Rock Till You Drop: Lessons in Peak Performance Aging.
Let’s review: A foundational premise of the Modern Elder Academy is that we gain certain kinds of intelligence and abilities in midlife that are necessary components of healthy social and economic ecosystems.
The ModElder curriculum is designed for us to name and claim our wisdom and find ways to relish and share it for decades to come – despite living in an ageist society that just might not give a damn about us anymore.
Author Steven Kotler reports that he interviewed hundreds of CEO’s who acknowledged that while they need to hire people with the creativity and empathy that naturally come along with maturity, they are reluctant to hire older workers because of their perceived risk aversion and physical fragility. (And this: When I was 60 and felt like I was at the peak of my editorial powers, a media business owner told me straight to my face that he’d never hire anyone in my age group because our insurance costs are higher than for those in their thirties.)
Where does that leave us? In his new book “Gnar Country – Growing Old, Staying Rad,” Kotler says we can cultivate our individual agency and currency by training for older age like pro athletes and doing risky things to stay physically and mentally sharp. Action sports tick all the boxes. (Editor Note: Steven will be teaching at MEA’s Santa Fe Ranch campus next June)
The book chronicles Kotler’s attempts to prove the concept by applying flow science to a personal experiment in “peak performance aging.” Over the course of an epic 88-day season, he transferred his big mountain skiing prowess to terrain park skiing, where the back-breaking tricks are most definitely understood to be for kids, or at least under-35s. At age 53, Kotler declared, “I wanted to be steazy in the sick gnar.” Translation: Steazy is ski slang for doing it stylishly and making it look easy. Gnar is short for gnarly, which Kotler defines as situations that are high in perceived and actual risk. It’s no exaggeration to say he risked life and limb each of those 88 days on the mountain.
Regardless of whether that kind of extreme sports challenge and the punky bro lingo speak to you, for anyone interested in fresh contributions to the longevity literature, Gnar Country is worth the cover price, or at least a trip to the library to check out the appendix, where he lays out “The Rules.” Kotler always underpins his narratives with solid science and the book has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
“Fragility is often a choice,” Kotler writes (let’s stipulate in the interests of empathy that the word often is doing a lot of work here). “The same is true for risk aversion…This means by training our bodies and brains to take full advantage of the superpowers that arise with age, we gain access to the very skills that CEOs want most in their companies. In short, if we do ‘it’ right, the over-fifty crowd becomes the dream workforce of the twenty-first century.”
Your takeaways will be different from mine. A friend of mine is using the book as a template for his recovery from knee replacement in advance of a burly mountain biking expedition. I simply underlined the results of a study that concluded, “leg strength is the single most important factor for longevity.” Who knew? My artificial knee and I will have to work on that. And after sitting out this past season, in the coming winters I’ll be snowboarding again like my life depends on it.
Dave Herndon is a communications pro based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Find out more about him at www.Herndon-at-large.com and contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Modern Elder.”