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What is a ‘Modern Elder’?

3 min read

Experience is making a comeback in the workplace. At a time when power is shifting younger, companies are finally waking up to the value of the humility, emotional intelligence and wisdom that come with age for good judgment and specialized knowledge, as well as the ability to collaborate and coach, never expire.

Bringing ‘elder’ back

At age 52, after selling the company he founded and ran as CEO for 24 years, rebel boutique hotelier Chip Conley was looking at an open horizon in midlife. Then he received a call from the young founders of Airbnb, asking him to help grow their disruptive start-up into a global hospitality giant. He had the industry experience, but Conley was lacking in the digital fluency of his 20-something colleagues. He didn’t write code, or have an Uber or Lyft app on his phone, was twice the age of the average Airbnb employee, and would be reporting to a CEO young enough to be his son. Conley quickly discovered that while he’d been hired as a teacher and mentor, he was also in many ways a student and intern. What emerged is the secret to thriving as a mid-life worker: learning to marry wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to evolve, all hallmarks of the “Modern Elder.”

Elderly refers solely to years lived on the planet, while ‘elder’ refers to what we do with those years – the author of the book ‘Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder‘ and founder of MEA – The Modern Elder Academy, Chip Conely explains-. Many people age without synthesizing wisdom from their experience, but modern elders reflect on what they’ve learned and incorporated it into their relationships with younger generations. A modern elder doesn’t assume ‘reverence’ but is instead curious with a desire for learning, connection, understanding and ‘relevance’ as both mentor and intern, sage and student, teacher and learner, all at the same time. We believe we’re all modern elders in the making.

Whether you’ve been forced to make a mid-career change, are choosing to work past retirement, or are struggling to keep up with the bright Millennials rising up the ranks, his book will help you write your next chapter. Part manifesto and part playbook, it ignites an urgent conversation about ageism in the workplace, calling on us to treat age as we would other types of diversity. In the process, Conley liberates the term “elder” from the stigma of “elderly,” and inspires us to embrace wisdom as a path to growing whole, not old. 

‘Adolescence’ and ‘retirement’ were 20th century inventions. In the ‘Modern Elder’ stage emerging today we’re searching for meaning, not retirement. True modern elders – he says-, aren’t babysitters. They bring consistently good judgment; insight that is authentic; high emotional intelligence; a commitment to stewardship; and at a time of uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, an ability to connect the dots and see things more clearly, including the dangers ahead.


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The Modern Elder Academy

It’s the world’s first ‘midlife wisdom school’ dedicated to helping people navigate the various transitions that happen in the middle of one’s life, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Programs are based on Chip Conley’s book and are designed to connect you to your relevance and your skills to shift your mindset around what might come next in your life.  The Academy provides 5- and 7-day all-inclusive workshops at their awe-inspiring beachfront campus in the heart of Baja California Sur, Mexico. Their unique curriculum includes classroom learning as well as bread baking and breaking, impromptu dance parties, cultural experiences, morning meditations, and surreal sunsets. The experience supports the attendees (called “compadres,” whose average age is 52) as they navigate this midlife journey and reframe a lifetime of experience. They receive a Certificate in Mindset Management, and emerge feeling more relevant, resilient, adaptable, and empowered to create what’s next.

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