Ep 110 “New Map of Life” Cartographers Ken Smith and Karen Breslau


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By Nancy Davis Kho: Gen X humor writer and '80s song lyrics over-quoter, Nancy Davis Kho: Gen X humor writer, and '80s song lyrics over-quoter. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

“Stretch the rubber band”: Stanford Center for Longevity’s researcher Ken Smith and co-author Karen Breslau, on conclusions from SCL’s new study that seeks to radically redefine how to live better, when we’re living longer.

This is the OLD map. But a damn good song.

Thanks as always to M. The Heir Apparent, who provides the music behind the podcast – check him out here! ***This is a rough transcription of Episode 110 of the Midlife Mixtape Podcast. It originally aired on November 30, 2021. Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and there may be errors in this transcription, but we hope that it provides helpful insight into the conversation. If you have any questions or need clarification, please email dj@midlifemixtape.com ***

Ken Smith 00:00

What is the thing that makes me want to get up in the morning, and how can I actually orient my life more towards that direction as I get older?

Nancy Davis Kho 00:09

Welcome to Midlife Mixtape, The Podcast. I’m Nancy Davis Kho and we’re here to talk about the years between being hip and breaking one.

[THEME MUSIC – “Be Free” by M. The Heir Apparent]

Nancy 00:33

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Hi everyone. I’m Nancy Davis Kho, the host and creator of the Midlife Mixtape Podcast, and I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Especially compared to Thanksgiving 2020 where the four of us were all huddled at home already, everyone just came out of the bedroom again for dinner, this year was wonderful. Our older daughter had a friend in for a visit, and our younger daughter had to actually come home from college to spend the holiday with us, which is a beautiful thing. We headed over to my high school friend’s house for a big gathering, the highlight of which to me was when her son asked me in front of the crowd to share a crazy story of his mom from high school. Oh, I had to crack my knuckles! The possibilities… went with the hydroplaning one. Thank you science, thank you vaccines, thank you booster shots and rapid tests. And as always, don’t take any of it for granted. You never know what’s coming next.

So we’re heading into the last month of the year and I know that makes many of us feel contemplative about what’s to come. I recently bought my niece a candle for her 30th birthday that says, “Smells like high hopes and low expectations” which I think is probably the right energy for 2022. That is by the way from Anecdote Candles. This is not an ad for them, but their candles crack me up. They smell great. They are really beautiful. So, high hopes and low expectations.

But in all seriousness, a writer friend of mine here in Oakland, Karen Breslau, mentioned to me during the fall that she was busy working on the final report for a brand new research study from the Stanford Center on Longevity, called The New Map of Life. Here’s the deal: in the United States, as many as half of today’s 5-year-olds can expect to live to the age of 100, and this once unattainable milestone may become the norm for newborns by 2050. Yet, the social institutions, norms and policies that await these future centenarians evolved when lives were only half as long and they need updating. In 2018, The Stanford Center on Longevity launched an initiative called The New Map of Life, believing that one of the most profound transformations of the human experience calls for equally momentous and creative changes in the ways we lead these 100-year lives, at every stage.

I thought that would be a really good backdrop for the kind of planning and thinking you might be doing around your personal goals in 2022. So I invited Karen and Senior Research Scholar at the center, Ken Smith, to join me to talk about this study, which only came out last week! It is poppin’ fresh. Let me tell you a bit about Karen and Ken.

Karen Breslau is the founder of Feature Well Stories, a narrative strategy agency in Oakland, California and a co-author of “The New Map of Life” with the Stanford Center on Longevity. She served as foreign, diplomatic and White House correspondent for Newsweek magazine, and was a producer and reporter for NPR. Karen also worked as a speechwriter and communications strategist, and is co-author with Janet Napolitano of “How Safe are We? Homeland Security Since 9/11.”

Ken Smith joined the Stanford Center on Longevity in 2009 and is the Senior Research Scholar and Director of Academic and Research Support, as well as the Center’s Mobility Division. He brings a broad background of over 20 years of management and engineering experience to his role, including positions in the computing, aerospace, and solar energy industries. Ken developed a special expertise in working closely with university faculty to develop projects while at Intel, where he was deeply involved in the creation and management of their network of university research labs.

So let’s join these cartographers of The New Map of Life and see where they’re leading us.


Nancy 05:10

I’m so pleased to be here today with Ken Smith, the senior research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity and Karen Breslau, who is the co-author of the Stanford’s new study, The New Map of Life. Welcome to the show, Karen and Ken.

Karen 05:25

Thank you, Nancy.

Ken 05:26

Glad to be here.

Nancy 05:27

I’m glad you’re here as well and you know, obviously, a key question when it comes to discussing The New Map of Life: hey, what was your first concert and what were the circumstances? I think that’s an important point on everybody’s roadmap of life. So Ken, I’m going to put you on the spot first. Tell us about your first concert.

Ken 05:45

Sure. By the way, I love that question. It’s like a social carbon-14 dating process.

