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E258 | From Crisis To Calling: Redefining Midlife with Jeff Hamaoui

Do you desire a life of growth and fulfilment as you navigate your midlife transition? Are you ready to challenge the negative stereotypes about ageing that may be holding you back? Join us as our guest, Jeff Hamaoui shares the solution to reframing ageing as a time of personal growth and purpose. Discover how you can achieve a life of meaning, embracing the untapped potential within you during this transformative phase.

This week on Mind Your F**king Business Podcast, we learned from Jeff Hamaoui, a seasoned social entrepreneur with a rich background in sustainable practices and innovative ventures. Cutting his teeth in the ever-evolving realm of green business, Jeff’s professional journey has seen him partnering with leading corporations like NASA, Nike, and Ikea. After a twenty-year stint in California spearheading various social initiatives, he co-founded the Modern Elder Academy. Drawing from his vast experience, Jeff now heads programming at the academy, using his knowledge to design impactful and immersive learning experiences.

In this episode, Jeff challenges the negative narratives and stereotypes about ageing. He argues that age is not a barrier to success and that older people have valuable resources, wisdom, and the potential to make a significant impact in the world. In fact, the data shows that the most successful enterprises in the US are actually started by people aged 45 and older. Jeff also discusses the need to reframe ageing and embrace the opportunities that come with it. He believes that as life expectancy increases, we need to reconsider what it means to get old and focus on taking care of physical health to ensure a longer health span.

Download and listen to learn more.

On today’s podcast: 

  • Rewriting the narratives around entrepreneurship
  • The role of Modern Elder Academy in midlife transitions
  • The three elements of a healthier midlife
  • Changing the view about masculinity and feelings

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Reframing Ageing and midlife transition with Jeff Hamaoui

Jeff Hamaoui is Co-Founder and Chief Education and Innovation Officer of Modern Elder Academy, the first-ever ‘midlife wisdom school.’ Dedicated to reframing the concept of ageing, Modern Elder Academy (MEA) supports students to navigate midlife with a renewed sense of purpose and possibility. 

With prior roles at NASA, IKEA, and Nike before permanently landing in Baja at MEA in midlife, Hamaoui is a seasoned teacher and master facilitator with an entrepreneurial mind, teacher’s heart, and seeker’s soul. 

Jeff is also the founder of Baja Sage, MEA’s adjacent residential community. This new type of community utilises regenerative principles to support flourishing and resiliency across the entire community.

The U-curve of Happiness

After twenty years in California and travelling the world working with the likes of NASA, Nike, Walmart, IKEA and BP, Jeff and his wife were exhausted. So, they decided to take a sabbatical, jumped on a truck with their two young children and drove 1,000 miles south. 

“I’d learned to surf in California, so I was like, okay, we’re going to go to Baja, and we’re going to build a surf house, and that’s going to be my sabbatical. And then we’ll come back up and make something happen. And when I was down there, something new happened.”

Curiously, Jeff talks about the U-curve of happiness. He argues that it’s at the age of 47.7 that we’re unhappiest. That’s the age he had when he realised he couldn’t deal with the business anymore. That was their tipping point between what he calls their ‘first adulthood’ (first 30 years of someone’s life), and the ‘second adulthood’.

“The life expectancy in the UK is the same as in the US. So in the UK, your life expectancy is about 81 years. I think if you’re going to die in your 81st year anyway, 20 to 50 is your first adulthood, and 50 to 80 is your second adulthood. And that 47.7, that kind of peak unhappiness is this global demographic trend where happiness tends to bottom out and then starts to climb back up again.”

In the second part of our lives, we tend to reassess the decisions we’ve made at a younger age. The person we are at twenty years old is not the same as we are at fifty. 

“There’s this idea that we evolve as we age and change. You have to start facing yourself as an adult. And maybe you’re not as successful as you’d like, or your narratives, your hopes and dreams are not as successful as you’d hoped.”

The counterfactual narratives around entrepreneurship

Americans are very much tuned into the idea of being an entrepreneur. Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator said that the cut-off for investors considering investing in an entrepreneur is around 32 years old. After 32 they tend to be more skeptical. 

In an interesting article, Harvard Business Review looked at this data. Who are actually successful entrepreneurs? Where are these successful entrepreneurs that everyone keeps talking about? And in their analysis, they found that in the top 0.1% of startups in the US (based on growth in their first five years) the founders started their companies when they were 45 years old on average. 

“There’s this idea that, no, to be an entrepreneur, you have to be young and have new ideas and fresh perspectives. And then this weird thing happens that actually, the most successful enterprises in the US are started by people 45 years and beyond.”

As our life expectancy has gone up, Jeff defends the idea that perhaps we need to reframe ageing. In 1955, the average life expectancy in the US was 55, whereas now it’s gone up to 80. So, he adds, in the last hundred years we’ve added a second adulthood.

Everyone has their own personal narrative about ageing. But, the truth is anyone in their forties or fifties can start a business and succeed. They have the emotional quotient, they have financial, social and cultural resources. 

MEA and its role in midlife transitions

Why do people go to the Modern Elder Academy? Jeff says that people from 26 countries have gone to the academy to get help in their midlife transition. That transition can be professional, physical and more, so at MEA, they take them on a journey from ego to soul. 

