What to Do With Your Many, Many Lives: the Implications of Living 100

"Did you know that 50 percent of all 10-year-olds alive today in the US —and also Chile, Japan, New Zealand, and Norway— could live to be 104 years old?" 

104 years old

I have been repeating this to just about anyone who will listen since I learned it at the #DisruptAging event I attended last week in DC, presented by AARP and Forbes.

It blows my mind, but it probably shouldn't. Science marches on. Life expectancy for all humans in the US in 1900 was barely 48, and now it's pushing 80. I am 47, so hey, thanks, 118 years! Now, a potential 104 for the healthiest, maybe most genetically blessed, maybe lucky enough not to get caught in a freak accident or other skewing event half of 10-year-olds? Not so out of the question. 

I read this research finding five minutes into my morning, cruising around the fun and interesting lobby installations, eating a croissant (how many seconds does the saturated fat take off of my life?) and sparkling water (how many does that add? Hydration is where it's at, right?) It woke me right up, and the rest of the day kept me that way. 

 I was excited, hopeful, and a little bit surprised. 

I was excited, hopeful, and a little bit surprised. 

Cheryl Strayed Disrupt Aging

Because if the beginning was about the length of life, the rest of the day was about what happens in that time we might get. How does "living 100" change the way we earn, learn, connect and approach our health? Where am I? How did I get here? And what do I want to do with it now? 

I've been thinking about the implications of living 100 since I was a teenager. Extremely close to all of my grandparents, I was involved in caring for my two grandmothers, after both of my grandfathers died by the age of 70. I worked as an activity manager in a nursing home, and then as a case manager and caregiver support for the Alzheimer's Association for five years after counseling graduate school. I have always had a heart and empathy for seniors, and I love the idea of being healthy and productive into old age. It's a personal goal, if I make it that far. 

So everything AARP and Forbes had on the agenda mattered to me. Health. Caregiving support. Lifelong learning and career development (as a former community college counselor and professor who taught all ages, I'm passionate about this.) Good food. Community connections. It's hard to pick just six things that stood out, but I'm holding myself to it. 

My Own 6 Personal Disrupt Aging Highlights

Cheryl Strayed. I am a Cheryl Strayed fan. I loved "Wild", but "Dear Sugar" is dog-eared and well-loved on my shelf. Whereas our paths through the woods were very different (mine was a metaphor as I'm way less outdoorsy, etc.) her voice is singularly moving and deeply relatable for me. Plus I have deep admiration and a prayer of thanks for anyone who kicked drugs on the level she kicked drugs. So when I saw her on the speaker list, everything else fell away. Cheryl and me in another auditorium with 500 (I'm estimating) of her other closest friends was enough for me.

She was as great as she always is. She talked about the importance of empathy and community and connection, things I'm seeing matter more and more as I age. She gave us homework: 

"Speak a sentence you are afraid to speak. Tell a story you have never told. Write a letter to someone you've meant to acknowledge. These are ways to make our lives more meaningful, to 100 and beyond." 
 Many. Many many lives, as it turns out. You can even get a new one if you want. 

Many. Many many lives, as it turns out. You can even get a new one if you want. 

Living 100, for me, means the capacity for surprise and reinvention. So it was fun to fall in intellectual like next, with a design engineer who brought career counseling to a new, brilliant level on this stage.  Seriously, Dave Evans made me laugh and gave me hope and took my notions of a front-loaded life where 47 is nearing a professional and personal end and knocked them upside down. 

If we're living to be 100 or close, it's a little nuts to think that we should have it all sorted out by 18, right? 

(I think so.) 

Buy his book, Designing Your Life, written with Bill Burnett. (I have recommended this book to five friends already and I haven't even read it yet. I believe in what I heard that much.) Watch his TedX San Francisco Talk. Go see him speak if he's on an agenda anywhere near you. I will. 

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 You didn't have to tell anyone what you wrote. But it did get my seat neighbor and I talking. Crafty move, AARP and Forbes. 

You didn't have to tell anyone what you wrote. But it did get my seat neighbor and I talking. Crafty move, AARP and Forbes. 

The workbook. Yes. Each speaker in the morning sessions directed us to the workbook we got at registration. We got reflection and writing time after each session. I am a teacher always and forever and I approve. 