Nancy 05:50

Okay, wait. What? I was more of a business major. I don’t know what you just said.

Ken 05:54

Oh, it’s a method that scientists often use to date things like fossils by how much of this carbon 14 remains in the material.

Nancy 05:59

Oh, sure.

Ken 06:00

This is just a social version of that. It tells you a lot about sort of where you came from and when you came from at that time.

Nancy 06:10

Yes, of course! All of a sudden, I dialed back to high school science classes, which is the last time I took one. So yeah, sorry. Yeah, listeners, I don’t know much about science, but let’s hear about Ken’s concert.

Ken 06:20

So my first concert was I saw the Doobie Brothers at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin in 1979.

Nancy 06:26


Ken 06:27

I think it was probably a celebration of freedom of driver’s license. I went with a group of high school friends. That was back in the day where you were at the DMV on the day of your birthday.

Nancy 06:36


Ken 06:37

So the first thing we had to do was go to a concert together without the parents, without getting dropped off, so it was kind of a first freedom.

Nancy 06:45

That is an amazing way to celebrate stepping into that new phase of life. I mean, holy smokes, who didn’t want to be 16 and get their license if that was on the other side of it. Was it a good show?

Ken 06:56

It was a great show. I still remember.

Nancy 06:58

Aright, Karen. What about you?

Karen 07:00

I wish I had something as cool to report and I did have another concert in mind… and then this grainy newsreel …the sprocket sound came very sharp …

Nancy 07:15

You suddenly had a film strip of your life.

Karen 07:20

Yes, I wish it were otherwise, but: Glen Campbell at Houston Astrodome. Rhinestone Cowboy.

Nancy 07:29

I don’t think that’s anything to apologize for. First of all, oftentimes, I will have people on the show who say well, this is the FIRST show, but the one I want to talk about is… if you want to throw in the one that really meant something to you, the first one where you paid for a ticket with your own money. But look, I love Glen Campbell. I think you should hold your head high on that.

Karen 07:48

I was very into sideburns and the fringe. I thought it was crazy cool at the time.

Nancy 07:59

I can’t wait to check out your author picture. I hope you’ve got sideburns and fringe. You should consider getting one made.

Karen 08:05

As a woman at this age, that can occur.

Nancy 08:15

Speaking of the New Map of Life, I always drop a music video into the show notes, and now I’m thinking what Glen Campbell song could I include?

Karen 08:23

Rhinestone Cowboy. Check it out.

Nancy 08:25

Yeah, I think he’s got other ones though that are… okay. Well, thanks for the invitation to go to the Glen Campbell rabbit hole.

So I wanted to have you on because I’m thrilled to be talking with you about this brand new study from the Stanford Center on Longevity called The New Map of Life, and my first question is to you as the cartographers: What made the Stanford Center decide that they wanted to do this study, at this time?

Ken 08:51

Really, it’s the culmination of the kind of work that the center has been doing for 12 years – we are really based on the premise that life has expanded over time. I mean, if we look at the last 100 years, the average life expectancy at birth has almost doubled. It’s gone from 47 to somewhere around 80.

But we still live in this world that anchors all of the kind of social things that we do to the world 100 years ago. We still go to school for the same number of years. At the same time, we still think about retiring at 65 and really, as we keep getting longer and longer lives, we tend to think about just adding them on to the end. I don’t think when you pull people and you say where would you want to add more years in your life, that you would say, “Old age, that’s where I’m going!”

So what we thought about is, if you take a white sheet of paper, or a map in this case, and you think about the road that you take, where would you put those extra years, what would you do differently? How would you lay out life if from the beginning you thought you were going to live to be 100? There’s a number of demographers now that are predicting that as many as half of today’s five year olds can expect to live to be 100. That just changes the dynamics and the distribution of society so that we’re really living in a time where we have a different breakup of younger people, older people, middle life people than we ever had before.

We thought this was really something that we needed to undertake. We’ve been doing work in this area for, as I said, about 12 years. But this time, we said it’s time to take a step back, start with a white sheet of paper and say, what are the kinds of things we would do?

Nancy 10:25

Who’s the intended audience for this study? What are you hoping that the impact is going to be?

Ken 10:31

Well, I was just going to say, I think the goal is impact. The audience for this, I would say if I’m tiering it from top to bottom, would be influencers at the top, people in government. I don’t just mean federal government. This is the kind of stuff that I think you could use as a mayor, or as a councilman, right?

We think people who run corporations and make decisions about what their workforces look like, and how that all goes, nonprofits, we’re trying to think about this as sort of a filter for those people.

It’s not so much that we want to tell them, here are the five things that you need to do. I think what we want to say is, “Here’s what we have learned about what leads to a long and positive life outcome. And as you start thinking about your own policies and your own decisions, are you making those decisions with that future in mind, or are you making those decisions based on maybe what you thought about in the past?”

