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Getting Too Much of a Good Thing

18 Jul

Stanford Business Center for Innovation recently published an article on how to avoid “Social Good Fatigue” and to be honest it rang a bell with me. While my work still motivates me more than anything else I do in my life, I still feel sometimes I must try something else.

The article argues that social entrepreneurs live in a state of permanent emotional drain produced by dealing with people and problems all the time, selling hope and mobilizing others to create change. Creating change is never a straightforward event, we deal with complex issues requiring complex solutions. People prefer to stick with simple resolutions. The social entrepreneur is always dealing with urgent issues. In our case, we often deal with life and death issues, knowing that if we slow down some people are going to go without assistance that they often need to stay alive. This means that the rest of our lives get a back seat. My husband constantly argues that I do not have time for him or for the family. He is right. Because we concentrate so much on one issue, we often stop learning and growing, stop taking side roads, smelling flowers, enjoying the family, reading a good book. We are in a constant state of flux, that success often contains the seeds of failure. When I look at my journey, I see this so clearly, every success I have had has been followed by failure. I cannot forget that every single innovation has been met with failure to begin with. We get used to this, but it is consuming.

The article spells out several remedies to this “burn-out” syndrome. Most of them I have followed during my 17 years of being a social entrepreneur. Particularly during the past four years I have made time to reach out to friends, particularly childhood friends. Our conversations have nothing in common and perhaps that is the beauty of it all. We talk about things of no consequence. I engage in a lot of physical activity. I get up at 4:00 a.m., do a half hour of yoga, and then put my scull on the water and row for two hours. I have been doing this for 10 years, and I find that rowing in the dark allows me to meditate, calm my mind, and re-arrange things. I hope I am never forced to give this up. I am also planning my trip to Nepal, something I have been trying to do for many years. I know that if I wait longer, I may not be able to physically do it. Whatever I want to do, I do today.

I have told my daughter that I would like to retire in two years because I have a new idea that I want to develop before I leave this world. It is when you let go of things that you are truly creative and it is in this process of creation that I feel best. After all, like the article says, “You never conquer the mountain, you can only conquer yourself.”

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I do not fit in that pigeon hole

31 Oct

I have always had a problem with how we arbitrarily place individuals in neat categories for the sake of understanding them. With time stereotypes are developed and when we speak about a certain individual what we remember is the stereotype. I believe in the timeless relevance of people, whatever their age, whatever their background. I am more relevant to others today at age 67 than I was when I was 25 years old, and yet, most people think that I should retire, that I have completed my life cycle. This is a shame. Individuals like me have so much to contribute given their life experience. Although we have made great progress in changing the way others see older adults there is still much to be done. Ageism, a phrase used to denote prejudice against older adults, is alive and well in this country and others. Recent articles present us as selfish and greedy. I take great exception to Joel Kotkin’s article in Newsweek, Are Millennials the Screwed Generation? (July 16, 2012) in which he claims that we have screwed the young generation by taking away jobs by not retiring when we ought to. In my case, the opposite is true.

I am still working and do not plan to retire anytime soon. I created my own company fifteen years ago. The last ten years have been the most productive years of my life. I have been able to better provide for my family, create hundreds of new jobs, change the way we care for low-income seniors in this country and improved the lives of thousands of seniors by providing affordable housing and services to them. I feel more relevant and satisfied than ever before. But make no mistake, I am not exceptional. Thousands of individuals like me are changing the world so that the next generation has it better than us.

In 2006 I was awarded the first Purpose Prize, an award given to those over the age of 60 that have made great contributions to society. Every year since then, awards have been granted to those who have made unique contributions to the welfare of children, young disabled adults, service men returning from wars, reversing climate change, opening the doors to young adults to go to college, among others. It is an impressive group of individuals wishing to leave their mark on this world for the betterment of others. Being among them makes you wonder why we are so vilified and unrecognized. I must conclude that it has to do with the historical phenomena global aging. Never in the history of our world have seniors outnumbered teenagers two to one. Because we have limited resources, this event has pitted young against old.

It is time to set the record straight and the media can do so much. I welcome the New York Times’ recent Boomers website (Booming, Living Through the Middle Ages; http://topics.nytimes.com/top/features/timestopics/series/booming/index.html) where we can begin shattering stereotypes and think of life as having no age but timeless relevance.

Do I want to live forever?

30 Aug

I’m not alone when I say that I would like to live long enough to see my grandchildren become young adults, but only if I am in good health. There are many in my generation that feel the same way. Much has been written about the potential longevity of the baby boomer generation and the effects it will have on entitlement programs like social security and Medicare. However, recent studies present a different picture. According to a University of Illinois study baby boomers will not live longer than their parents have despite the healthcare improvements, new drugs and the long 20th century experience of ever-rising life expectations; the culprit – factors like elevated rates of obesity, cancer and suicide.

Another study by Rice University claims that it would be a mistake to project longevity gains of the last century throughout this one. Health status of the baby boom versus the preceding generation reveals that they are in worse shape. There is a higher propensity to suicide particularly for those in their 40’s, a time when those rates typically head down. And then there is the ‘Big C’. The post war generation has a higher rate of cancer at younger ages than the previous generation. Women of this generation are the heaviest smoking cohort in U.S. history and they are now suffering its effects.

Obesity among boomers is linked to rising disability and serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease. However, the true impact on longevity that obesity has cannot be seen until we get older. Socioeconomic factors will also significantly impact longevity. It is a well-known fact that rich people live longer than poor people do. We know that the gap between rich and poor keeps widening in this country and that the impoverishment of individuals keeps creeping up. The most at risk, of course, are Latinos and Blacks who swell the ranks of those living under the poverty level. They will see drastic declines in health status over the years.

The moral of the story is that in order to live longer we must have been blessed with good genes and the absence of major health problems, a socioeconomic position that allowed us to have access to preventive healthcare and live healthier lives, otherwise it makes no sense to live forever.