As far as social entrepreneur Jan Hively is concerned, age is a number and it shoudn’t prevent older people from living fulfilled and productive lives writes Olive Keogh.
While other folk might be relaxing on the porch in their rocking chairs, Jan Hively (85) is still lving her mantra: “Meaningful work, paid or unpaid, through the last breath,” and buzzing about explaining the benefits of positive ageing to anyone who will listen.
Hively retired from her career in city and nonprofit planning and administration at the end of the 1980s. However, as she says herself “I never really retired. I found a freedom to follow my own vocational calling I had never experienced before.”
This “calling” subsequently led her to study at the University of Massachusetts where she was awarded a doctorate in education at the age of 69 for her survey research on aging rural communities. “Those survey results nudged me to start organising education and advocacy to support self-determination, creative expression, and meaningful work for and with older adults,” she says. “Since then, I’ve co-founded three older adult networks to raise awareness about our potential and cultivate leadership for positive ageing.”
The three organisation in question are the Vital Aging Network, ShiFT - a non-profit community network empowering those in midlife transition(s) to find meaning and purpose in life and work - and most recently, the Pass It On Network which she cofounded with Moira Allan, her Paris-based colleague from the European Voices for Active Ageing project. Pass It On is a global exchange where adult leaders can exchange ideas and information about innovative programmes that support positive, productive ageing.
“For the last 20 years, since I shifted my professional focus on life-work planning from youth to older adults, I’ve wanted to counter ageism by showcasing the productivity and potential of older adults who are teaching and learning, doing and caring for themselves and others,” Hively says. “The Census Bureau described all of us under age 16 or over 65 as “dependents.” It was important to show a different perspective. Whatever their age, people who were doing meaningful work that tapped their skills and interests – whether paid or unpaid — were benefiting both themselves and their communities.”
Hively is at pains to stress how important it is to stay connected as we age. “Isolation is a killer and it is important to reach out and to be reached in turn,” she says. “In ways this has become easier with digital communication, but it reallyworks best when there is person to person connection as well.
“When I speak to friends about their travel plans where they are going is important, but the greater empahsis seems to be on the people they will meet. This personal dimension, where they can get to understand another way of life or a different culture is what really appeals to them.
This is why I think The Freebird Club is a great initiative as it provides older travellers with the personal interaction that is so important to them.”
Hively says that there are six dimensions of activity that need to be “exercised” to help keep older spirits young at heart. “Physical, mental, social, emotional, vocational and spiritual exercise all matter,” she says. “On average those who feel positive about ageing will live seven and a half years longer than those who don’t. Feeling positive is about making connections and sharing your strengths and experience – whether through work (paid or unpaid), volunteering, taking care of grandchildren or helping with things like homework projects for kids whose parents are out working. Where older adult productivity is high, it has tangible benefits on health, independence and self-reliance.”
Read more about Jan’s work here: