Episode 16 Transcript
(Robert Lipsyte) Coming up on "Life (Part 2)"... Retire? Not on my life! We'll meet some inspiring individuals who are living their dreams by helping others. And later, a certified genius on finding meaning and adventure after the age of 50. Plus, how Ping-Pong keeps a publishing legend forever young. All coming up on "Life (Part 2)."
(woman) Major funding for "Life (Part 2)" was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies-engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."
[bass, & plucked strings play in playful rhythm; bright in tone]
(Robert Lipsyte) Welcome to "Life (Part 2)," I'm Robert Lipsyte. Many of us think that one day, maybe when I'm 64, I'll finally do something that gives meaning to my life and leaves the world a better place. Few people manage to turn their well-intentioned dreams into reality, and only a chosen few get a prestigious prize for their good work. One of the most prestigious is called "The Purpose Prize," and we're about to meet 2 inspiring, yet down-to-earth Purpose Prize winners. But first, a little background.
(Jock Brandis) There are a lot of people whom I think, oh my God, you're in your 60's, you better hurry because you'll be with the drool cup on the front porch of the old folks home by the time you're 75. I don't think so.
(woman I don't find anything as exciting as truly making a difference with my life.
(Robert Lipsyte) Each year, the Purpose Prize, sponsored by Civic Ventures, presents five $100,000 and ten $10,000 awards, all to individuals over 60 who are taking on society's biggest challenges.
(Jock Brandis) I've read a lot of the profiles of the other Purpose Prize recipients, and what sets me aside from them is that I've come to it from a personal history of mediocrity and failure. I've spent the last 7 or 8 years in and out of foreclosure, borrowing money for coffees in the morning, and doing a lot of hitchhiking. I was in Africa, just to visit a friend who had a small problem. And I saw women shelling peanuts by hand, literally with bloody fingers. Peanuts were such a great crop for them, it was a great way to make money, but they needed some simple machine that they could shell these peanuts. I went home; I looked everywhere, and basically this machine didn't exist. The thing is going up and down. So I thought, well, I'll just invent this thing.
(Robert Lipsyte) Former film gaffer, Jock Brandis' invention, the Universal Nut Sheller, cost $28, but it's revolutionizing farming in developing countries by cutting down on the labor and keeping more money in farmers' hands.
(Jock Brandis) You cannot have prosperity without efficiency. In Malawi, we got the peanut oil business so efficient, that it is no longer making any sense to bring imported oil from China and India into Malawi because the local farmers are filling the need. That's the kind of efficiency that creates economic prosperity.
(woman) I hear your heart!
(Sharon Rohrbach) Hi!
(woman) Good morning!
(Robert) Sharon Rohrbach's Nurses for Newborns provides home visits for babies and mothers in need of medical and social care.
(Sharon Rohrbach) I was a newborn nursery nurse in a local hospital. One of the big problems was seeing babies come back through the emergency room that were dying of preventable causes. And watching a mother hold her dying baby and knowing that myself as a nurse, with the knowledge and expertise I had, could have saved that baby.
(woman) It does have cancerous cells in it?
(Sharon Rohrbach) Life-threatening illnesses that can cost a baby his life, don't actually show up until the baby is 72 hours old. In 1989, insurance companies dropped the length of stay for mothers and babies, and they dropped that from 3 days, 4 days, down to 1 or 2 days. And I knew that I did not have the political or economic means of changing insurance companies' minds or hospitals' minds about what they were doing. And I felt that my best bet was to try to get a nurse with my same skills into the home of as many babies, affected by early hospital discharges as I possibly could.
(woman) She had her 6-month immunizations? 3 sets of shots, right?
(Sharon Rohrbach) We've been able to not only provide very humane, loving care to those in need, but we've been able to prove that it's cost effective. I can impact next generations of leaders, I can impact nurses that we're able to hire, I can impact our patients, so it's a very exciting time of life for me.
(Robert Lipsyte) We're delighted to welcome our two Purpose Prize winners, Sharon Rohrbach and Jock Brandis. And here to help us make the leap from having a great idea to making it happen in the real world, is Carol Vecchio, Founder and Executive Director of the Centerpoint Institute for Life and Career Renewal in Seattle. Welcome all to "Life (Part 2)." Sharon, you're a neonatal nurse, and suddenly now you're a nonprofit entrepreneur. There was a moment, something happened, there was some turn, I guess what we all need to hear is, where did you get the confidence that you could make a difference?
