The other day I was walking through central London with a friend when she asked me.. “how did you end up here, given your background and where you grew up”. I started thinking of an Instagram Reel moment – motivational background music and a deep voice-over by yours-truly with a narrative stitched around “Hard Work, Dedication, Vision, Resilience”. Then I caught myself – ‘get over yourself Chale’; I responded “I don’t think I played much of a role – it was my parents work and I picked up the baton – their choices, their decisions, the environment they created, the self-esteem they helped me develop. My Mum and Dad played completely different roles but it seemed to come together ok.”
She asked – “What did your mum do? I see my children evolving everyday based on what I do and there are so many different paths to take” .. I tried to break it down but after a while it dawned on me – I didn’t actually know – I only saw that which existed on the surface – “You know – you should just speak with my mum, – yes you should”.
Over the last couple of years one of the most difficult emotions I’ve had to deal with stems from watching the decline of my parents through poor physical health – and there’s an even deeper mental illness accompaniment that is not often spoke about. From active, hard-working, knowledgable and principled, formidable pillars of society and masters of their domain into ‘dependent burdens with nothing to think about other than pain’. My parents like many others (not excluding those who did not have children) have so much to give, so much wisdom, energy, stories, inspiration and yet every day I see them disengaged, not contributing and lacking a genuine sense of purpose – and I feel powerless to change it. It’s the one area of my life where I regularly feel like a failure – ‘how have you allowed it to get to this?’.
Last year when my mother was hospitalised I would visit twice a day and after a week I realised, I didn’t ever see anybody visiting the other five cubicles; every day it was very hurtful to see her fellow patients lie in bed with no visitors, nothing to do, yet with so much to offer, so many stories to share, so many lessons to impart. Loneliness and the accompanying absence of purpose is an epidemic, a stain on our claims of progress, and a complete failure of society to function equitably and effectively, irrespective of whether you are applying a social or economic lens. For example, despite decades of technological advancement, productivity in advanced economies is at an all-time low and falling- at best it’s stagnant, and I believe a disconnecting of our senior talent is big reason for this. Every year the talented, gifted and experienced simply drop off a cliff edge and disappear from the value-added economy because we are bad at redeveloping and repurposing talent. We have failed to embed life long learning and life long purpose into society sustainably – we need to change this.
Productivity growth over time by country, 1871–2016, %
I want to solve for loneliness and sustaining purpose amongst my parents’ generation – help me. What if we could find a way to reintegrate our senior citizens back into society replicating the level of agency, freedom and purpose they enjoyed once upon a time. What if we could create ‘Boards for Life’? The irony being there exists a minuscule portion of senior citizens who get paid incredibly well on Boards and in Governments for their life long lessons and experience. We know the value – yet we have again failed to recognise this experience has broader application across every facet of society.
So what next? I am connecting my friend to speak with my mum. I invite others who want to bounce parenting ideas off a sounding board to get in touch. I’ll be inviting others who believe their parents / loved ones have something to offer to get them signed up to join the movement. Let’s create a network of giving and sharing that benefits all of society, creates purpose and strengthens connectivity with those who have come before us. Who’s with me?