Updated: Nov 3
I was privileged to spend last week at Chip Conley, Christine Sperber, and Jeff Hamaoui’s “Modern Elders Academy” in Baja Mexico. In addition to an incredible 5-day designed experience, at Chip’s generous invitation the trip also doubled as a honeymoon for my wife Jayanti and me. The whole experience checked-off many wonderful elements: Sun; Sand; Ocean (and whales too, no doubt ordered up by Chip); A cohort of fascinating people; And a respite in the rush of living:
Let’s be clear about something -- when you are invited to a retreat like this (whose tag line is “Midlife isn’t a crisis. It’s a calling”), you first have to acknowledge a frontier in your life: Amid all your busy-ness, the demands of job and home and family, despite your denials, workouts, skin-care products and other age-defying efforts… you must come face-to-fact with being a middle-aged person.
As I boarded the plane and practiced my “introverts’-breathing-for-crowded-travel” exercise (yes, I made that up many years ago), I said to myself, “OK Brad, you are going to a midlife empowerment retreat. Midlife. Hang out with that for a moment.”
Of course, I had known that mid-life had arrived several years ago when the face recognition on my iPhone began to consistently fail to recognize me in the mornings. And I was viscerally reminded of it more starkly when I was diagnosed with cancer in my late 40s, accelerating considerations of my own mortality, as that kind of news does for us all.
These are the sorts of things we middle-agers start including in our outer and inner-lives. It happens gradually at first and then picks up speed as we narrate new self-stories about who we are in the world. As I explore in my book, Designing Transformative Experiences:
“Our narratives are the apertures through which we experience life. They are our living stories.”
And at middle age, those stories will either be generated by design or default. What happens when we consciously design them?
Enter Chip’s Modern Elder Academy (MEA), built upon a brilliant notion… that we can and we should be intentional and attentional authors of these new narratives as we “enter into our second adulthood,” as Jeff Hamaoui so eloquently put it to us this past week.
What does it take to do this? Well for starters, it helps to press the pause button in your life and journey to a beautiful place (designed by one of the world’s foremost hospitality experts and entrepreneurs). Pause buttons can also be found on the yoga mat, the evening bike ride, or even at the local coffee shop, of course.
But more than that, it takes a sense of community forging a collective wisdom through our togethering. Our community was comprised of the facilitators for the week, including Vanessa Inn (as guest faculty), Jeff Hamaoui, Thérèse O'Neill, Caitlin Allen, (and other excellent support staff), and our cohort -- some 20 people from all walks of life, each contributing to an exploration of this mid-life thing and what we want to do with it.
On day one, we offered up our intentions for the week to the Pacific Ocean, writing them big and bold in the sand. Mine was “Connection .” And I certainly found that – with connection to Chip and Jeff and Vanessa, with connection to my excellent cohort compadres who I know will remain in contact till forever, and also connection with quieter identities within myself – voices that clearly chorused, “Well, it’s about time you took a break and welcomed us home.”
I love to ask in my workshops with leaders, “What are we doing? How and why are we doing it? And WHO are we becoming as we do it?” MEA invited us to ask these same kinds of questions about ourselves in this mid-life journey. As we travel from the shadows of our former selves in childhood and younger adulthood, into a new birth of possible selves that will carry us into our aging future… how do we want to be intentional in that path?
From Vanessa’s offering of a cosmic consciousness perspective and the confrontation of fears to Jeff’s robust spirit of inquiry into the practices of generosity and regeneration as elders… these were conversations worth having. And asking the important questions is, in my humble opinion, much more important than conjuring the “right” answers.
The idea of becoming an elder in our society is new to me. I can’t say the clothes fit perfectly. But as I watch my kids grow and my iPhone gets better at recognizing me… I think I’ll hang out with this idea for a while… a few decades at least!
Did I mention it was also my honeymoon? That’s a special type of connection that Baja held for us – and the subject of a different blog. Thank you MEA for a swim in the deepening waters of this mid-life adventure.
To learn more about the Modern Elders Academy, visit: https://www.meawisdom.com