(Sharon Rohrbach) I did not have the confidence that I could make a difference. No, I looked around and very carefully looked to see who could make a difference, and, um, I didn't feel that there was any way of impacting insurance companies with a profit motive, and the shorter the length of stay, the higher the profit for the hospitals. I simply couldn't find anybody else to make a difference. And the sight of one baby dying in his mother's arms and her tears running down her face, saying, "What did I do wrong, what did I do wrong?" And she didn't do anything wrong, our healthcare system was doing something very wrong. And I finally just couldn't find anybody else and thought, why not me? And came back the answer, you don't have the education, you don't have any money, you have four kids, you're married to a blue-collar worker. So there were a million reasons not to do something about it.
(Robert Lipsyte) What pushed you? Were you angry? Did you have a religious experience?
(Sharon Rohrbach) I had given my life to the Lord in about 1978 and said, "Use me." And here's this desperately wrong thing in our society going on, and it appeared to be an opportunity to step forward.
(Robert Lipsyte) Well Jock, you came in from a different, as I understand it, you kind of hitting bottom.
(Jock Brandis) Well, I think mine is an interesting situation because the temptation-- I kind of screwed up my career. I got myself into a situation where I didn't promote myself far enough and fast enough and my career sort of fizzled out. And I think the automatic response to that is, well, I'm now just going to go get a job as a manager at Costco. I think that's what people would probably want to do.
(Robert Lipsyte) Did you think of yourself as a loser?
(Jock Brandis) Yes, I did. You know, you try and... You were going to make do, you were going to compromise. I was going to finally get it right, I was going to get myself a 9-to-5 job with benefits, that was going to be the one I was going to do until I retired. And thank God, I got rescued from that, because I would have been the most miserable assistant manager at Costco ever.
(Robert Lipsyte) Yeah, but rescued is...
(Jock Brandis) Yeah, "rescued."
(Robert Lipsyte) ...yet on the other hand, you were a farm boy who worked with machinery and knew how to do stuff in TV and the movies, special effects, you were making things happen, so that was in there. You had kind of lost sight of your own possibilities. Sharon, your rescue was of a different kind. Would you use that same term?
(Sharon Rohrbach) You know, I don't know that I was rescued. I was really happy in that job, working as a neonatal nurse, and wanted to do that forever.
(Robert Lipsyte) But this calling, you had heard something. And why did it take so long?
(Sharon Rohrbach) I think as you get older, you gain a little bit of self-confidence, and you stop worrying about, what will people think? And I think you just give up completely worrying about failure. And I had to get to the point in my life where I really didn't care if I failed. I thought it was worse to have never tried. And I don't think I was there prior to that.
(Robert Lipsyte) And you were prepared for failure, or you didn't consider it.
(Sharon Rohrbach) Well, I refused to fail actually because I just didn't borrow any money, kept Nurses for Newborns in my house for 2 years. So if you don't have bills that you can't pay and you haven't borrowed anything, it doesn't really matter how long that it takes you to succeed
(Robert Lipsyte) Carol, do you agree with the idea of confidence growing as you get older?
(Carol Vecchio) Yes, and it still can be very difficult. These transitions are not something that we just one day wake up and say, "Okay, I'm going to do this." And it didn't happen that way for either one of you. Something changed, and then there's another step that most people skip, which is, okay, I think, I have this idea, this isn't working, I should just be able to go out and do it. But no, you have to step back. And you have to reconsider, so what is my vision around this?
(Robert Lipsyte) I think people must see that moment all the time. People have opportunities all the time, but to recognize it. These guys recognized it.
(Jock Brandis) And essentially, you have to take a chance. But I think what you were talking about, confidence, the part that can get missed here is that I talk to other people about second careers and careers after retirement. And they break themselves into 2 groups of people, the people who need a second career, they need it because their savings aren't enough, or they're going to be living longer, whatever, they're forced into a second career. And there are the other ones who seemed to be more smug and self-satisfied, who have planned very well, but they've retired and now they're looking at 30 years and they want to do something. And the assumption is that these people have to make radically different decisions. That the person who's forced into a second career has to start thinking about being a greeter at Wal-Mart, while this other person, who's come out of a series of successes and is financially stable, has the luxury of making a better, happier, more self-fulfilling decision. I say that the same decision process can happen for both of these people. Just because you weren't all that good in your first career, doesn't mean you just have to say well, I'm a loser, and I'm just going to get what I can. You should be standing back, doing the same process, looking around, looking inside yourself, asking what's out there, and dreaming dreams. Just 'cause you're a loser doesn't mean you can't dream for your second career.
