A David Brooks’ Endorsement that MEA is on the Right Path.

August 29, 2023

A David Brooks’ Endorsement that MEA is on the Right Path.

May 29, 2023

Since starting MEA in 2018, there are two articles that have described what we’re doing better than anything I’ve ever written and both of them appeared in The Atlantic magazine (I’d suggest you get a subscription).

In 2019, Arthur Brooks’ essay with the scary title, “Your Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think,'' was a preview of his bestselling book, “From Strength to Strength,” which came out three years later and profiled and lauded MEA. Arthur’s on our online faculty for our “Living and Working on Purpose” course that starts in a month. And, here’s a video of our online fireside chat from last year upon his book launch.

Ironically, the other article - which just came out - was written by David Brooks (unrelated) and is called “The New Old Age.” It chronicles the midlife transition programs that have started to proliferate at major academic institutions like Stanford (Distinguished Careers Institute), Harvard (Advanced Leadership Initiative), Notre Dame (Inspired Leadership Initiative), and University of Chicago (Leadership and Society Initiative). The “Brooks Brothers” have more in common than their politics (slightly center-right) - they’re channeling MEA’s ethos which makes me feel like we’re on the right path.

As I was reading David Brooks’ piece, I was struck by how many of the concepts he cites are core to our curriculum. The idea that adolescence was a newfound concept a century ago and middlescence (although he doesn’t use the word) is emerging now due to our longer lives. Longevity literacy: if you’re 60 today, there’s a 50% chance you’ll live to 90. Learning how to become a beginner again. Letting go of past identities in order to inhabit new ones. He cites William Bridges, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, and Phil Pizzo, all of whom play a part in MEA’s programs. He talks about how these programs help their “super-elite” students move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, from ego to soul. He outlines some of the questions people at this age are considering: Who am I? What do I really want? And, what should I do (and, better yet, how can I serve?)? For the 3,500 of you who are alumni of MEA (the majority of whom have come to our Baja campus for a week or longer; some as long as 20 weeks), you can see the similarities here, right?

We’ve built a close relationship with these four elite university programs and have even been asked to help influence some of their programming. While their midlife students are, on average, 8-10 older than MEA’s, we have a common bond even though they’re the luxury model (not many people can take a year off to live on a college campus and pay $60,000+ for a program like this) and we’re more accessible to the mainstream (especially with our financial aid as more than half of those who’ve come to Baja have been on some kind of aid that MEA provides).

Throughout the essay I was struck by how much Brooks’ thinking and language (including his preference for the term “encore years”) connects to the work of Marc Freedman, who presaged the idea of a new stage of work and education nearly a decade back through essays in the WSJ and HBR, and his groundbreaking organization Encore.org, of which I’m a Board member. Encore (now called CoGenerate) was plowing this ground before any of these university programs and has more than 2,000 Encore Fellows who’ve been doing great work in their communities, mostly in non-profit organizations, after a high-status career. One of those Fellows, Susan Nash, is described in the article. And happily, two of the experts cited in the article - Susan Gianinno and Phyliis Moen - are or have been Board members (Susan’s the Chair of our Board, and Phyllis was our former Vice Chair).

Toward the end of the extended essay, he says “these programs should not just be for rich people; they are in urgent need of democratization.” He says all of us need the midlife shake-up of reconnecting with our “moral imagination” in an environment dedicated to life-altering conversations on purpose and meaning. He writes, “Tens of millions of people transition to their Encore phase every year. Attending less rarified versions of these programs, if only for a couple of weeks or sporadically throughout the year, should be a rite of passage leading up to retirement.”

He finishes off in the following manner which brought a smile to my face,

“I’m not an entrepreneur, but while working on this story, a fantasy kept popping into my head: Somebody should start a company called Transition Teams. This would be a firm that helps people organize into cohorts during life’s crucial transitions—after college, after divorce, after a professional setback, after the death of a spouse, after retirement. These are pivotal moments when the most humane learning takes place, and yet America today lacks the sort of programs or institutions that could gentle the transitions and maximize the learning through mutual support.”

If you want to tell David more about MEA as it sounds like he doesn’t know about us yet, feel free to reach out to him on Twitter/X at @nytdavidbrooks.

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