Name Change – The Ageless Academy

The Aging Academy brand is changing its name. This article explains why the name is changing. But first, let’s go into a little bit of history.

I have been studying and writing about aging (as well as getting older) for many years now. People were always asking me about my “secrets” for wearing my age so well. In those days it was always a surprise to me to see people react to learning my age. Seeing the pain and discomfort that I saw in other people’s eyes about getting older, I wanted to share with them A more powerful and positive approach to aging That could unleash the great potential of these years in a large segment of our] population. I started writing about the topic about 10 years ago after I hit my 60th birthday. I established the growth works website as a home for those blogs and articles. That website is still around in its archived form, But I no longer add content to it. ( A few of those articles have been moved to the updated websites that I will mention in a short bit. After 3 or 4 years of writing I moved my message to podcasting And created the inner game of aging Podcast and website. This name more clearly reflected the purpose of the effort. I enjoyed enough success there to attract the attention Of a person who felt he had a claim to the name of the Podcast. In response to his allegations (and his child-like behaviors) I decided that I liked the name the Aging Academy more than I liked the I.G.A. name. So after releasing more than 30 episodes under the I.G.A. moniker, I moved the effort to the new name of The Aging Academy. Those initial Podcast releases still have the I.G.A. name embedded the podcast audio. I have not gone back to edit the audio to reflect the new name. Since that time, i have received several awards for the Podcast. In 2019, on feedspot, it was listed 14th of the 15 best podcast related to aging (full disclosure: in my absence over the past year, that rating has fallen to 27 out of 30). And The Podcast episodes have been downloaded over 61,000 times from podbean and other podcast directories.

Recent life changes have forced me to reduce my efforts a bit so new releases have been slow in coming. However in my reinvigoration of the effort, i have received several comments and queries regarding the name of the brand. After hearing the name, people have asked “Is this where we learn how to age?”. Or they have asked “How old is the Academy for it to earn the name of the aging Academy?”, or even Questioning if there is an age requirement to participate in the aging Academy? So I have come to understand that the Aging Academy moniker can produce some confusion as to what is actually going on behind the name.

I realize there is no perfect name that would be crystal clear for my intentions and purpose. But considering the questions and queries that I’ve already received on the aging Academy, And after discussions with a few friends on this topic (thank you Leslie Evans and others), I stumbled across the name of the ageless Academy, Which seemed to clarify much of the confusion of the queries that I had been receiving.
After all, it really isn’t about being older or younger. It is about being the age you are in the best way possible. It is about exploring the potential of what lies ahead regardless of how short or long that time may be. It is about being ageless, regardless of how young or old you are. Your connection to life is not dependent on your age.

Hence, the Aging Academy has been renamed the Ageless Academy.

Ageism: Clouding Up a Beautiful Sunset

This article was initially published for on Sept.7th, 2015
Lessons from the Circle of Life
SunsetThere was something very disturbing happening within me as I watched my father grow older and older.  Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t know myself then as well as I do now. So, at the time, it was hard to even recognize that something was disturbing me. But it all seems very clear now.He had retired 11 years before his death, but his health had already started declining. I have many recollections from those 11 years. Here are a few:

  • I recall this once proud man declaring himself “no longer young” at the tender age of 60 in a manner indicating that looking behind him was more comfortable than looking ahead of him.
  • I recall him eyeing my 33-year-old physique and saying out loud to himself “I used to be like that, but no longer.”
  • I recall how he started to withdraw more and more as the years passed. My sense was that he became a greater annoyance to those who kept his company.
  • I recall the heavy feeling in me watching him give up more of himself as time marched. He felt that he had less to give.

But more disturbing was what I was seeing inside of me. Looking back, I wasn’t there to help him, as much as I was to agree with his assessments on his age. I saw me give up on him just as he was giving up on himself. As his doubts about his health increased, so did mine. As he felt his own growing uselessness, I felt it with him. He died in 1994 at the relatively young age of 73.

That same disturbance crept over me again as I watched my mother get older. I don’t ever remember a moment where my mother felt young to me. I used to joke that she was born at 40 years old. (40 was old then.) But, she did something very strange when she was 75. She fell in love.

It was a marvelous wonder to see my mom behave like a secretive teenager. And we all enjoyed watching her during this infatuation. She was needed again. She was able to contribute to another person’s life.

