My Top 10 Thought Leaders on Modern Aging.

June 9, 2021

My Top 10 Thought Leaders on Modern Aging.

May 29, 2023

Writing a daily blog post isn’t easy, but I do love it. It allows me to geek-out and read the work of many people I admire. And, occasionally, it allows me to pen a post that I can share with others far into the future. This is one of those.

I get asked all the time, "Who are authors and leaders in the aging arena that I could learn from?" Here’s my list. Feel free to do deeper research on any of these folks (listed in random order) as you’ll find them to be quite a resource. All of them are represented in our MEA library here in Baja.

1. Dr. Laura Carstensen: The founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity seminal finding that our life satisfaction improves as our life shortens has influenced all kinds of subsequent research and the work she and her fellows are doing on the “New Map of Life” will have an impact across the whole lifespan in the 21st century.

2. Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott: Their book "The 100-Year Life" helped society recognize that we aren’t nearly prepared for a future in which half of the babies in the developing world will live to the century mark. The book provides insights into what individuals, politicians, companies and governments need to do to address our increased longevity.

3. Barbara Waxman: One of our MEA faculty members, Barb’s book "The Middlescence Manifesto" was an eye-opener for me as it introduced me to this new life stage (much like "adolescence" was discovered in 1904) that upends the cultural norms that suggest midlife is a crisis, not a time full of great potential. Her work reminds me of Mary Catherine Bateson’s coining of the term "midlife atrium," a time when light, air, and space create an opportunity for deep reflection for growth.

4. Father Richard Rohr; PBS called him "one of the most popular spirituality authors and speakers in the world" and I’ve found his ecumenical philosophy and perspective on the Enneagram to be a guiding light for me. We share a wish that we’d been invited to dinner with Carl Jung and the fact that midlife is a time when our operating system shifts from our ego to our soul as articulated in Richard’s book, "Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life."

5. Richard Leider: Another one of our MEA faculty, Richard has a new book coming out in July called "Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?". His pioneering work on purpose has influenced many institutions including AARP (his book "Life Reimagined” created a long-term engagement with the org). And, his book "Repacking Your Bags" speaks eloquently to what we refer to at MEA as the "Great Midlife Edit."

6. Malidoma Patrice Somé; This African writer’s work on how ancient ritual has a place in modern society reminds me of the work of mythologist Michael Meade. My favorite quote from Malidoma is this: “Where ritual is absent, the young are restless or violent, there are no real elders, and the grown-ups are bewildered. The future is dim.” Prescient for our times.

7. Marc Freedman: This social entrepreneur and founder of Encore.org is my modern elder and wise man. He’s got the know-how (an expert librarian’s recall of written resources) and know-who (networking capacity like I’ve never experienced) of aging. His growing interest in intergenerational collaboration will likely lead us to a new generational compact to solve the world’s most vexing problems.

8. Ken Dychtwald: How many hippie rebels in their early twenties choose to chart a career focused on old people? While seeking his own self-actualization at the Esalen Institute in the 1970’s, Ken started developing a deep well of intellectual property and, over time with his company AgeWave, compelling data that has helped us understand the value of “wisdom workers” and the Boomer generation.

9. Ashton Applewhite: It was a treat having Ashton come to MEA during Sabbatical Sessions this winter to help us understand how pervasive ageism is and what we can do about it. Her popular TED talk and her authoritative clearinghouse, Old School, make her the world’s leading activist on the last socially acceptable bias, ageism.

10. Dr. Louise Aronson and Dr. Bill Thomas; These two have helped popularize a life stage that confuses my Google spell check: “elderhood.” Louise’s recent book on this subject from a health care industry perspective and Bill’s long-time work and writing on changing our mindset on aging offer the kind of profound provocation that our society needs to rethink how we think of and experience aging. Bill will be teaching at MEA this coming year.

Coming up with a top ten list is patently unfair. Where are the likes of Dan Buettner, Joan Chittester, Carl Honore, Becca Levy, Aubrey de Grey, Gloria Steinem, Dr. Andrew Weil, David Sinclair, Ellen Langer, James Hillman, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Steven Jenkinson, Elizabeth White, Michael Meade and Frank Ostaseski? And, you might even be wondering why aren’t you on this list? I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone. I focused on living thought leaders who immediately came to mind. If I made the list again next week, it might be slightly different.

Who would you add to this list?

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