The Modern Elder
I recently had Chip Conley as a guest on London Real.
Conley is an American hotelier and New York Times bestselling author who helped grow AirBNB into the world’s leading hospitality brand.
In 2008 Chip collapsed while giving a speech – technically dying 9 times on the way to hospital – which led him to drastically reshape his life and sell the business that he founded at 26-years-old.
A few years later he became the Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy at Airbnb, tasked with growing the business to more than one million hosts in 191 countries.
Today Chip promotes the concept of the “Modern Elder”, with his latest book Wisdom at Work teaching people how to become indispensable employees in the second half of their working life. Rather than a traditional “midlife crisis” his concept encourages middle aged people to embrace a “midlife marathon.”
Yes, your priorities will probably change, but as long as you continue to work toward adding value to the environment around you and sharing your wisdom with others, the second half of your life will be just a great as the first half.
No matter if you’re young or old, I know you’re going to enjoy my conversation with Chip!
How His Death Led To A New Life
When Chip was 47 he was going through a very difficult time. Recently a mentor and close friend had committed suicide and the 2008 recession was underway. He had been running his hotel company for 22 years and was a bit of a workaholic. Despite having a bad infection in his leg, he continued to travel for work.
During a speech in St. Louis when he collapsed.
His heart stopped multiple times, but he was eventually revived and survived the experience.
Most people experience the lowest point in their life from the ages of 45-52, and Chip was certainly going through that stage in his life personally.
Laying in his hospital bed he read Man Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl and learned that despair was just suffering without meaning. Meaning is the sustenance of life, so when you increase meaning, you decrease despair.
On the spot he decided to sell his company. It took him two years to sell his company because of the recession, so he was just about 50 and was suddenly faced with no plan for the rest of his life.
He then got a call from Brian Chesky one of the three original co founders of AirBnb which, at the time, was a small but fast growing tech company. None of the founders had real experience in hospitality or travel so they turned to Chip to help them.
He dove full time into working with them as a mentor and as the Head of Global Hospitality Strategy. He is now, six and a half years later, still their strategic advisor.
The Intern and the Mentor
Chip entered his job at AirBnb as the head of strategy, but he soon realized he actually knew nothing about being a part of a tech company. He had been a pioneer in the boutique hospitality world, but now he had become part of the “establishment.”
He didn’t see this new wave of “sharing economy” that was on the rise. He had to take a step back and evaluate what he could add.
He realized that as much as he was brought on to mentor these millennials, he was also working as an intern himself. He had to quickly learn what the tech industry was all about.
Chip learned that, “the faster the world changes the more obsolescence accelerates.” It’s becoming increasingly true that what you may learn in college will be outdated within 30 years. This results in the decline of age when one may start to feel irrelevant. People are living longer lives, but power is being placed in younger and younger hands. Chip calls this the “irrelevance gap” which is occurring for a lot of people in their 40s and 50s.
Elders in Company Culture: The Modern Elder
What Chip learned from this experience, and what he shares in his book, is that the “modern elder” can be a person of great value to a company and can provide the wisdom and guidance that members of the younger generation may need in order to become successful. Being an elder and being eldery are not the same thing.
Being an elder used to correlate with reverence, but now being a modern elder is all about relevance. This means that you can take your wisdom and give it context; in other words, you can apply it to modern day problems.
It also means you have to be curious as well as wise. This allows you to open up possibilities for those around you. In fact, the wisest people often offer up better questions than they do answers.
Older people tend to take on the role of the parent or the preacher rather than the mentor. In Chips’ opinion, the best kind of mentorship is one that is mutually beneficial, where both the elder and the younger can learn from each other.
Chip believes that the future of mentorship will be based on creating mutual mentorship across generations. We have five generations in the workplace for the first time ever and we have to figure out how people of all ages can learn from each other within a company. We all have to be willing to check our egos at the door in order to benefit the most from each other’s wisdom. For Chip, this led to a shift from being interesting to interested. He had to refocus his attention on how best to help his younger co workers rather than putting himself in the spotlight.
I have so much more to share from my talk with Chip so tune into my next letter where we dive even more into the concept of the “Modern Elder.” In the meantime, take a second to assess where you are in your life. How can you form mutually beneficial mentorships with the people around you?
Editor, Brian Rose Uncensored