Seeking Your Midlife Atrium Excerpt. from Learning to Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better with Age by Chip Conley (Courtesy of Little, Brown Spark)


We’re living longer than ever before. Some people think this means we’re going to be old longer. Anthropologist and author Mary Catherine Bateson says we’re thinking about this all wrong. Our extra longevity means we’re not old longer but in midlife longer. Middle age has expanded, just like our waistline. She suggests that we’re not adding a metaphorical extension to our home in the form of a couple extra bedrooms in the backyard of life. We need to introduce what she calls a “midlife atrium” to support our longer lives.

Creating a midlife atrium means changing the blueprint for the whole home, or the rest of our life. This suggests we’re moving the walls and, in the center of our life, creating an atrium filled with fresh air and sunlight. In a world in which some estimate that half of all children born into the developed world today will live till one hundred, it’s time to re-architect our societal life blueprint by creating space for people to reflect on how to consciously curate the second half of adult life.

More than a century ago, psychologist Carl Jung asked, “Are there perhaps colleges for forty -year-olds which prepare them for their coming life and its demands as the ordinary colleges introduce our young people to a knowledge of the world?” In other words, where might we find that light-filled atrium? And are we in need of a midwife for midlife epiphanies that might emerge from this atrium?

In some ways, the sheer volume of middle-aged employees who took a break from working full-time during the COVID pandemic suggests that a collective midlife atrium is dawning. Millions of midlifers left their jobs and the cubicles that confined them and “went atrium”!

And more and more people are seeking this kind of reflection space in the company of others. Peer-to-peer midlife professional networks like Chief (for women) and Vistage are seeing huge increases in their membership. Midlife transition programs affiliated with universities, such as Stanford (Distinguished Careers Institute), Harvard (Advanced Leadership Initiative), and Notre Dame (Inspired Leadership Initiative) have grown steadily under the loose network of the Nexel Collaborative.

A version of SoulCycle, F3, pushes midlife men physically but also allows them to bond emotionally and spiritually. And even intentional communities—a communal vestige of the hippy-dippy ’60s and ’70s—are making a mainstream comeback focused on midlifers who are more interested in the belonging that comes from “we-tirement” than the isolation that often comes from retirement. Midlife atriums abound!
Over the past few years, I’ve had the great fortune of closely working with thousands of midlifers ranging in age from 28 to 88 (the average age being 54) who came to the Modern Elder Academy (MEA) to reimagine and repurpose themselves: to create a life that’s as deep and meaningful as it is long.
MEA has three physical campuses—one beachfront in Baja California Sur (Mexico), one a gigantic, four-square-mile New Mexico regenerative community and horse ranch, and the last one (opening in 2026) a historic Santa Fe former Catholic seminary and retreat center. And our online campus offers deep, experiential immersions on purpose, transitions, and other topics relevant to midlifers.”

MEA is the world’s first midlife wisdom school that is dedicated to bringing light and space into the midlife atrium through “long-life learning.” We’ve learned that wisdom is not taught—it’s shared.

To immerse ourselves in a new community of supportive middle-aged folks who are consciously curating the second half of their lives provides an opportunity for reflection, playfulness, and growth. It’s an adult summer camp, full of whimsy and wisdom. This kind of learning community—a form of encore, experiential education—will likely become more and more prevalent as people fend off the dreaded idea of retirement and reinvent themselves for the best years that lie ahead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
At 26, Chip Conley founded what became the second largest boutique hotel brand in America. Twenty-four years later he sold his company and joined Airbnb as the in-house “modern elder” to the three young founders. Today he is CEO of the Modern Elder Academy, with a campus in Baja California Sur and two forthcoming locations in Santa Fe, NM. He is a popular keynote speaker and the author of seven books. Visit https://chipconley.com/learning-to-love-midlife/

 

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