Vivek Murthy Disrupt Aging

I met the former Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy. He did important work on behalf of those of us with addiction and I needed to tell him how much I appreciated it. It bears mentioning that the gift of sobriety is the only reason I got a shot at making it through my 40s, much less to 100. This looked a little dicey five years ago. 

He was so kind and gracious. I don't know if people know what it means to give credence and financial and governmental support to resources for addicts, both for ourselves and for the people we stand to lose at all ages if things don't change. I have already lost a brilliant friend to heroin at 30 who could have changed the world in the 50 or 60 more years science says she should have gotten, and I will probably lose more. It's reality. And it's a crime and, as it turns out, a somewhat calculable loss. 

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We need people to treat addiction like the disease it is. Mental health issues frequently co-occur and those are stealers of health and life and vitality, too. People cannot live well addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, and they often die, because recovery resources are so difficult to locate. And if they do exist, they are prohibitively expensive. Dr. Murthy used his voice and position to make change, and I needed to tell him I appreciated it. 

He also gave a wonderful talk with Dr. Cheryl Woodson, sharing his belief in the critical value of human connection to health. "I have no white space because I have my phone. My phone is my greatest help and hindrance," he said. I feel him. 

 This really beats peanut butter out of the jar. 

This really beats peanut butter out of the jar. 

Lunch. Can't lie, lunch provided by Fabio and Maria Trabocchi was a delight. My table was full of interesting and friendly people, particularly Edna Kane-Williams, AARP's Senior Vice President for Multicultural Leadership. I work out of my home, and most lunches don't involve conversation about what it means not just to live, but to live well in the years we get. It was a treat that I didn't even know I needed. (White Asparagus with Sicilian Olio Verde? Yes. Also Branzino. Many thanks to the Trabocchis for a delicious, healthy meal.) 

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Ann Curry. What can I say that you don't know? She is an engaging, brilliant speaker, and I loved hearing her in a small venue. I have "We'll Meet Again" next up in my queue.

When an oncologist told her she didn't have breast cancer, the next question was, "What are you going to do with this time you have?" She believes and tries to live the value of giving back, another thread throughout the Living 100 day, the gift of community and service. She also quoted this, from "The Once and Future King," and I fell in love forever. 

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 

Did I mention she was quite smart? What a great note to end this day on. 

What Else Did I Learn at #DisruptAging? 

  • I have many programmed beliefs about what it means to be older. 47 feels old, although what "old" even means I don't even know. It's really only old compared to my previous ages—I only have that one unreliable barometer—but it's tricky and ingrained. What if I looked at this as another point on the continuum, not a place of slowing down or
  • I don't like the traditional notion of retirement, and a lot of other people don't either. With longer lifespans, economic pressures, and less traditional workplaces, it's an outdated idea. But we still have to plan for the next act. It's time for me to do that. 
  • Attending events where I don't know anyone is a good thing. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. Having an electronic name tag that transmits business card-style contact information to other attendees is also a huge motivator for tech geeks like me. 
  • Caregiving is a life-altering life situation that either has faced or will face the majority of Americans. It takes time, money, and strength that most of us lack in the amounts it requires. 

Living 100 mean that I am more concerned about a notion that repeated in various ways all day long at Disrupt Aging: that it's not the number of years I'm concerned about, it's how good they are. 

  • For me that means building on a sobriety I found at 42 and all of the ways that's shaped my path into and in middle age. 
  • It means not looking at my career as a done deal or a too late, and at retirement as an outdated notion at best. 
  • It means community is even more crucial than we think it is. (And I think it's crucial.) 
  • It means that even with advances in vitality that the struggles that concern me most: mental illness and addiction...the opioid epidemic and suicide are pressing for younger people, and make the difference between whether they live vitally and well into old age, or perhaps don't get there at all. 

I have attended many events over my more than a decade online, and this was one of the best. "Inspiration" is an overused word, but I absolutely felt that way. In one of the later sessions, I met a woman sitting next to me who was perhaps 20 years older. She was in business in DC, also did not have children, and lived a life of professional and personal fulfilIment. She more or less told me there was no reason to stop now, and every reason to keep going, because there was more on the horizon than I could imagine. Not a bad perspective on an age I can't change, anyway. 

Join the conversation at #DisruptAging. This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own. This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.