Robyn Schein, Senior Director, 21/64
Author Marc Freedman has spent most of his career focused on aging and longevity of our lives. As the Founder and CEO of Encore.org, Marc is a thought leader on finding fulfillment in the encore stage of life. In this book he doesn’t just ask the question of how to live forever but rather how to live a fulfilling a meaningful life particularly as our life expectancy is so much longer than generations before.
Freedman has a simple answer – create and cultivate intergenerational relationships both within and outside our own families. While much has been said about the benefit young people experience when they have a caring adult in their lives, this book sheds light on the great impact these relationships have on the older generations. These relationships give meaning and purpose at a stage of life when it is natural to be pondering mortality and questioning the legacy we leave behind. Freedman writes:
The only true way to endure is to accept our mortality and with it the wisdom that we are species designed to live on . . . just not literally. We do so by passing on from generation to generation, what we’ve learned from life. By investing in and connecting with the next generation, not actually trying to be that generation.
Knowing the mutual benefits of these relationships, the challenge is that they don’t happen as frequently anymore. Freedman calls out that we are living in a time of “age apartheid.” Gone are the days of multiple generations living under one roof. We are experiencing the consequences of senior communities where children only appear when grandchildren visit for a few days at a time. In the workplace, forced retirement ages takes wise people out of the work force. At the same time, we know that both seniors and young people suffer from the highest levels of loneliness and isolation. How do we bring these two groups of people together, if that no longer happen organically and naturally in our society?
To counter this, Freedman shares a myriad of examples across the globe that are intentionally and creatively bring together older and younger generations. My favorite examples include the senior housing development in Cleveland that is located close to the Cleveland Institute of Music. Music students can live rent free in the complex if they agree to play music for the residents and participate in meals and other community events. Or, the app Nesterly that matches empty nesters in the Boston area with Graduate students looking for housing. When generations live in proximity relationships are built that are meaningful to the young people and give great purpose to the older generations.
Freedman also weaves these real world models with his personal experiences living intergenerationally. It is a reminder of the value of relationships – the elderly neighbors who serve as pseudo-grandparents to his children and the professor who helped shape his academic career. These anecdotes give warmth to this well-researched book and serve as examples of things we can be doing in our daily lives to create bonds across generations.
This is a great book if you are working with clients entering their encore stage of life. It increased my empathy for how deep and challenging the search for meaning and purpose is as we age. Yet, the many examples and anecdotes throughout the book provide inspiration and ideas to invest time in intergenerational relationships.