Jeff explains that as opposed to what happens in our teens when we go through transitions together with classmates or friends when this happens in midlife, you’re on your own. 

“So the person that’s lost their job or been made redundant, the person whose children have left, or the person that’s started work in their 50s, they’re often doing that in a very isolated way. Being in a transition on your own is incredibly difficult, incredibly isolating. So to come to a place where other people are doing the same stuff is helpful to be in a community of people.”

Typically, they work around things like generativity. So, how do you have a more generative mindset around the second part of your life? Then, they move into purpose. First, you think about the transition you’re in, and then reframe your thinking to become more generative around having a more aspirational second part of your life. The third part is about looking outside of yourself and into the community. What’s your purpose? What do you care about? 

A lot of our community come for a week or two. Or they do our online courses, and stay in the community. We have chapters all over Europe, all over the states that are super active. We’ve had about 500 chapter events all around the world. Alumni reunions and stuff like that. And so I think the community element of people coming together, being together, is also tremendously powerful as well.”

Reframing the Role of Emotions in Business

Understanding emotional intelligence and its importance in creating high-performing teams is a crucial aspect of modern business management. Today, the traditional attitudes towards emotions in the workplace are experiencing a shift, with more leaders recognising the significance of understanding and confronting feelings as a tool for personal and organisational growth. 

This transformation is seeing the erosion of preexisting stigmas, particularly concerning men expressing their feelings and emotions openly. The consequences of this are profound and constructive. Evidently, it contributes to the creation of psychological safety within the workplace, enhancing the performance and productivity of teams. 

Jeff’s insights and unique perspective unfold a nuanced understanding of this dynamic. He talks about his journey in the business world – a journey that has seen him recognise the pivotal role emotions play in successfully steering the ship. His experiences made him realise that acknowledging and dealing with feelings is paramount for a harmonious and productive work environment. He describes the importance of generative questions over fear-based ones to foster collaboration and a culture of learning and growth versus a culture of blame based on fear. It’s a shift in perspective that encourages vulnerability as an integral part of leadership and team building. 

“Learning how to ask a generative question, it’s just a foundational leadership skill. There’s a practice called Appreciative Inquiry that we teach, and oftentimes appreciative inquiry is used in a business context. But even in a life context, right, there is an energy to the questions that we ask. Questions feel a certain way. There’s a feeling to questions.”

Emotional intelligence is not an optional add-on for businesses and leaders; it’s a cornerstone. It’s not about suppressing feelings and emotions; it’s about embracing and understanding them to pave the way for high-performing teams. Creating a space that encourages expression centred around emotional discourse, can change the dynamics within the workplace. 

Having a healthier midlife

Jeff explains that today in America, retired people spend 45 to 50 hours in front of the TV. The mental models that we have for ageing are so negative that we think that that’s the only thing left for us to do when we get to that age. 

“If we can recalibrate our mindsets, if we can start to recognise some of those social narratives and find alternative data, alternative stories, you can then start to reconstruct a story. “

If you make it to 50 in America, adds Jeff, you’ll live longer than the generation before. This is a fascinating opportunity for people to seek lifestyle changes. We should be reimagining our lives at that point. And to do that, Jeff explains that three things predict a healthy midlife. The first is wellness, that is looking after your physical and spiritual health. The second is community.

“Since COVID there’s been this loneliness epidemic, just a huge amount of isolation. People,  particularly as they get older, are isolated. This is particularly the case in Men, by the way, who often tend to get their community through work. And so then as they retire, they become massively isolated and have very few outlets for connection.”

The third and most important one is purpose, being committed to something that is greater than yourself. 

“The over-50 generation has an opportunity to do something wildly impactful in the world in terms of we’re facing extraordinary planetary, social, cultural challenges, global challenges. And I feel like this generation has both the resources, the lifespan, the health span, and the wisdom to get after it. So that’s kind of what animates our work at the academy”.

Building Psychological Safety Within Diverse Teams

In the contemporary workplace, the creation of an inclusive environment that encourages open discussion, nurtures emotional intelligence and inculcates a culture of psychological safety is an essential prerequisite for team performance. This understanding is often aided by diverse teams as variability in age, culture, background, and experiences can often contribute to a landscape of healthy discussions, mutual learning, and shared decision-making.

Teams that encompass a wide variety of ages often have higher emotional intelligence as life experiences tend to nurture this quality that’s pivotal to individual and team growth. From Jeff’s perspective, the correlation between age diversity and emotional intelligence in teams is underpinned by his references to Google’s Project Aristotle. The research found that among various components of high-performing teams, it’s not just who is on the team that matters, but how the team members interact, structure their efforts and view their contributions to their success. And at the core of this lays the fundamental element of psychological safety, described as the shared belief held by members of a team that it’s safe for interpersonal risk-taking in their team’s milieu. 

This culture of safety encourages active participation and voice, resulting in collaborative problem-solving, innovation, and driving results. Recognising the importance of fostering diverse teams that enable psychological safety is vital. This understanding can be used as a pivot to leverage the collective intelligence of the team and drive significant results. An environment that supports expressing emotions and feelings, essentially nurturing emotional intelligence, enables team members to constructively navigate their way through conflicts and arrive at decisions considering diverse perspectives. 

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