March 9, 2019

A Gap Year Supports The Making of a "Modern Elder"

Center for Interim Programs
Ever since the Center for Interim Programs (Interim) opened its gap year counseling doors in 1980, we have worked not only with students but also older adults.

Chip Conley's latest book, "Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder" highlights the importance of continuing to recreate one's life, or, as he puts it in his Chapter 8 title, "Rewire, Don't Retire".  He suggests that we adults "Reconsider a Gap Year" and quotes Holly Bull, President of Interim, as follows, "...we see an increasing number of adults who aren't completely retired. They are looking for a new direction and asking themselves what they want to do for the rest of their lives."

Rewiring can take many directions and here are experiences that some of Interim's "Modern Elder" Gappers have taken:

  • A college administrator engaging in service work in Europe and South Africa which inspired her revised career as travel guide for college students
  • Wildlife conservation work and photography in Africa supporting a semi-retired man's move from NJ to CA and new business as a photographer
  • A business man unhappy in his NYC job shifting to work in animal conservation after exploring conservation projects worldwide
  • A doctor taking a break to explore Ayurvedic medicine in Nepal and bringing back an expanded and more personal approach to working with his patients
  • A retired banker exploring various writing workshops in Paris and North Carolina, along with short stints volunteering at a Scottish castle, teaching children in South Africa, and working with elephants, now writing travel blogs and inspiring her friends and colleagues with her dynamic "rewirement"

In September of 2018, Conley, as Strategic Advisor for Hospitality and Leadership at Airbnb, published his book based upon his recent work experiences and discoveries. In this day and age, it's not uncommon for corporate leaders to author books that offer advice and make recommendations about succeeding in business; however, what separates Conley's work, and makes it stand out from what we might normally expect, is the focus of the content and the audience. Today, as Conley is quick to point out, new startup companies are designing and developing their products using rapidly evolving computer and information technologies. These technologies are the expert arena of our young, - sometimes very young - professionals and are not normally considered an area that employs and relies upon more mature workers in their 50s and beyond, or even in their 40s. So, where does the "Modern Elder" fit in? 

Conley, now 58 years of age, was contacted in 2013 at the age of 52 by the young founders of Airbnb asking if there was some way that he could help them grow their disruptive startup. Conley had recently sold his stake in Joie de Vivre Hospitality where he was the CEO for twenty-four years and considered an expert in the hospitality world. He quickly saw that he was about twice the age of the average Airbnb employee and knew nothing about the technology with which they created their products. What took him a bit longer to realize, and where the title and lessons of his book soon emerged, was when he saw that he could marry the wisdom and experience he had, with a curiosity and willingness to learn. He was becoming a "Modern Elder". 

As the CEO of Airbnb points out in Conley's Forward, "we can learn anywhere from anyone" and "we all can belong anywhere in the world". We here at Interim believe this deeply and invariably point our students and adults in directions that teach them these lessons. The lessons that Conley offers are clear: "Leverage your skills and experience to stay not just relevant but indispensable in the modern workplace". He points out that "Modern Elders" have achieved the skill of mastery which can be applied to learning new things, a blend he calls creating the perfect alchemy of wisdom and innocence. "Modern Elders" can show their good judgment, insight, emotional intelligence, holistic thinking, and stewardship while also listening and learning from younger workers around them.

We have the opportunity to become "Modern Elders" when the subject of a necessary change or retirement arises. Gap time offers an ideal way to test the waters of new interests or gain a different array of skills, without having to make a huge commitment until one is clearer about which new direction to take or which interest to pursue further. And it eases the potential shock of going from full time work to no work filling one's days.

Look deeply at your interests. What is it you would most like to learn? Which of your skills might you use? What options might give unifying principles to what you have done before and would like to do? What might you take on or where might you pass along your knowledge and skills? 

Here is where the possibilities presented on Interim's Interest Sheet can assist your search. You can also see examples of what is possible on our Mid and Post Career Sample Programs page. And it is always worth contacting us for a free 90-minute brainstorming session to zero in on your specific interests, time frame, budget, etc. 

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