(Robert Lipsyte) Carol, listening to these stories, is there anything we can learn from this or are these such idiosyncratic stories that-- oh, you do think there's something I can learn.
(Carol Vecchio) Oh, there's something that we can all, and the message that we need to let everybody know about, which is, when you have the passion for something, and when you see a need for something, and Richard Bolles, who wrote, "What Color is Your Parachute?" always talks about the intersection of a job is when you take who you are and what you love and find the need out there. That intersection is the job, and that's what you both did. And so often what people do too is, they, and what I heard in both of you, is our heads can get in the way, where we think we can't do this, or we think that this next step is not our next step but somebody else's next step. 'Cause usually, the things that we're really, really good at, and that come so naturally, are things that we discount because we think, oh that's so easy, anybody can do it. But that's not true, we each have our unique combinations of skills and talents.
(Robert Lipsyte) What I hear you saying also is pragmatically, there's a better chance for success, even financial success at something we really care about than something we think we should care about.
(Carol Vecchio) That's right, absolutely no doubt about it.
(Robert Lipsyte) And I guess we should say that the Purpose Prize and this program are both partially sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, so we're all cousins here. Thanks for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(Robert Lipsyte) Speaking of inspirations, I was mesmerized listening to Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot. That's what a brilliant teacher can do. She's a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a MacArthur Fellow, a winner of the so called Genius Grant. We met to discuss her latest book...
(Robert Lipsyte) Well, Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot, welcome to "Life (Part 2)." What is the third chapter?
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) The third chapter is that developmental period after young adulthood, middle age and then the third chapter. And I'm speaking about people from 50 years old to 75 years old. And I'm interested in that 25-year span. It's a time when demographers are not telling us that this is the new developmental period of our time. Last century, we discovered adolescence, it became an imprint in all of our cultural institutions, families and schools and communities. And this century, this is going to be the new developmental period, this third chapter.
(Robert Lipsyte) One of the things that struck me is that terror and exhilaration which you talk about, the leap of faith. I remember leaving "The New York Times," where I spent most of my professional career, and the sense of liberation, but on the other hand, the idea that I had lost my last name, of "The New York Times." No one would return my phone calls and I was kind of adrift. People feel that way.
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) Absolutely, so there's this loss of at least it feels like loss of the old rhythms, loss of the familiarity, often loss of resources, loss of status, loss of a handle that you can take with you to the next cocktail party when people say, "What do you do?" And all of that external stuff, all the costuming that we wear, and have worn for decades, suddenly is off, and there we are left with something that we don't quite know about yet.
(Robert Lipsyte) If up until 50, you had been leading what you felt was useful, fulfilling, worthwhile life. What's happening now, is there some sort of evolutionary or biological imperative at work?
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) Well, I think every time you do something over and over and over again, the habit which may have felt comfortable and comforting, and the stability of all that begins to feel like a rut, and it begins to feel routine, and it begins to feel claustrophobic, all of those things. So I think what happens is, those things which energized us earlier, which were sources of challenge, where we put our ambitions, begin to not feel that way anymore. And we need to take on new challenges. We need to seize the opportunity to take on new adventures.
(Robert Lipsyte) And it's different for men and women.
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) Well, I think it's true that this is a time when women and men become more alike rather than less alike. I think often, many of the men I talk to in this book were wanting a life that was more relational, where there was more intimacy. And women often said the opposite. They wanted to take on the world, they wanted to take on the challenge. And one metaphor, lovely metaphor of one man I was talking to, who was a financial world guy, who said I'm in my canoe, and I'm coming into shore, and as I'm coming into shore, I see my wife and she's in another canoe and she's heading out to sea.
(Robert Lipsyte) That image really struck me, and I love the moment when their canoes were parallel, but then I had the idea that they kind of went on. This must be another interesting strain on her relationship.
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) This is about negotiating new domains, that's for sure. It's also, I think-- one of the things I talk about is that it's much easier to take this leap of faith, to move into the third chapter, if you have a relationship where someone values your new experience, recognizes that this is sending you and therefore, they think you're going to become a more interesting person to them if you do this.
(Robert Lipsyte) In this third chapter, when you are, you know, you're very often a learner, an apprentice, not a mentor anymore, you've lost your seeming powers, you're going to get beat up, you're going to get rejected, you're going to make mistakes. Is this easier or harder at 60, than at 20?
