THE THEMES OF OUR DECADES


Meditation is prime time for a download. On a recent morning, I meditated on my Baja beachfront terrace. Emptying my mind gave space for some wisdom (from who knows what source?!) to download. Then, I did my ritual protein shake and 5-mile barefoot run on the beach while the download started playing in my head (au natural: sans headphones). As has been true so many other times this combo of meditation, protein shake and beach run leads to a revelation of wisdom by the end of my run.

As I talk more about being a “Modern Elder,” I get more young folks asking me to mentor them. Unfortunately, I don’t have the bandwidth in my life to do that but here’s the primary advice I plan to give them after this morning’s download: each decade of your life – adolescent to elder – may have a theme that can define your state of being during that time. Here are my themes, which might apply to you as well…

YEARN (my teens). The yearning of youth can be full of vibrancy and optimism. Our teens are a time for us to imagine – with great hope – what legacy we might leave on this planet. It’s a brilliant time to think big, idealistic thoughts and to visualize what you may become “world-class” at. This is a time in my life when I yearned to be Walt Disney someday (coincidentally, this is Airbnb cofounder/CEO Brian Chesky’s hero, too). Yearn in your teens and you will be full of hope. Yearn in your fifties and you may be full of regret.

LEARN (my twenties). Too many young people graduate college and focus on “Earn” more than “Learn,” sometimes due to student loans, but often due to societal pressure. There’s nothing wrong with working at an investment bank, management consulting firm, or as a tech salesperson. But if you’re doing it primarily for the money, you got your decades mixed-up. Between your college and maybe grad school work and the people you surround yourself with in your first job (focus on who they are and what they’re going to teach you…this is the #1 determinant of where you should work), this is the decade that defines whether you have a “growth mindset” or not. Create a growth mindset at a young age and it will serve you for a lifetime. William Yeats observed, “Education is not filling a pail. It’s lighting a fire.” I took a job out of business school that paid me a $24,000 a year salary when the average in my class was $65,000. But I knew it was going to teach me to be an entrepreneur.

EARN (my thirties). Once you’ve built some learning, you’re likely to grow your earnings as you become a valuable commodity in the marketplace. This is also the period in one’s life when settling down, in a traditional way, costs you some serious dough (buying a home, having a wedding, starting a family). For me, I grew Joie de Vivre from one to twenty-one hotels during this decade including getting city approvals to build the Hotel Vitale, which was our breakthrough project (although it took five more years to design, finance and construct it). As anyone close to me knows, I had almost no cash in the bank during this decade as any money I made was invested back into more hotels and growing the management company.

BURN (my forties). Burn bright or burn out. Sometimes we do both. I think I did both in this decade. People tell me I shined bright as a role model for conscious capitalism during this period and it’s when I wrote five books (over an 11-year period with one of those books just published to my close friends, “Flatline on the Faultline”) and created a speaking career. But, it’s also when I started to realize that a calling can morph into workaholism if the motivation moves from inspiration from within to trying to impress outside of oneself. The more I remembered why I called my company “Joie de Vivre” in the first place, the more I could focus on my calling from within as opposed to my narcissism on the outside. And, the more authentic I was in sharing this slippery slope with others publicly, the more brightly I burned for others.

TURN (my fifties). I sold Joie de Vivre a few months before my 50th birthday as I was ready to “Turn” to new inspirations in my life, especially around writing and speaking. But, as I created more space in my life, my curiosity turned me into a learning machine as this is the decade when I’ve focused on diving deep into learning new subjects: the nature of my emotions, the importance to humanity of festivals, the sublime value of hot springs, and how to democratize hospitality in the digital era. If I hadn’t created this space in my life, the founders of Airbnb would have never asked me to join them. Turning into a tech intern at age 52, a novice surfer at age 54, and a Spanish student at age 55 has reignited a beginner’s mind in me such that I feel like I’m in my teens again. Meister Eckhard wrote, “I’m younger today than I was yesterday, and if I’m not younger tomorrow, then shame on me.”

DISCERN (what I expect from my sixties). The chief result gained by experience of life is clearness of view. The older you get the more it becomes a time when we determine what to let go of in order to create a less burdened life. Up till this point in life, most people are in an accumulation mode. In your sixties, you become a gracious editor and focus on what’s most important in life. Youth is meant for poetry. Age is more inclined toward philosophy. And, as a recent Presidential candidate showed us, our seventies could be all about feeling the “Bern” and sharing that wisdom. Historically, being young meant a short past and a long future, while being old meant the opposite, but as medical advances evolve, who knows what verb might define our eighties or nineties and do these decade themes become one giant mash-up? Of course, we all end up in an “Urn.”

Unfortunately, many people – in my humble opinion – get the sequence wrong. They think “Learn” ends after their teens and they immediately jump into “Earn” such that by their thirties they’re in “Burn out” mode. Of course, then “Yearn” slips into their forties as mid-life crisis takes hold. By their fifties, they’ve “turned” sour and are living a life full of “Churn” as they yearn for the perfect marriage, career, place to live, and lifestyle and churn through the partnerships and possessions. For these poor souls, happiness isn’t wanting what I already have, it’s the act of having what I want (the pursuit of happiness with pursuit defined as “to chase with hostility”).

Voltaire suggested long ago that every age of life has its own peculiar mental character and that a man will feel unhappy if his mind and spirit are not in accordance with his years. But, Albert Schweitzer said, “We don’t change. We just stand more revealed.”

Wise words from the Irish. Ponder what your various ages mean to you. Rumi suggested, “My life may be summed up in three phrases. I was raw. I became cooked. Then I burned.” What can you learn from the passages of your life?