Nancy 11:21

Can you summarize some of the most important findings of this study because we’ve been talking about it so generally? I want listeners to be oriented to what the real conclusions were that your team drew.

Ken 11:33

Sure. It might be worth just saying a few words about how we got to these conclusions, because it’ll make a little more sense about how I couch those.

Nancy 11:39


Ken 11:40

When we thought about how do we go about studying this – because you’re sort of saying, you’re trying to study life, right? So let’s try to do this without boiling the ocean.

We got together a group of 50, 60 experts from sort of all points of the compass. We had economists and pediatricians and engineers and educators together and said, “Where are the places that we actually have an opportunity to make some impact?” For example, one of the best predictors of how long people will live, any individual, is the zip code they’re born in, but you really can’t do much about that. So there’s not much that we think we can make an impact there.

So we ended up landing on nine different domains. If it doesn’t take too long, I’ll just I’ll go through them so you know what I’m talking about.

Nancy 12:21


Ken 12:22

They are: education, fitness and lifestyle, early childhood influences, intergenerational behaviors, health care, financial security, the built environment, work, and climate.

We thought, these are domains in which there are opportunities to make impact, and so we went out and we hired, for each of those domains, a postdoctoral research scholar at Stanford, and they spent the last two years researching what’s known about the relationship between what goes on in these domains, and how that plays out over a lifetime in terms of outcomes.

For example, what do we know about how obesity in childhood plays out in terms of long term health? What do we know about what the long term effects of somebody who lives in a house with lead paint, for example? Over those two years, they learned what was known about those relationships. They looked into what had been tried, what worked, what didn’t work, and then really closed by saying, “Okay, based on everything I’ve learned, here’s a list of recommendations for things that we might do going forward that better align us in terms of the lifespan, and society and the way we do things.” So that’s the basis of the report.

I think in terms of what’s come out of it – and some of the findings, some of them or maybe the ones you might know about: for example, I think if I told you that exercise, when implemented at any point in the lifespan, helps. It’s good for you to get an education.

But there were some results that were maybe a little more surprising, I think. It’s things like – in early childhood, I was expecting our early childhood person to come out and talk about childcare and things like that, which they did, and the value of that is very high.

But one of his conclusions was children now, even though we have longer lives – our kids are essentially older at the same age than they were decades ago. For example, they’re reaching puberty earlier, they’re experiencing obesity earlier, curriculums in schools have been advanced so the kindergarten looks like more like first grade. One of his conclusions is that might not make sense. We need to spend more time letting our kids be kids and to play and be creative. That’s a route we could take, because we have the opportunity to really stretch out this longer life.

Nancy 14:36

Right. You make the distinction between health spans and life spans. Can you talk a little bit about how those two are separate?

Ken 14:44

Sure. That’s a great question and something that gets confused a lot. When I say lifespans, I’m literally talking about how long you live, birth to death. That’s the easy one to measure so it kind of gets used for everything. Health span is how long your life extends in a way that you can remain independent, that you can continue to do the things you want to do. It’s really the quality of life and obviously, the goal would be that those two are equivalent, that you were perfectly healthy right up till the very end.

Nancy 15:14

I know that’s my plan. That’s what I’ve signed up for.

Ken 15:17

You walk back in off the beach in Hawaii and topple over.

Karen 15:21

Or the Chinese proverb, “Live long, die fast.”

Ken 15:25

Exactly. Right now another one of the conclusions is that we believe that we need to develop a really good measure of health span, such that it can be used as the thing that we hold up our policy choices against. When we choose to invest in health care, we should be doing it in the interest of health span probably more than lifespan.

Nancy 15:46

Talking a little bit more deeply about some of the points on the map here I love – one of them is that age diversity is a net positive. I love that because as someone in my 50s, I work with clients who are in their 20s and 30s. Yesterday I had a client who was in her 70s and I think there’s so much richness in bringing different viewpoints to the table in a work environment. I think that that holds true whether you’re talking about an organization or a government, whatever it is that there’s a real benefit to having a range of ages involved. So can you talk a little bit about that one in particular?

Karen 16:29

That to me was actually one of the most interesting areas of this entire study, I would say the narrative around aging that the Center has really worked on is the Grey Tsunami. There is this great wave of pensioners about to wash over humanity and wipe away wealth and productivity, and coolness.

What we found, and what the research fellows found in just about every aspect of work, life, culture, is that age diversity creates tremendous value. Whether it is in the workplace, where your 50 plus workers have higher levels of productivity, lower levels of absenteeism, that they contribute, that age diverse workforces actually have higher retention and higher productivity.

It’s been quite interesting because diversity is regarded as this value, as bringing social and economic value. We think in terms of racial, cultural, gender, geographic diversity, and yet age diversity just gets left off the table in terms of measurements and reporting – let’s just say, if a company is publicly traded. But there’s this tremendous untapped resource. There’s these vast reserves of wisdom of experience, of emotional intelligence of working smarter. Now, a 50 plus worker may not be able to continue working the pile driver for decades, but that person also can have just enormous reserves of institutional knowledge of experience that can be transmitted. And so knowledge transfer, so much of it just goes untapped. There’s tremendous wealth to be had.