But her “elderly” ways returned after the euphoria of that love matured into everyday existence. She seemed to lose more of herself as each of her lifelong friends passed away. I recall watching her crumble from a broken heart as she watched my sister’s coffin be lowered into the ground. (No parent should have to endure that.)

I saw more and more fear inside of her as the years passed. I saw myself give up on her as she gave up on herself. Once again, I wasn’t there to help her as much as I was there to agree with her negative assessments.

Embedded within these stories are, of course, classic examples of ageism at work. I am writing this commentary not just to prove to myself that I understand my disturbance better than I did back then. More importantly (at least for me), I’d like to discourage us all from walking into unnecessarily diminished futures and encourage instead, preparation for our beautiful sunsets.

The Enemy Inside
The definition for ageism says something like “prejudice, stereotyping or discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age.” This suggests that the source of ageism shares similar characteristics with the source of the other “isms” such as racism, sexism, class-ism, and hetero-sexism. To understand these “isms”, I think we need to understand the process of stereotyping.

A stereotype is basically a learned set of associations that link a set of characteristics to a group. We all unconsciously learn cultural stereotypes through socialization.  But some of us believe these stereotypes are true and don’t recognize that individual characteristics within any “group” vary greatly and change over time. Age, along with race and gender, is a primary social category, meaning that age-based social categorizations are automatic, or made too quickly to be thoughtful and deliberate. Most stereotypes of the elderly operate beneath the conscious thoughts of those that hold them. So ageism has become ingrained in our cultures as it is passed on to children from parents who hold ageist stereotypes.

The Cost of Ageism
Old LadyAgeism, like high blood pressure, is mostly a silent destroyer.   It acts as an inside embezzler, stealing valuable assets that we didn’t know we had. Most of us can spot the more obvious indications of ageism in our society:

  • workplace age discrimination
  • predatory telemarketing
  • Medicare frauds and abuses using the elderly as pawns of profit
  • Demeaning portrayals of elders in the media

But these represent the outer manifestations of ageism, not the origins of it. They do not show the real cost and value lost. Before ageism can exist on the outside of us, it must exist on the inside of us. So let’s look inside a bit to see what we can see.

As mentioned above, in daily social interactions, ageism typically occurs without much notice or concern. For example, without knowing the circumstances, we find ourselves pitying elders rather than honoring them. Our stereotypes have us assuming a struggle in their lives, either physical or emotional, that may or may not exist. However, so many seniors and elders are closer to true happiness than can be seen from their outside public impressions12 3 than the realities of their lives.

These stories don’t just influence how we see seniors and elders around us. They directly affect how we manage our own lives. We find ourselves expecting and accepting conditions typically attributed to aging but really come from other sources. We accept lifestyles and habits that promote the very conditions we fear as we age. The self-fulfilling aspects of ageism help bring about the chronic diseases and ailments that we believe are a part of life as we age. We are now slowly realizing that it is our choices that may be at the heart of some of these undesirable conditions. Societal choices and cultural memes strongly influence (but don’t dictate) our individual choices. So the need for us to exercise self-directed critical thinking has never been greater.

With positive aging models around us, we can see greater options, expanded horizons, and more opportunities for value, service, and contribution as we age. It has been proven that a person’s attitude toward old age significantly affects how they fare once they reach it. In a now-famous study, when seniors were led to subconsciously absorb positive stereotypes about old age, their physical health improved along with their self-esteem and longevity4

Another invisible cost of ageism can be seen in our relationships as it fosters or, at least encourage subtle distrust between the age groups. This reduces collaboration and innovation between vital population segments. It slows down the transfer of information between people of different ages. We can see this in families, companies, and the government. For example, each age group in our population has distinct political identities, which sometimes don’t align well with other age groups5 6.

The Evolutionary Reboot of Attitudes

Dog in hatSo how do we start to recover the noiseless, but substantial losses coming from our unconscious ageism?  Despite anti-discrimination laws, ageism, like racism, cannot be legislated out of existence. We must face this burglar first within us, then within the larger culture around us. The change has to start in our personal development and in our hearts. I believe it has to start at the individual level.

