“More start-ups can massively benefit from the wisdom, gravitas and experience of older people.” Lara Jeremko
If there’s one fate none of us can escape, it’s aging. It happens daily, incrementally, and we don’t notice it until our circumstances change significantly — we retire, we become infirm, and steps must be taken to care for our well being actively.
This is not something that only happens to other people — it’s a fate awaiting all of us (unless we’re unfortunate enough to die young). Our elders demonstrate the indignities and challenges of aging most vividly. I think of my grandmother, Amama, and how her domestic circumstances changed during her final years. (Her actual name is Elizabeth, but Hungarian for grandmother nagymama, which came out as “Amama” when I was a toddler).
In her later life, Amama lived in a Jewish community home in San Francisco, Menorah Park, a comfortable, sociable, well-provisioned enclave where she had many friends and activities and lived a full life. However, as her health deteriorated, our family suddenly had to scramble to find something with more intensive medical provisions.
The choices open to us weren’t great. Some facilities resemble depressing gulags of depressed residents and staff who were indifferent to their residents, at best. The best of these facilities was cleaner and more comfortable, but even the place we eventually found for her felt more like a hospital than a home.
A Different Way to View Old Age
Meeting Lara Jeremko, CEO of Beyond Ventures, opened my eyes to alternative ways to experience old age. Jeremko talked about our assumptions about aging and eldercare being very culturally specific.
In countries and communities in which older people live with younger generations, so-called “blue zones” including Japan and India, people live longer. They are more active, more engaged, and, vitally, remain revered within those communities. Multi-generational homes are the norm, with elders awarded the best rooms. Centenarians are commonplace in such environments.
In our fast-moving, youth-obsessed western culture, Jeremko says, we think of old age as something shameful to ward off or deny. We work increasingly hard, horde resources, and marginalize our elders. Everything is disposable and impermanent. But we cannot run away from old age, and when it catches up with us, we may not be prepared for it.
“In our economy, we’ve gotten so hyper-specialized that people become a one-dimensional version of themselves… spending two-thirds of their lives on that one… vector, and when they get to retirement, they put off all the things that gave them joy… creativity, learning new things… and travel. It’s such a tragedy.” Lara Jeremko.
Focusing on the daily grind and blindly pursuing wealth at the expense of all else means we leave everything pleasurable and self-improving for retirement, when we may not be in the best shape to catch up on everything we put off.
Knowing this, we need to have more compassion for our older people. We should think of ways to better care for our elders both because it’s the right thing to do and because there is a huge gap in the market for products and services to improve their experience.
The wisdom accrued by elders could be useful to younger generations. Jeremko talks about the concept of Retirement 2.0 — the idea of providing opportunities for elders to share their wisdom with early stage companies if they so choose. Not everyone wants to stop working in retirement and become less physically and mentally active.
These beliefs about the potential inherent in later life have led Lara to work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Pivotal Ventures, an incubation and investment company focused on eldercare and innovations within longevity and aging. One of the incubator companies she’s involved with makes adaptive apparel for elders with mobility issues. Another is creating multi-generational co-living spaces.
Expanding your Horizons Makes Aging Meaningful
In her own life, Jeremko has found that lately, she wants to expand her own range of experiences and activities rather than become a hyper-specialist. This has involved making time to write, and engage with visual arts and dance, in addition to her business interests. She discusses The Artist’s Way, a book by Julia Cameron, which demonstrates a very different way to balance life and creativity. Jeremko has integrated many of the teachings from Cameron’s book into her daily routines.
Previously, Jeremko let many of her creative and physical pleasures go by the wayside, especially dance, which she once loved. Like many of us she had assumed that if she couldn’t be a superb professional dancer, it wasn’t worth investing time in.
Recently, she rediscovered the pleasure of dance and the social, welcoming environment she found in dance classes, going as far as to join a company that creates choreography for music videos. Remarkably, a Google search on Jeremko now throws up as many references to dance as to her work as an investment banker and innovation strategist.
“The only finite resource we have is time,” says Jeremko. Her ambition never allowed her to pursue a creative career; she learned from her father, an engineer and later a commissioned oil painter, that attempting to monetize creativity could lead to resenting the process. However, lifelong passions don’t leave you and can be carried through into middle-age and later life. They need not be marginalized, forgotten, or undervalued.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Following a decade in investment management, Jeremko decided to strike out on her own as a consultant, a course that granted her the freedom to pursue “bucket list” interests in tandem with her business pursuits.
She left the tech-obsessed and sometimes sexist working environment in Austin for LA’s diversity and wealth of creative and entrepreneurial opportunities. Jeremko welcomes the sea-change happening in business culture, with increasing boardroom diversity being promoted, and hopes that this process will intensify.