Nancy 18:25

Well, it’s funny I had a conversation with my husband this week, who’s almost 60, and he has a team of people working for him, who he calls them the kids. I think they’re in their 40s. They’re definitely younger than us. But I don’t know that they’re kids.

But he was making the point the other day – he’s a banker, and he said, “The kids can do these Excel spreadsheets that I don’t even know how they create them. They’re so complex, and they’re so good and they can do all these tricks.” But he said, when it comes to putting together a memo that has to communicate a very complex topic, they come to him. And I said, “That’s because you’ve been in the field for 30 years. You know how to communicate something, because you’ve done it for so long. You shouldn’t feel bad. That’s why there’s a team. They do the Excel piece, you do the writing piece, and it all works together.” When I read this study, I was like, well, there’s the validation I was looking for.

Karen 19:23

There is an incredible complementarity of skills that people of different ages bring to the workplace. And when we step aside from the stereotypes about older workers can’t figure out technology, it may or may not be true. But most people in the workplace can use the technology needed to do their jobs, and then some exactly how your husband described it. Everybody brings a piece of the task to the table, and that should be regarded as a net plus.

Ken 19:56

I was just to say, even from sort of a physical perspective or a psychological perspective, the diversity is good. You have younger people that – their brains actually do work faster and they tend to be more kind of expansive in their thinking. But older people have a lot more emotional regulation, for example. So when crises hit, they typically are going to be in a better position to handle those. But at the same time, working with younger people who will crank out that work and probably be able to do that a little bit quicker.

Karen 20:24

I’ve been in workplaces where somebody has come in and I’ll say, “Did X happen, or did you hear back from so and so?” “Oh, no, they never responded to my email.” And I point to the large plastic box on the desk and I’m like, “Did you call them?”

Nancy 20:41


Karen 20:42

I think there is just a whole spectrum of communication tools right now for workplaces, and to know which one to use, and how and how to let’s say, escalate the communication if needed, and as needed. That’s a skill that I think a more experienced worker can really share with younger workers, and I’ve seen that in my own experience.

Ken 21:05

There’s a generational component to this whole technological divide, too. We are now seeing what we’re considering “older people” becoming the people who actually dealt with the beginning of the computer age. When I started using a computer, I had to use MS DOS, for gosh sake.

Nancy 21:20

Did you have to walk across campus to the computer center? Because that’s how I started to use the Lisa computer.

Ken 21:28

I did, actually. We had to sign up to get time on the mainframe. I remember walking over at two in the morning, because that was the only time I could get time on the mainframe.

Karen 21:35

Yeah, I remember doing a master’s thesis in the same way Ken did, in a data center where I signed up. And I used up half an hour of my time trying to load that paper, with the little perforations on the side.

Nancy 21:47

I thought I had it made in grad school because my roommate had an electronic typewriter. I was like, “Woo-hoo! No more drudgery for me. I live with Pam and I’m going to borrow her typewriter.” My kids don’t even know what any of that sentence means.

There was another finding that really fascinated me, and I wondered how much of it was influenced by the fact that much of this research took place during a pandemic: “Work more years and more flexibly.”

So the thesis being that, yeah, if we’re going to have those 30 extra years, why not have them during our productive workspan, lifespan and give ourselves breaks? So that you could maybe take time off and be home with your small kids, or take time off to take care of your parents. And as a person in midlife, that is so appealing to me, because I don’t really foresee a need to stop working. I still feel productive. I love what I do, all of it. But it would be nice to be able to take six weeks off here or a year off there for some other priority that takes precedence at that point. Talk a little bit about that finding.

Ken 22:53

Well, I think that’s been a very core finding of the center for a long time, the idea that if we think about making a longer life…my metaphor for this is, rather than adding that life on the end, it’s a rubber band. If you stretch the rubber band out, all parts of that rubber band sort of stretch the same amount.

Also, we are going to end up working longer, even for financial reasons. Like you say, because people get a lot out of their jobs beyond just the financial. So if we’re going to work, 50 year careers or 50, 60 year careers, it just doesn’t make sense that they have to be worked at the same intensity that you work if you’re working a 20 or 30 year career. I think a lot of people would really like to be taking that time off with their kids or for other reasons.

But we have these social norms that somebody drops out of the workforce for a number of years, it’s hard to get back in. I think we find out over and over and over again, when it comes to education, when it comes to work, that everything comes down to flexibility. This metaphor works great because we had the social norm of a very straight road that you went down, you went to school, you got your job, you worked, you retired.

Now it’s going to be a lot more about off ramps and on ramps. We have a much more complex picture, where we expect people to have three or four careers during their lifetime, that we expect people to be taking time off to do other things. I think over and over again, we find that what people really want is flexibility and we need to find ways to build that in

Karen 24:25

One way to think of it might be extending work span, as we do with health span, with exactly the tools that Ken mentioned.