We will need to embrace certain realizations in our collective consciousness, both as a society and as individuals. Successfully integrating these insights improves the lives of everyone, has benefits for everyone and gives us all significantly more future during our lives. Consider what our societies would look like if we all saw the following as true:

  • Aging is not a disease. It is a natural stage of life that has particular needs, as do the other stages of life, such as childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and our working years.
  • Greater life experiences (aka aging) bring us closer toward our tolerance, wisdom, and patience. Our aging gives us clearer views of ourselves and what true happiness is. It spiritualizes us naturally. And our personal environments and societies benefit from this important maturation.
  • The diversity amongst older people is much greater than that of younger groups. This is so apparent between me and my identical twin. (Yes, I am an identical twin.) The older we get, the more differences there are between us. And these differences will become even more apparent as we continue to age.
  • Realize that every period and age in our lives holds significant challenges, and old age isn’t any different, even if the trials seem unique to this age group. A lot of seniors (the majority?) have a great capacity to enjoy and contribute to life. And despite the signs of aging that others may see, their desire to do so remains undiminished.

Conquering Ourselves First
The attitude shifts mentioned above won’t happen unless we look at ourselves first. Most of us are looking to get old, although we don’t express it that way. Nobody makes it out of this life alive. But leaving this life as a wise and respected elder is like a beautiful sunset ending a well-lived day. The following tips help to create this image first in our own heads, and then in our personal environments. You will benefit from these regardless of your age. But, I believe the older you are, the more advantages there are in the following practices:

  • Don’t fall for the “Inner Kill”. I believe this term was coined by Richard Leider7 and refers to our tendency to get caught up in our own trials and tribulations to the exclusion of all else. As we grapple with health issues, decreasing energy, and the loss of loved ones, it’s easy to get caught up in negative and debilitating thought cycles that kill us before we actually pass on. The antidote, Mr. Leider argues, is serving others, reaching out, and finding ways to contribute to a larger good. This sounds good to me.
  • Don’t be typical. Ageism feeds off of the stereotypical behaviors of seniors and elders. So why be typical? Seniors and elders have earned the right to be different than what we expect them to be. Embrace that difference. Use your playful imagination each and every day to defy categorization. For example, to help compensate for a compromised foot, I will sometimes get around (quite effectively) using my Razor push scooter. It gives me exercise, makes me mobile, and gets me the strangest looks from both “grown-ups” and children alike.
  • Don’t confine your friendships to your own age group. There is something to be gained and enjoyed from people of all ages. How many friends do you have that are more than 15 or 20 years older or younger than you? My own experiences at my gym are so much richer because of the interesting friendships I’ve fostered with macho boys between 17 and 25 years old. I am closer to 70 than I thought I could be when I was young. But we inspire each other to go for higher stakes.
  • As much as you can, walk, act and speak like a vibrant, healthy person. This is not always possible, but moving closer to that ideal is always available. Smile and show your white teeth. Stand straight as your body permits. Posture is important for appearance. And understand that living is about MOTION. Move as much as your body will allow you to. The more you do so, the more you will be able to do so. If you can work out regularly, you will see untold benefits to all aspects of your life. But you knew I would say that.
  • Try to genuinely enjoy people. The stresses of modern living can sometimes make this hard if we are not already inclined in this direction. But you can easily see the healthier lives of those who enjoy people as opposed to those that keep themselves apart.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy
happy coupleThe baby boomer generation is changing the face of aging and with it the stereotypes that feed ageism. In a recent survey asking people what age is considered old, most respondents answered that old age doesn’t start until 80. This is a far different mindset than that which was used to set the retirement age at 65. We have more productive and empowering models of aging around us these days. Our seniors and elders are healthier and more active. The frail and disabled among us may still capture the eyes (and pity) of the younger segments. But even these people have earned the respect that comes from their natural wisdom. Even while our physical aspects show the effects of time, true happiness and contentment can still spread from us to others. Listening to 85-year-old people talk about the lessons of their life can be truly inspiring, and fun.

Can We Change The Future Of Aging?

This article was initially published for on Oct. 20, 2015

CrowdThe other day, on a beautiful morning, I was walking along a nearby shore and decided to engage a couple taking a short rest from their morning walk. “Hi”, I said. “I wonder if I can get you to take an unusual picture of me.” Of course, they agreed, and we began our chat. I said, “I’m going to do a handstand on that platform, and I’d like a picture of it from a very low angle.” They looked at each other, confused by what I had said. While setting up the picture, I learned that she was 48 years old, and he was 51. I jumped up on the platform and executed a reliable handstand while they tried to capture it with my phone camera, looking amazed as they did so.

After the pictures were taken, the man indicated he may have been able to do such a thing 40 years ago, but there is no chance he could do that these days. That’s when I told him that I close to 20 years older than he was. They shook their heads in amazement, saying all of the things I’ve come to expect. “You can’t be that old”, “That’s incredible”, “How do you keep yourself this way”, and so on.

