By the time you reach seven years old, half of your life as you will experience it has ended. It's a terrifying prospect, and it's one you may not realize is a terrifying prospect until you're mature enough to look it up. Time, as you get older, really does fly, and you have to fill it fast—with a family, or Netflix, or a relatively stable career, before the robots possibly render your own labor expendable.
For now, anxiety about the latter is pretty much unavoidable: nest eggs, off-kilter savings techniques, and inheritances from your oil baron great-grandfather aside, most Americans still have to trade their services for legal tender for many decades in order to survive. Especially nomadic millennials, the subject of burnout think pieces, who have less money than their parents, who aren't buying homes, who are submerged in debt, and who are the masters and victims of a grift-laden society.
Even if you happen to work in the tech sector, which may seem like one of the few parts of the economy that promises a decent income (if also your own culpability for inflating rent), life can still be a precarious predicament. You may face a pervasive amount of age or gender or racial discrimination or bias. Technology gets more advanced, and the employees seem to get younger. You might have a boss so powerful and rich that he's basically dictating the minimum wage. Your skills need to change so rapidly that those younger than you seem to have the upper hand, at the moment, simply by virtue of having emerged from their playpen brandishing an iPad. If you're a 30-something millennial less than well-versed with memes or that guy famous on Instagram for being born with a long neck, maybe you feel screwed. (In 2017, Indeed, the job-hiring site, released a survey in which almost half of respondents in tech estimated the typical employee in their company was between 20 and 35 years old.)
It's a seemingly never-ending cycle. You might still be vaguely young, but you don't feel that way any longer. And it can get exhausting, frustrating, and aimless. Yet as the New York Times reports, if you have enough disposable income, the Modern Elder Academy, in Baja California Sur, Mexico, is here to help.
Founded by Chip Conley, a hotelier who evolved into the kind of well-known tech entrepreneur who writes self-help business books, the resort—excuse me, academy—overlooks a majestic beach, and features a converted hacienda, and everything else you'd expect to accompany a converted hacienda: a courtyard, a fountain, a pool. A regular acropolis? Not exactly. Somewhat akin to programs like the Omega Institute in upstate New York, where thousands flock to participate in educational workshops and improve their lives, it's a weeklong retreat explicitly targeted at non-teens in the technology industry worried about the future.
Once you're "admitted" to the short course held there (you have to apply for a coveted spot in the house), "tuition" (that's also the correct word) costs $5,000. After seven days of retreat, you're a graduate. The program seems to attract older millennials (those in their mid-30s) and near-retirement Gen X types (people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s). In addition to what the Times referred to as "three locally sourced meals," you wear flip-flops, do a little yoga, scream off a cliff for purposes of emotional stability, and play with sticks. It's reminiscent, perhaps, of the childhood George Carlin once lamented had disappeared: "When does a kid ever get to sit in the yard with a stick anymore? You know, just sit there with a fucking stick?" What's the next step? Where's the fun gone? And is more "school" truly the appropriate response?
However, if we're to believe a YouTube video titled "A Wisdom School for Midlife," which includes shots of breaking waves, a Frida Kahlo portrait, and a woman stacking rocks on top of one another, the most succinct definition is probably this: The Modern Elder Academy is "the world's first place dedicated to midlife transition." Funny, all this time, I thought that place was the suburbs.
Certainly, the Modern Elder Academy is so absurd, as the Times piece demonstrates, that it's humorous just to report on the whole thing. It's a little I'm Wells Tower, and I'm bringing my father to Burning Man–esque. And, sure, it has some vaguely cult-like aspects—a charismatic founder, an isolated location that matches the existential isolation of the attendees, yoga. (One attendee's mother in the Times feature told her to avoid getting "in a Jim Jones situation.") And, sure, the Orwellian name "Modern Elder" is the type of contradictory euphemism you'd find in a postmodern dystopian novel. So, it makes sense to be a bit skeptical. But the very fact of its existence inevitably leads to a pile of practical and vaguely philosophical questions, as the world around us shifts at an unprecedented rate. For millennials, in particular.
Is 30-something actually old, if you're surrounded by 20-year-olds in the office? When did we decide having to be old also still meant having to be cool? What's going to happen when millennials, at last, grow up?
In the meantime, where the hell are all these old people (I mean, those virtually on the verge of death) supposed to go—and who's planning on taking care of them? Because for the first time in United States history, per a report from the Census Bureau last year, by 2035, people 65 years and older will outnumber those under 18 (78 million to 76.7 million). It's such a desperate and ridiculous dilemma that there are literally Jimmy Buffett–themed retirement facilities starting to crop up. But whether or not senior citizens decide to spend their golden years wasted in Margaritaville, there's an obvious point the US (and all societies) will have to address: As we live longer—as we find new cures for diseases, as we search for ways to slow down the aging process, as we become less and less religious—we'll have to live differently.
And we'll have to hope that checking into a repurposed Mexican mansion on the shoreline for $5,000 a week is only one of the answers.
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