Nancy 24:36

I feel like I’ve had more conversations in the past couple of months with people who are trying to figure out…The pandemic has obviously forced a lot of us to re-examine how we were living up till March of 2020. Did we want that commute? Did we want that really high pressure job? Did we want to live that far away from family? I feel like I know so many people who are getting ready to make changes or have already started making changes.

The minister at my church did this just brilliant sermon a couple weeks ago, which unfortunately, they did not videotape. So I can’t share it because I would have otherwise. But he talked about how it’s a helpful construct to think of your life in chapters, and to try to identify what chapter are you in right now. Remember that this chapter is not your whole book. And what chapters do you still want to write? He was talking about it in the context of interpersonal relationships, and how you have to remember that the person across the way is also in their own chapter, and maybe your chapters aren’t matching up right now for a reason.

But I really liked that notion of chapters. And when I was reading The New Map of Life, it came back to me because I thought, if you could have a five year span where your chapter is that you’re really focused on career, and then you’re going to take a chapter to take care of your young kids, and then another chapter, I feel like people would just be so much happier. I feel like they would just be able to prioritize what’s important, and recognize that none of it is forever.

Karen 26:09

It is a way to live with a lot more self-compassion and compassion for others.

Ken 26:15

I don’t think it’s a problem of convincing the population that this is what they want. I think, like you say, everybody wants that. It’s just okay, if everybody wants that, how do we design a world that accommodates it?

Nancy 26:25

Well, so here’s the question. First of all, where can people find this study to read it for themselves, and whatever is about to be said, I’m going to include that link in the show notes. But for those of you who are just listening and can’t jot it down, what’s the best place to go to find The New Map of Life?

Ken 26:40

I think the easiest place is to go to the Center on Longevity’s website at longevity.stanford.edu, and it’s linked right off the top banner.

Nancy 26:48

Great. Then the next question: how do we make sure that the people who are setting policy and making decisions are aware of this? What can we do to amplify it and sort of say, “Hey, this aligns with what I’d like to see for my future and for the future of my children and grandkids?” What do you need us to do to signal boost this report? Besides printing it off and dropping it in your company’s anonymous suggestion box.

Karen 27:13

I think getting the word out is as you are, Nancy, is a tremendous help, because as people read The New Map of Life, and it resonates with everybody on many levels. You have to see it, and then you have to build it. And the building, it is a whole of society, it’s all hands on deck, it’s public sector, it’s private sector, it’s individual action, it’s collective action, it’s individual health, it’s public health. These are all investments, even the infrastructure investments – that trillion dollars of infrastructure, you can build for climate resilience, you can build for economic productivity, you can build for longevity readiness, but the same dollars.

So if there is awareness, and we can optimize all of the investments, the choices and help people learn about and become more familiar with this concept: we can draw a new map of life. And that awareness leads to action. There are a number of great examples that we share in the report of places and programs that work.

Ken 28:31

Yeah, I think it’s worth saying, first thing is: read the report and internalize it. The reason that we worked with a great writer like Karen is because we knew, as a bunch of academics ,that we were not going to put something out that was compelling enough to get people to read through it, and to really tell that story in a way that is easy to internalize. I think Karen’s done just such a fantastic job with that.

As you internalize those ideas, it’s really, take those to the places where you have influence in life, and where you are making decisions, kind of hold it up to the light of that report and say, “Are we pushing things in the direction of something that supports 100 year life, or are we holding that vision back?”

Nancy 29:09

Alright. We’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor, but when we come back, we’re going to ask Ken Smith and Karen Breslau about The New Map of Life as it relates to us in the years between being hips… between “can’t say my own tagline” – “between being hip and breaking one.”

I wanted to tell you about a new book that will be coming out next spring and is available now for preorder. It’s called Bomb Shelter, and it’s by my dear friend and past podcast guest, Mary Laura Philpott.

You guys, I received an early copy of Bomb Shelter from the publisher and I read it in like, three sittings. I finished it up on Thanksgiving morning and I’m telling you, this one is exquisite. As she did with her first book, which is called I Miss You When I Blink, Mary Laura is tackling life’s harder questions with humor, compassion, and wisdom. She started off as an essayist and she has always been so funny and insightful, even while baring her sole about her struggles to reconcile worry with joy, to love without trying to control, and the contemplation of her mortality, her kid’s mortality, her parent’s mortality.

It sounds like a dark read. It’s not. I have to tell you it was the most humanistic relatable book and I just loved it. The storytelling, the structure, the language, and the heart Mary Laura puts in this book combine for a truly memorable read. I’m going to be thinking about this for years to come. You can pre order Bomb Shelter now at your local bookseller. Make sure you tell them to stock a whole bunch or you can order it online for pre order and just think: some day in April 2022, a really great book is going to pop up in the mail box or your bookseller will call and say, “Come on down!” Just look for Mary Laura’s reptilian friend, Frank the box turtle, on the cover of her book – you’ll want to get your hands on this one. And if you want to check out my past interview with Mary Laura, check out episode, I think 52? I’ll put a link in the show notes. It’s in the fifties. That much I know!


