Living and Leading to 100

A few weeks ago, I posted a query on Facebook, asking if people wanted to live to 100, why or why not. Their responses were more split than I anticipated. Many who knew someone extremely frail or suffering from dementia tended to reply, “No, thank you.” The majority, however, answered affirmatively, with qualifiers. If, as one respondent noted, “If I’m in decent mental and physical health and not a burden to anyone.” Few of us would disagree; the long game must be worth it.

For many there is still the question:

Why would I want to live that long? Is it even a worthy goal?

I would argue yes, for at least three reasons.

Many Gifts Come with Age, Not Youth

Facing our mortality and growing old is a gift. Why? Because when something is limited, it becomes more precious, more valued. With age, we are closer to the fire, so to speak; we have an emerging inner sense that our days are not to be taken for granted. We tend to be less concerned about externalities like what others think, material goods, and benchmarks of success. Savoring this wisdom and sense of contentedness is just one compelling reason to aim for 100 and embrace longevity.

Our Best Years Are Yet to Come

Thanks to advances in technology and medicine, we have the opportunity to compress morbidity, or in layman’s terms, we have the potential for more and more years experiencing wellness and independence. Living to 100 today isn’t so much about tackling frail years on at the end but adding more years of joy, connection, impact and vital health in the middle. Case in point, at 53, my body, mind and spirit were in great shape, but my right hip, not so much. I understood that we have the technology if I chose to put it to work, and that I would be adding decades of hiking, biking, yoga and adventure to my life. I’m happy to report that I can do a split better than some 20-year-olds! In addition, research has shown a U-Curve of Happiness effect. From the age of about 50 onwards, people report being happier. So, in fact, our best years are yet to come.

The Future of Longevity is Now

Truth be told, the question “why live longer” isn’t a fair question. For many (albeit not all) it’s a reality; we are already living longer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans living into their nineties is expected to quadruple by 2050. Demographers predict that as many as half of today’s 5-year-olds can expect to live to the age of 100 in the United States. A century-long life will be a reality for more and more of us, so I’d argue that those respondents who equated increasing age with decreasing quality of life read on and discover how to activate your potential in the later years of your life.

The question now becomes:

How do we create a life of good health, purpose and something to aspire to?

The Stanford Center for Longevity (SCL) has done extensive and exciting work on this very question. With a breadth of cross-disciplinary research and ongoing data collection, SCL addresses the “how” question at the meta-level — looking globally and structurally at policy and infrastructure changes necessary to support our longer lifespans in equitable ways. SCL’s recently published The New Map of Life navigates us toward new models of all the nitty-gritty things that will need to be updated and radically shifted: education and lifelong learning; redesigning how we work; developing new policies for health care, housing, the environment, and financial security. I’m proud to support the big picture shifts that need to happen through my involvement on the SCL Advisory Council. All of us are stakeholders and leaders, from wherever we are, in the seismic shifts outlined by The New Map of Life.

Longevity is Lifespan + Healthspan

Both the New Map of Life and my formula for a life well-lived share an understanding that longevity is not simply a measure of the quantity of years or Lifespan, but it is about the quality or Healthspan of those years. A burgeoning medical specialization known as Lifestyle Medicine is “the systematic practice of assisting individuals and families in adopting and sustaining behaviors that can improve health and quality of life.” We’re all familiar with the idea of preventative care, so why is it significant that our tradition-bound medical system has developed this new area of study and practice? It’s not only because five of the seven leading causes of death in the US can be attributed to chronic, lifestyle-related conditions. Lifestyle medicine recognizes that your physical health, emotional wellbeing, and the accumulated effect of your daily lifestyle choices are inextricably linked.

Health and wellness has become a multi-trillion-dollar industry, with estimates reaching over 8 trillion in just a few years. With everything from Pelotons, FitBits, supplements, fad diets, and far too many other options to mention, embracing responsibility for your health while sifting through the massive information available can feel daunting and is often unnecessarily expensive. However, cultivating your health and wellness doesn’t require expensive participation in that behemoth industry. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Your health and wellness journey can start today, and I’m here to simplify it. In the Five to Thrive process, I unpack the building blocks that ancient traditions and modern research agree bolster your health and wellness. Take the free assessment from which you can create your own micro-ambitious plan.

Purpose and Love Ground and Propel Us

As our recent Facebook quiz taught us, what makes a 100-year life worth living is when it is imbued with an ability to remain independent, with a sense of community, meaning, purpose and joy. To me, the discussion of longevity boils down to this: a life well-lived is not only measured by the number of healthy years you live but by whether or not you thrived in those years. And as social scientists from Victor Frankl to Brene Brown have proven time and again, without a sense of purpose and a capacity to love and be loved, we fail to thrive as humans.

Purpose and the deeply catalyzing force of love ground and propel every single one of us. Purpose, love and connection are central to my work as a leadership coach and a consistent element of what separates the good from the great. So, if we consider any formula for longevity seriously, a sense of purpose and love that bring meaning to this thing called life are required ingredients. You can cheat on a diet, you can get away (for a while at least) without daily exercise, but you can’t shortchange your spiritual and emotional health for long without serious consequences.

Resilience is the Bounce-Back Factor

Resilience is the bounce-back factor, the capacity to prevail in the face of stressors outside your control. Resilience means aiming for a sense of realistic, holistic alignment that is not contingent on your body being perfect or pain-free, unmarred by time, but extends beyond the physical and mental, and into spiritual wellbeing as well. It’s so challenging to cultivate resilience in light of the diet of success stories and routes to that success which we’ve been fed since our childhood. It goes like this: study hard, work harder, make the right connections, prove yourself, do it again. The underlying expectation has been that this recipe will cook up a smoothie of success for life. Yet, life is not a linear path towards ever-ascending destinations. It’s a journey that unavoidably hits detours through mountains and valleys. Those of us who understand and regularly practice strengthening our physical and psychological resilience are those with the right ingredients for a life well-lived. So yes, if we’re talking about living toward 100, resilience will be required. Lots of it!

So, what will you do with your one wild and precious, potentially 100-year life?

love the way the Stanford Center for Longevity frames aging as “a longevity buffet with servings of time.” This begs for the question: what are you hungry for? Ignore the ageist memes and other cultural tropes that result in our missing out on the wisdom of our elders and suffering for that loss.You are needed now, perhaps more than ever. What the world needs now is not only love, sweet love, but wisdom, courage, experience, and a spirit of wanting to do the right thing for the sake of simply doing the right thing.

How can you begin to enjoy the bountiful buffet of vim and vigor, embrace longevity, and use your years on this planet in a more affirming, productive and healthy ways?

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Resilient Leadership Coach, Middlescence Life Stage Expert, Gerontologist, Speaker, Author

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Barbara Waxman

Barbara Waxman

Resilient Leadership Coach, Middlescence Life Stage Expert, Gerontologist, Speaker, Author

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