What I’ve come to understand is that these reactions and comments are not really about me at all (and I’m good with that). They are more about the internal ideas of aging that people have inside of them. In the case of this couple, their image of what a person my age (65 at the time)  is like had just been violated. This was the true source of their incredulity.

Most of us have rather negative opinions about getting older. And, as I’ve discussed in a previous article, these opinions and ideas rob value from our society, our families, and us personally. In this article, I would like to further explore how we compromise ourselves through such thinking, give clues as to how to counterbalance this, and suggest how Growth-Works might help this.

How Do You Feel About Getting Older?
After exploring the research, I now firmly believe that how we feel about getting older and what we think it will be like for us are very strong determinants of what our personal aging will actually be like. (See references.) Of course, there are many other factors that play into our aging outcomes. But, in study after study, our opinions about aging over our lifetime have been shown to be a highly correlating factor affecting the quality of our aging process. Across the board, the explorations point to the same conclusion: A person’s attitude towards old age affects how they fare once they reach it. In a rather well-known study (see references), it was reported that seniors who harbored negative views about old age faced life spans that were, on average, seven and a half years shorter than those of those who felt more positively. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

These feelings, beliefs, and opinions also fuel false notions that aging makes us sick, obsolete, or useless. We can start to internalize these views with disastrous consequences for both our mental and physical health. It is important to make the distinction that it is not aging, or getting older that is the problem. It is our feelings about it, along with other social factors, that compromise us and our futures.

Aging is a proper and natural process for animals and humans alike. Reaching our elder years is no more of a problem than the other stages of life. Each of these periods is just another phase that presents its unique, but normal, challenges and advantages. We tend to create the problems simply in how we look at them. For example, if you are attached to or identify too much with, being young, then getting older will most certainly trigger some loss of identity. Whether that is a problem or not depends entirely on you and your thinking.

The Source of Our Beliefs on Aging
Generally speaking, the path to higher quality aging begins by feeling better about our natural aging process. But it is hard to do anything about how we feel about aging unless we can better understand where these negative internal feelings and beliefs come from.

It turns out that we acquire these beliefs in more or less the same manner we acquire other beliefs – through cultural osmosis. Our socialization includes a process of gradually, and unconsciously assimilating ideas, knowledge, and other elements of thinking. This is the avenue through which we learn how we should feel about having a job, being married, being a parent, and many other aspects of living.

Of course, we all take to this cultural indoctrination differently. Some of us accept more easily, while others reject more easily. So we are not all going to come out of this socialization process thinking exactly the same. But either way, our culture provides the largest factor for where our thoughts on aging come from.

In the American culture, it’s not hard to see that we are “taught” to fear aging. We are quietly taught that growing older is a painful thing.  This has become our reality because we make it so, not because it is inherently true.

Consider some of the “normal” phrases and messages that are so prevalent around us when it comes to age. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like “At my age, it’s too late to <insert goal or objective>”, “Falling in love at my age seems ridiculous”, “I’m too old to return to college”, and so on. We have been taught to use our age as a reason (excuse) for no longer doing things. We’ve been taught that aging itself is what brings about a loss of good health. All of this helps us to fear the aging process.

The Circle of Life – Take Two

Each phase of life has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, and the 3 stages of adulthood – early, middle, and mature – are all required to support the full spectrum of humanity. None of these periods are superfluous to our existence as a species. Even the dying offer their contributions to us by teaching us the value of living, how not to take our lives for granted, and the reasons for living each moment. Each stage of life has its own unique “gift” to contribute to the world.

Along with the societal benefits, aging tends to spiritualize us as individuals. In exploring the research references, we can see a number of ways in which we improve as we age.

  • While short-term memory may be compromised, pattern recognition is enhanced in the older brain. The designs of life become more apparent to us.
  • Older people have a greater capacity for empathy, a trait that is learned and refined as we age. How many adolescents do you know with the gift of empathy?
  • Generally speaking, older people do a better job of maintaining emotional stability. Managing emotions is a skill that takes most of us decades to master. Negative emotions – sadness, anger, fear – become less pronounced than in our drama-filled youth.
  • Older people know themselves better than they did in their previous years. The more we live with ourselves, the more we come to know the person who lives in our own skin. This gives us a tremendous advantage in living our lives. The ancient Greek maxim to “Know thyself” has proven to be one of the most powerful throughout the ages.