Nancy 31:04

Alright. We’re back with Ken Smith and Karen Breslau from the Stanford Center on Longevity talking about their report, The New Map of Life. So if we’re already in midlife, if we’re in the years between being hip and breaking one, we are halfway through your map, if not more. What I’m wondering is what lessons we can draw from The New Map of Life that would be helpful for us to start doing or to stop doing NOW? I know a lot of these conclusions you draw are for broader application or at the societal level, but just looking at the research, is there stuff that you could – say maybe three things that all of us listening should start doing immediately, or stop doing immediately?

Karen 31:44

I’ll take a…

Nancy 31:46

Take a stab at that.

Karen 31:47

Take a stab at it. That’s not a very longevity-imbued phrase, “take a stab.”

First of all, it’s such a pleasure to work with Ken and the incredible scientists and giant brains at the Center. Such an incredible learning experience and it did help me think a lot about my own life and things that I was stumbling around in the dark with. They were illuminated by two facts. One was being able to work with this very talented scientific team. The other, Nancy, is the wrenching, forced experiment we’re put through over the past year and a half, nearly two years now.

For me, the notion that transitions are a feature, not a bug, was really helpful – to know that we are all taking the U turns and the clover leafs and the on ramps and off ramps, and oops! There’s a cul de sac and that’s okay. That is life.

The other is the incredible importance of intergenerational relationships. We live in a very age-segregated society, which was eye opening part of this research. For me, that extended the age segregation, and there is just tremendous, untapped value in relationships with people of all ages. I am very close friends with a 92-year-old neighbor and one of the things I was thinking about is he’s always got time for me. And I have friendships with younger people and relationships, and they’re deeply enriching in so many ways.

To elevate that in our own lives and also, as a collective, to build neighborhoods and communities that allow and foster this kind of spontaneous intergenerational connection that used to happen in villages and farms, that’s really faded away from our modern lives. Over the course of 100 year lives, you need a lot of allies, you need a lot of people to lateral to. Those were my two big takeaways.

Nancy 34:05

Safe to say you’re not moving to a senior living community for your golden years.

Karen 34:10

That’s unlikely to happen. I like diversity, I love age diversity, and so that wouldn’t work for me. I know it would work for others, but not for me.

Nancy 34:22

Ken, what about you? Was there anything in your own behavior that you re-examined in light of the study? You’ve worked in the field for a long time. Was there anything that surprised you about the study?

Ken 34:32

There was. One thing that that pops out is the importance of social connections. We talk a lot about health and diet and exercise and all those kinds of things, but paying attention to your social network is really important.

One of the facts that jumps out at me is that people who report themselves as lonely, and that’s self-reported as lonely, so they have to feel that they’re lonely, have roughly the same sort of hazard profile as smoking. So you can put those two kind of on a par in terms of negative impact on your life.

I think for me, part of it is reawakening the idea that I need to pay more attention to my social network. I live in the Silicon Valley, which tends to be a very work centric place, and you can lose track of those friendships and those relationships over time. So I think that’s definitely one.

Another is to think a little bit more about purpose as you look forward. One trend that we see is that people, as they get older, really want what they’re doing – whether it’s their work or their hobbies – to have more purpose for them, and it kind of forces you to look inward, and to ask: what does purpose mean to me? What is the thing that makes me want to get up in the morning, and how can I actually orient my life more towards that direction as I get older?

Like you say, I think retirement in its current form goes away, so what do I want my future to look like, if I’m not working in my current form, if I want to have more purpose, if I maybe want to have more flexibility? And it’s made me really kind of rethink how I want to set up my future, and it’s also made me realize how long that future is. We have this idea that we live to be somewhere around 80, for example, but that’s life expectancy at birth. If I make it to 65, that 80 moves to something like, 86 or 87. That’s like an added an additional 50% more life than you think about if you’re still anchored on that earlier term. So there’s really more out there.

Nancy 36:19

I always think of my dad who retired – I realized this yesterday, he retired at my age. He took early retirement from Kodak, and then I think the next day, he woke up – and he’d been involved in our local volunteer fire department, and he had been very involved in this Y Camp that my family has close ties to, we’re campers there, and we go to the family camp… From that day forward, my dad woke up every morning like, “Well, those two organizations are going to fall to the ground if I’m not involved today.”

So he had another 25 years, he died just north of 80, and he worked just as hard as when he had a full time job. But he loved it and it was his choice and it brought him so much energy and I think my siblings and I have all looked at that example. That’s what we’d like to do. This idea of getting the flexibility maybe I don’t want to work forever. But that doesn’t mean I want to sit home and read romance novels and eat bonbons every day. Some days I will. Believe you me.

