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In theory, Chip Conley doesn’t sound like the kind of entrepreneur who’d be intimidated by much.
After all, Chip founded, grew, and successfully sold Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a boutique hotel chain. He’s also the author of several bestselling business books including Peak, Emotional Equations, and The Rebel Rules, and even a long-time board member at Burning Man Festival.
Oh, and Chip’s survived multiple near-death experiences—including one during a book signing!
But, despite his storied past, a 50-something Chip Conley walked into his new job as Airbnb’s Head of Global Hospitality feeling more nervous than ever. Though honored to join the buzzy, Silicon Valley tech darling, he was anxious about working alongside a team composed primarily of people half his age.
Wasn’t he too old for this new business world run by plucky young leaders?
Not by a longshot.
Instead, the experience opened Chip up to an entirely new way of thinking about midlife in the modern age. It also set him on a new journey dedicated to showing others that reaching middle-age doesn’t mean you’ve reached irrelevance.
In fact, it might be the start of the best time of your life.
Turning Fear Into Curiosity
About a month into his time at Airbnb, the realization fully hit. “I’m supposed to come in as a mentor and the know-it-all,” he remembers. “But I’m twice the age of the average employee here and I’ve never worked in tech!” To Chip, his new colleagues were almost speaking an entirely different language.
Frazzled, an anxious Chip phoned his father for advice. The words he offered changed everything. “My dad said to me, ‘How can you turn that fear into curiosity?”’
As someone who’s always considered curiosity one of his most valuable traits, Chip wished he had thought of this sooner. To Chip, curiosity means embracing a growth mindset of learning rather than a fixed mindset of stagnation.
“With fixed mindsets,” Chip says, “success is tied tightly with winning. You tend to focus on things that you can do well. Then you succeed and you prove that you’re successful.”
In contrast, is the growth mindset. Here, it isn’t all about winning. Instead, the focus is on learning and being vulnerable about the fact that you don’t know everything, no matter your age, title, or background.
“With a growth mindset, you’re not trying to prove yourself. You’re trying to improve yourself,” he says.
So, taking his father’s words to heart, Chip arrived back at Airbnb headquarters with a new mission: absorb everything he could about today’s tech workforce while also offering the wisdom that only years of business and hospitality experience could provide.
“I had to become both the mentor and the intern,” Chip says. This led to the creation of an entirely new term at Airbnb—the mentern. And Chip himself was named the Modern Elder.
Thinking as a mentern is the ideal mentality behind today’s increasingly diverse workplaces. We all can learn from each other. Why should our perceived differences act as an excuse?
The Power of Diversity
Soon, the entire Airbnb team fully embraced the advantages of age diversity. Also, as someone who’s always prioritized diversity at all of his companies, Chip himself was surprised that age inclusivity was rarely discussed within leadership.
After all, Chip also says he’s lived as “an other” three major times in his life—growing up as one of the only white students at his school, coming out as gay at 22, and “being the old guy” at Airbnb. Chip believes these experiences have not only made him a better business leader, but also made him appreciate the value of diversity.
“The interesting thing about diversity—including cognitive diversity which speaks to the idea that people think differently—is that it helps you to make sure you don’t get into groupthink,” Chip says. “In some ways, I think groupthink is what sunk Uber, WeWork, and Theranos.
“Groupthink this idea that you’ve got a charismatic leader. Then they just surround themselves with people who just spout the gospel. This is not what makes a great company.”
With a supportive leadership team at Airbnb, a wide array of ideas were on the table ready to be discussed without fear. “We created an environment where conflict, conversation, and debate got us to a better place.”
It also led Chip to realize that age was a critically key component to building a truly diverse workforce. Still, there had to be a better way to teach people how to navigate intergenerational workplace relationships, and prove to other Modern Elders that their place at the office was just as important as ever.
“It became clear over time that I had really stumbled on something,” says Chip. “If we’re all gonna live longer, the power is moving younger, and the world’s changing faster—especially in Silicon Valley and in a digital society—then there’s going to be a lot of people in midlife who are completely bewildered and anxious because they feel irrelevant.”
Chip was determined to change that.
Becoming a Modern Elder
After four years, Chip left Airbnb full-time, though he still works as a strategic advisor to the brand’s senior team.
Inspired by everything he learned about age diversity and working as a Modern Elder, he decided to write a book about the experience. Calling it his “manifesto on ageism,” Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder was written to combat the stigma against older employees in an increasingly millennial world.
It also led him to start the Modern Elder Academy which is the world’s first midlife wisdom school. Located in Baja California, Mexico, the Modern Elder Academy teaches participants how to repurpose their skills for today’s world.
It also works to reframe any stigmas against aging. Honestly, Chip’s learned that most people’s actual experiences surrounding aging aren’t nearly as bad as our culture leads us to believe.
“People actually have some unexpected pleasures of aging,” Chip says. He even points what’s called the happiness u-curve that shows people finding more contentment over the age of 50 than any other stage in life.
Today, the Modern Elder Academy has hosted over 500 students from 17 countries. It also boasts an over 90% satisfaction rating.
Chip sees the Academy as a newly-minted right of passage into midlife. So many other eras in our lives are marked by quintessential events or celebrations. Doesn’t our passage into midlife deserve the same?
You’ll learn more about how he built his boutique hotel chain, his multiple near-death experiences, some favorite business and leadership philosophies, and so much more.
Also, I’d love to connect with you on Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as have you keep up with my company imageOne. Learn about my mission to show business leaders how mindfulness can transform you and your business in my book donothing. Visit www.donothingbook.com for more information.
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“Embracing Your Modern Elder: Why the Best Careers are Built with Age and Wisdom” | Written By: Rob Dube, Contributor / Forbes – Entrepreneurs
November 18, 2019 at 07:49AM
VIEW ARTICLE ON Forbes – Entrepreneurs >> https://www.forbes.com/sites/robdube/2019/11/18/embracing-your-modern-elder-why-the-best-careers-are-built-with-age-and-wisdom/