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) I think it's easier. I think there is a way in which, what we learn to do over time is learn to fail and learn from failure. We also have, if we're lucky, we begin to develop an even better sense of humor about the ways in which we're vulnerable, in which we're falling on our face, where we don't know where we're going. So humor helps a lot here. But I think that there is a kind of a humility and modesty that comes with sort of a deep self-confidence, if we're lucky, that we don't have to achieve in a minute, we don't have to show off, we can really be content with a kind of private kind of vigilance and self-acceptance and understanding. But it doesn't require public affirmation.
(Robert Lipsyte) But if we're not as lucky and as self-confident as you and some of your case histories are, there is also a sense, I've seen this in third chapterees, the sense of frustration, of hey, I've paid my dues. I've been paying them for 40 years, and now all of a sudden I'm not being treated with respect or dignity. I'm being treated as another person starting out, I can't take that.
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) That's very hard and there are people who talk about that rage, and talk about that sense of being furious at the ways in which they're not treated with respect. And my book before was on respect. It has a lot to do with the way this culture regards aging, and we're still in this very ambiguous, ambivalent place around this. It's clear that there are signs that older adults are seen as stronger and wiser and even sexier than they used to be. But it's true as well, that this culture is preoccupied with youth, and thinks of youth as a much better place to be.
(Robert Lipsyte) Let me stop you; do you think that's really true? A lot of that sounds, with all respect, as kind of Boomer marketing.
(Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot) Well, I've had a number of deep conversations with people over the last 3 years, and there is always, I admit, there is always this sense that we need to be responsible for making ourselves feel good, we need to begin to think of ourselves as sexy, even if other people don't, we need to value our wisdom and convince others, in other words, there's a way in which we have some responsibility for changing the distortions of our culture and where we can be valued human beings.
(Robert Lipsyte) Well, I look forward to your coming back with the fourth chapter. Thank you so much for joining us on "Life (Part 2)."
(Robert Lipsyte) Harold Evans, or Sir Harry as he's called in England, where he was recently knighted by the queen, is one of the great editors of his generation. He's married to another great editor, Tina Brown. After running the "Times of London," Sir Harry came to America, where he served as President and Publisher of Random House, and later, Vice Chairman of "US News and World Report." Harry Evans is more than 80 years old. How does he stay so young and vital? Well, it's Sir Harry's serve!
(Harold Evans) [with British accent] Two obsessive pastimes of early youth have stayed with me all my life, chess and table tennis. I counted on chess to keep me alert and sharp, but table tennis is better, much better, for mental acuity and better for having the aggression overt. I was good enough at 19, and I'm bragging now, to compete in the premier English Open Table Tennis Championships, the Wimbledon of the sport. The following year, in 1949, I was in the Royal Air Force and I wasn't present to see the triumph of another 19-year-old kid, Marty Reisman, a cheeky American from the lower East Side of New York. He was so thin and lethal, with a ferocious forehand drive. He was called, "The Needle." I didn't meet "The Needle" until 40 years later. I came across him in New York, a chance encounter that led to our playing regularly on a table I installed in the basement of my apartment. Neither of us guessed that whacking the little celluloid ball would prove to be therapy of high order. It seems we had stumbled on an extraordinary way to keep brain circuitries humming as happily as if we were 16 again. In the Japan Medical Journal, two neurologists report dramatic improvements in brain-damaged patients encouraged to play even the most elementary Ping-Pong. Clinical success showed clearly after 2-and-a-half months, patients needing wheelchairs decreased from 18 to just 6. The doctors give several underlying reasons for the progress. Eyes were constantly in motion tracking the ball, and the repetition of reflex movements enhanced physical balance and rhythms. Now perhaps if I played even more Ping-Pong, I could go back to the chessboard and escape too many defeats! I knew there was a reason I loved playing Ping-Pong. It's good for my brain!
(Robert Lipsyte) Sir Harry, consider this a challenge. For now, that's it for "Life (Part 2)." Thanks for joining us. I'm Robert Lipsyte. See you next time, older and better.
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(woman) Major funding for "Life (Part 2)" was provided by The Atlantic Philanthropies--engaging many to improve the lives of and achieve health and economic security for older adults. And by MetLife Foundation-- celebrating the wisdom, talent, and experience of older adults. MetLife Foundation proudly supports "Life (Part 2)."
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