Karen 37:22

There are so many ways to generate wealth and value and purpose and serve.

Nancy 37:30

Now more than ever – I think this idea of coming through the past year and a half, where we’ve all maybe had the reminder that some of the stuff we value before it doesn’t actually matter all that much, and other things do.

I’m going to ask you both the last question that we always ask on this podcast, which is: what one piece of advice do you have for people younger than you, or do you wish you could go back and tell yourself? Karen, I’ll put you on the spot first this time.

Karen 37:57

I would say to myself, trust your gut. That intuition is just an innate force. It’s an antenna that we have -so much of our socializing, so many of our institutions kind of train us to override our intuition, and to do what is expected of us at a particular time in our lives, if we’re students, if we’re workers, if we’re parents, if we’re partners, if we’re retirees. My intuition told me for a great part of my life, break the mold, and I didn’t know how. So I ran along in channels, and I’m much happier out of those channels.

Nancy 38:38

That’s a great piece of advice. I think that trust in ourselves, in our own judgment, comes with time.

Karen 38:43


Nancy 38:44

I love the idea of telling ourselves to trust your instinct, but there is some truth to the fact that you develop that ability over time as you make good decisions, or as you make bad decisions because you overrode your instinct.

Alright, Ken, what about you? What would you tell young Ken, or what would you tell the young people in the world around you?

Ken 39:04

I think I might talk about risk taking.

I grew up as the child of Depression era parents, and so the most important thing was always have that job, always get that paycheck right away. I think I would say, especially when you’re younger, and you don’t have the responsibilities of family and so forth, is to be willing to take more risk. You’re going to have a chance to remake yourself multiple times over your lifetime. Errors that you make when you’re younger almost always can be corrected. Relax a little bit and take those risks, go after the things you really want, and don’t let the fear override that desire and that risk taking.

Nancy 39:45

Remember that your life is chapters. So you’re allowed to have one chapter that’s not the best chapter, that you just try something different. Take a risk and see what happens. Right?

Ken 39:54


Nancy 39:55

Alright. I just came up with the perfect song to put with this show notes. Have you ever heard a song by The Godfathers called “Birth, School, Work, Death”? That’s it. That’s the chant. That’s the old roadmap, people. You need to read The New Map of Life. We’re going to rewrite that song, but it is great song.

Karen 40:17

Ken you need a theme song. We’ve got to work on that next.

Ken 40:19

I have to go find that one.

Nancy 40:21

Believe me, I’ll have it in your inbox in seconds after we get off because now we have to go look at it.

Alright. Ken Smith and Karen Breslau co-authors of the Stanford Center on Longevity’s brand new, The New Map of Life. I’m going to leave a link to it. I really encourage you guys to take a look at it and as Ken said, internalize it. Make sure that that’s part of your thinking as you’re moving forward in places where you have some influence, and thank you so much to both of you for being on the show today.

Karen 40:48

Thank you, Nancy. It was great.

Ken 40:50

Thank you for having me, Nancy. This was fun.


Nancy 40:55

All this talk about next chapters and purpose work and all that stuff got me thinking. So I went over to Facebook and I asked you what your next chapters would be, if you could write your story, which I believe you can. What a cool bunch of listeners I have. Here are some of the things you’ll be thinking about as the next waypoints on your own maps.

Maitreya says, “Peaceful puttering with loads of creative projects.” Lots of alliteration in her next chapter. Jill says, “I feel like I’m living the ‘next chapter’ I dreamed of for so long, since retirement. But if I were to refine it, make it even better, I’d dream of really finding success with my writing, create a true commercially successful bestseller.” Keep going, Jill. Keep writing.

Lara says, “A leisurely mix of volunteering, travel, socializing, consuming” and she delineates books, TV, podcasts, movies, NPR and food, crafty projects just for fun and some cute little low-stress hobby job to “’keep me out of the stores’ as my Aunt Ruthy says. I have no interest in achieving or accomplishing anything. This is a total pipe dream, however, I’m going to have to work until it kills me.” Okay, Lara. C’mon! That’s dramatic. We have to figure out a way for you to make time for it all.

Lance says he is going to “write another book, traveling after we become empty nesters,” and of course, because it’s Lance, he is going to “rage against the machine calm like a bomb like a bull on parade.” Lance always rolls in style.

Okay. Vlad rides bikes with my husband and he loves to tease me and Vlad says his next chapter is pole dancing, and I’m just going to leave it here. I think that’s great, Vlad. I guess I’ll come see you perform. I don’t know.

Stewart says, “Full time writing, photography and film on key subjects (documentary and fiction), at least half time in an island location, the rest in another coastal location” I like that vision.

Burt says his next chapter is going to include “more self-love, self-care, self-compassion. The things that have gotten lost in the shuffle over the decades. “May it happen for you, Burt. I will keep you in my prayers.