These are all things that help us live our lives better. They are desirable traits. So why do we fear the aging process that moves us closer to them?

inaccurate Assumptions
This fear of aging is mostly about the loss of physical strength & attractiveness, mental acuity, and the ability to be a productive member of society. We worry about becoming doddering old fools, a burden to our children, and incapable of taking care of ourselves. Our thoughts fester on the possibilities of losing independence or living in pain.

But these seriously negative stereotypes are typically incorrect or, at least, inaccurate, according to the research. They keep us from living full lives. As we “imagine” the physical and mental hardships that older people must be enduring, we distance ourselves unconsciously from their true realities, which are, more often than not, very different.

This became apparent to me when I met with a very devastating accident that shattered and pulverized my right foot. Doctors suggested amputation, but my ex-wife insisted on reconstruction. (I was unconscious and couldn’t speak for myself.) Although occurring over 16 years ago, I still must take special care of the foot. I cannot hike or engage in selected sports as I once did. And I feel pain in that foot regularly. I was 54 when that accident happened. The foot and its struggles are part of my daily life now. And my life proceeds with all the vigor I can muster. I remain proud of my athletics and shifted my sports to those that are light on the foot. Yet, when I tell the story of the accident and the foot to others, they imagine scenarios that have them saying “Poor Lee”, “I’m sorry for your loss of function”, “Wow, how do you do all you do with that foot”. They imagine that living with this compromised foot is a lot worse than it really is for me. They do not know that they too would have accommodated this “special” foot more gracefully than they think they would have.

Which Comes First – Getting Old or Aging?

And so it is with our image of older people. We can see their struggles and hardships. But we don’t yet understand the grace that successful elders have developed in minimizing the imperfections of their lives. As we look at them, we have yet to understand that their happiness and worth are not necessarily hampered by compromised feet, aching joints, wrinkles, daily pain, and other natural signs of a body that has experienced the years.

But how do older people actually feel about themselves?  A 2009 Pew Research survey with a fairly large sample resulted in over 60% of people over 65 saying they feel younger than their age. Even the majority of those over 75 say they typically feel younger than their years would indicate. This does not fit the picture that the rest of us have of older people. We believe they feel worse than they say they do. There are so many people 80 and beyond that are quite happy with a purpose that drives them each day.

However, we know that people will feel old when there are significant decreases in their health or functional capabilities (e.g. driving, climbing stairs, daily upkeep tasks, etc.). But this loss of capability doesn’t just come from old age. We have proven in recent years that our environment, lifestyles, and habits over time are more significant in producing premature aging.

Generally speaking, it is time, not age that is the dominant factor in our functional decreases. The more time we are exposed to the harmful elements of our modern-day pollutants, nutrition, and the stressful consequences of lifestyle choices, the shorter the years we will be able to enjoy our natural functional capabilities. I’m not suggesting age is not a factor. But research is telling us that it is not the dominant factor we thought it was.

Where is a Role Model When You Need One?
Although there will always be wide individual variations in both thinking and aging outcomes, cultural change also means a change in our cultural aging characteristics. (Please note that I am not talking about lifespan, but rather our age-related health patterns as a function of the negative stereotypes embedded in our culture.) But how do we adjust our culture for better aging characteristics?

Let’s break up that question into a few sub-questions. As a culture, how do we:

  • Come to realize that aging is a natural physical process, but getting old is a mental and spiritual one that is under our direct influence?
  • Start recognizing that successful aging produces a culture that has greater wisdom, tolerance, and deeper insights into the patterns of life?
  • Promote the form of personal beauty that only time and maturity can give us?
  • Begin to see that aging is a culturally influenced process as well as a biological one?
  • Stop worrying about getting old and start to enjoy and take advantage of the process?

The future of aging lies in answering questions like these. But I believe that it is that last question that is the most important one because it re-focuses our attention. And, as we all know, energy flows where attention goes. Once we get positively involved in our final levels of development, we will be too immersed in our purpose for living to demean our aging process with negative stereotypes. And the more of us that find this path, the weaker the old stereotypes of aging become.

There are so many of us who are already doing that. But the media is only starting to show this side of our aging. The future of aging is changing. Boomers are challenging this status quo thinking. There are now many “Silver Inspirations” that we can use as better models for successful, positive aging. Are you one of them? would you like to be?