportunities associated with increased longevity. I have spoken with many dozens of people about these shifts. I have met with people in their homes, at coffee shops and at conferences. I have partnered with design thinking programs at Hopkins/MICA and Darden to ascertain insights. I firmly believe that we are on the cusp of new ways of living and being for literally millions of people. People just don’t want to do life the same way prior generations did.

Smart Living 360 is a development and operating company focused on delivering innovative living experiences with a particular emphasis on well-being. We believe that many people wish to rewrite the standard life course, opting for a life of ongoing engagement, purpose and growth. We create inspired homes in walkable, intergenerational mixed-use urban and suburban areas.

This blog will explore many of the dimensions of living an inspired life at any age. We will look at strategies and stories of those who have embraced next chapter living. We will look at tactics for successful well-being. We will report on the ever increasing role of technology. We’ll see how many of these factors play a crucial role in one’s optimal living environment. We believe the best is yet to come. My mom certainly believes this.

We welcome you to join us in this journey.