Kellor says, “Sleep!” But she adds, “I’m not your typical midlife person The 13 year old takes a lot out of me!” Kellor, let me disabuse you have that fact. We’re all tired. We would all like to have more sleep. And then Lynn said, “Well, the thrill of looking forward to an empty nest and free weekends was quickly thwarted when we had my mom move in with us with quickly deteriorating dementia, so simple things like time outdoors, good food and a little travel while still active sounds divine.”

I love how tender you guys are with one another. Alexandra saw that comment and popped in and said, “We had the same, Lynn, and while I do not want to diminish what you’re saying at all, having to care for my mother in her dementia years turned out to be one of the most sweetly eye opening and heart awakening periods of my life.”

Alexandra was kind enough to share an essay that she wrote about this topic. In fact, she performed it. If you’ve ever heard of the wonderful, acclaimed Moth storytelling series, Alexander performed this as a read for the Moth. Well, she’s very humble. She didn’t mention when she was reaching out to Lynn with some support, but she’s actually the Moth’s Grand Slam storytelling champion. I’m going to drop Alexandra’s performance into the show notes, too. If you are anywhere in that sandwich generation dealing with a parent with dementia or an older relative dementia, I think you will maybe find a different lens to look through it. Yeah, thank you, Alexandra.

Now for her own part. Alexandra’s goal is going to be to get buff. She says, “I always wanted to be physically strong in some way. So she’s going to I guess work out until she is the 60 year old poster woman for buff.”

Thom Jennings says his next chapter is all about being a grandpa. He says, “I never thought being a grandparent could be so fulfilling, it’s the dividend from years of parenting.” He is a little further down the track than me and I see pictures of him on social media – Thom and I went to high school together -and I see pictures of him and his grandbaby and yeah, that looks like a happy grandpa right there.

My friend Liz says, “More travel for sure. I need some big adventure to balance out the (wonderful and stable) child-raising years.” She is not complaining, anybody, but she is ready for some adventure and travel of course with this crew is a big thing. Juanita says, “Travel!! With writing on the side. My dogs on my side too. With hubby of course.” I like that you put the dogs before the hubby. You must have listened to episode 109. She says she wants time to think, create, love and write.

Cindi says, “This is a really good question. I’ve been really dreading my soon to be empty nest, worrying my house would become a tomb. I really had no view of what comes next, unlike all other periods of my life. And I am in a place I didn’t expect. My guess is that travel will play a major role, as will friendships—how to preserve old ones that may have us traveling in diff directions and make new ones—doing things that feed my soul and having more focus on my health, and while others may be looking at retirement, I have this bug for making money and being entrepreneurial and still growing professionally. I get to step back in with more focus. I figure this is my next 5-8 year window before grandkids take my focus.” No pressure on your kids, Cindi. Are you going to place with this and tell them what the time frame is?

Marie had something kind of similar. She said, “I did volunteer/philanthropy chapter already, so with empty nest, I’m ready to refocus on professional life and use the skills I have and build some new ones!” She says, “Grandkids in 5-10 years would be perfect!” So Cindi and Marie should connect and get that mapped out.

Christin also wants to do more meaningful work, while Marie says, “Starting my non-profit has been my huge next phase dream come true. And more travel would be great!” It’s kind of a hybrid. Deidre ] says she is going to use that travel to take the time to visit longtime friends, and have long meaningful conversations. Oh my goodness! That sounds really good.

Ann Imig, the godmother of the Listen To Your Mother Story Telling series says, “Getting back on stage and/or collaborating with incredible creative people and watching my husband get to design a home, or fulfill another big dream.” Because that’s right – for those with us who have partners, you kind of want to see them have an interesting chapter too. Don’t you?

Helene, who I knew formerly as Mrs. Moore because she was the computer lady at my kid’s elementary school says, “So since you asked, I’m still enjoying the space where we met, Joaquin Miller Elementary School. My way-past-empty-nest includes making ‘there’s no place like home’ exciting, stimulating, worthwhile and fun!”

A couple more. My friend Andrea says, “More surf adventure is finding the time and courage to learn to surf the real waves and really be in the lineup.” Yes, she is from California. She wants to learn to fly and get a pilot’s license so she and her husband can take a journey anytime they feel like it. And finally Glynis says she’s going to work on her five minutes for open mic night. She’s been working on her five minutes on my pandemic patio for the last year and a half and let me tell you, she’s going to kill when she finally gets up there behind the mic.

So many cool things to manifest so that we have more interesting markers than just “Birth, School, Work, Death.” Let’s hear what you thought of today’s show – and what YOUR next stop might be on your roadmap. Drop me a line at dj@midlifemixtape.com, or send me a message via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @midlifemixtape.

Ok everybody, the next episode is the last of 2021 so make sure you tune in. You don’t want to miss this one on December 14th! I hope something wonderful happens for all of you today.

[“Be Free” by M. The Heir Apparent]

The post Ep 110 “New Map of Life” Cartographers Ken Smith and Karen Breslau appeared first on Midlife Mixtape .

129 episodes