There is only one common trajectory in everyone’s life – old age. However, being “old” does not mean we are devoid of whatever purpose we had during our young lives. Adam’s guest for this episode, Whitney Vosburgh, is someone who greatly challenges the conventional notions of age. Whitney is a speaker, brand consultant, author of Work The Future! Today and co-founder of Brand New Purpose LLC, a brand transformation consultancy that creates purpose-built, value-driven opportunities for leaders and organizations of all sizes. Whitney shares with us his perspectives on purpose and on the changes we encounter at different times of life. He talks about the value of collaborating, communication and co-creation among generations to create a future that is beneficial for all. Listen to Whitney’s great insights on bringing purpose to work no matter what age.
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On Purpose And Changes No Matter The Age With Whitney Vosburgh
It’s a beautiful day and I’m feeling grateful because it’s the day after our son turned 21. It’s a trippy thing to have a kid who’s 21. He’s the third, so he’s not even the oldest of our babies, but he’s the only boy in our family, the only son we have. There is something about getting at 21, what that means and a rite of passage and things like that. We celebrated with him. He’s not much of a drinker and that’s a good thing, but we took them out and had a lot of fun. I’m feeling grateful for that. I am grateful to I have a healthy family, healthy kids and to feel healthy and alive at this moment myself. I hope you’re feeling the same way. If there’s anybody that is on your end struggling in some way with health issues, our thoughts go out to whoever that is and send them a lot of love and that they feel more well soon.
I feel blessed as well that I have a great guest on my show and I am excited about the conversation. You are going to dig this guy. His name is Whitney Vosburgh. His the co-author of Work the Future! Today. He’s a speaker and a brand consultant who brings purpose to life and puts it to work. Whitney loves doing it all. He is an interim Fortune 20 Chief Marketing Officer. He is a graduate of the Graduate Theological Union and an internationally exhibited fine artist who has lived all over the world. He’s got a brand new book with a similar title to that. We’re going to get his perspective on purpose and on changes in life at different times of life. I get a sense that it’s going to be a theme that’s running through his book. Whitney, it’s great to have you on the show.
Thank you for having me. It is a pleasure to be here.
Is there something that’s not a part of that bio that you would love for people to know about you as we get started?
One of the more interesting things I did over the course of several years, I walked a thousand-year-old, a thousand-mile pilgrimage, on foot from temple to temple in remote rural Japan. It’s one of the best things I ever did because I was literally moving at the speed of life. It gave me a chance to contemplate what I’d done with my life, what I was doing, what I would like to do with the rest of my life.
Whitney, when was this?
This was 2009 to 2012.
What was the catalyst or the pivotal moment of that? That sounds like a pretty significant pivot in your life.
My family made a big pivot. My dad worked for Pan American Airways. Back in the Mad Men era, we were a suburban family outside New York and my dad got an assignment to Tokyo, Japan. There we were, Alice in Wonderland, landed in Downtown Tokyo in 1962 before the Olympics and we’re all going, “This is different.” I grew up all around the world. I’ve lived, worked and studied on different continents all throughout my life, but there was always something about that one year in Japan that was pivotal. I was going to go back, not as a tourist or a visitor. I wanted to go back as a guest, as a member of a community. I went back 40-plus years as a guest of an artist residency in the middle of nowhere.
I saw these people walking around in these pointing hats, old whites, old fashioned gear with the stuff and bells and I thought, “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” I made inquiries and apparently, there’s this island, Shikoku, which roughly circles this thousand-year-old, thousand-mile pilgrimage follows the perimeter except for the first province where I was staying. This town was near the center. It starts along the coast, comes inwards, and it goes out towards the coast and then more or less stays there. I thought, “I want to try that.” My residency was in 2004. I went back in 2005, 2006 and 2008 to prepare and then I would walk. Shi stands for four in Japanese and Koku is a rice-producing province. I did one province each year in a different season. I had a backpack and I walked with a sound recorder and a camera to record my experiences in between the 88 temples.
I got back from Tokyo, so I’m getting myself back on time zone, although this is one of those magical trips where I did an around the world in eight days kind of thing. I feel that my body has held up well. I don’t feel any real jet lag, although I had a little trouble sleeping in the last couple of days. For the most part, I feel great and I love Tokyo. I was there because I had been hired by the Daimler Group, the Mercedes group and their people in their division out of Tokyo that’s mostly for their trucks and their Mitsubishi stuff. I was there to do what’s called FUSO. It is like a TED Talk but for their internal management team.
It was wonderful because I got to go for a couple of days early and spend quite a bit of time in the city. I had some incredible days out exploring and dinners and even found for myself a great way to create my own method for resilience in many ways about doing certain rituals, things that I do on a ritual basis, including swimming. I found some indoor pools and it was funny because there were tons of pools when I did the research, but most of them had closed at the end of September, the Olympic size, beautiful pools. Some of them were indoors, but still somehow closed as though the season for swimming ended after the summer. The Japanese, like every culture, they have their specific ways of doing things.
One of those things about Japanese culture is that they are sometimes resistant to change. They’re very much attached to what they wouldn’t call the status quo, but they would call their own rituals, their own ways of doing things. That was part of the reason why they brought me in as this person to talk about that. Generally speaking, I absolutely love it. I will go back and I can’t wait to go back. I thought the people and everything was wonderful. The first time when you landed in Japan was right on the eve of the Olympics. Interestingly enough, I’ve gotten back and the Olympics are going to be there again, for the first time since that time when you were a kid. They’re going to have the Summer Olympics there the summer of 2020.
The Olympics would have been 64th. Sixty-four marks the dawn of modern Japan. They had this transition from the war in American occupation. Sixty-four was like, “We’re modern. We’re on our own. We’re on the up and up,” which they did all through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. That had been wobbling a bit since then and now they stabilized and will have their Olympics. It’s now a new modern, mature Japan. What I love about Japan is the fact that they are so traditional.
What do you make of the fact that Japan has struggled economically, since probably the early ‘90s and has had some challenges there? I know that’s not the topic of our show, but we have this in common.
Japan is the oldest country in the world in terms of its population. What they are currently experiencing and soon will be experiencing in terms of having a disproportionate percentage of their population over the age of whatever it is, that means that they are having more and more older people and fewer younger people. That opens up the question of, “Do we bring in foreigners to take the jobs of people that are no longer Japanese?” That’s been a big question for them. In terms of their approach, Japan and Korea were normally the most respectful of their elders. That has crumbled. Now, there is the social contract. They’re having to rethink everything through centralization of government, to the use of robotics for elder care, Social Security and the likes. Whatever they are currently experiencing, we, in Western Europe, in America and Canada are soon to follow. We have a lot to learn from them.
The thread of this conversation feeds into the topic of your new book, Brand New Purpose: Turning Grey Into Great. Tell us about the book. I think there’s an interesting tie into our conversation around Japan. For those of you that don’t know, Tokyo has 40 million residents. It’s a very large city. It’s spread out, but it doesn’t feel crowded to me though. I’m from New York originally, so I know what a crowded city feels like or at least cities at times when they’re crowded. I didn’t feel like Tokyo was crowded. It’s pretty remarkable that 40 million people are inhabitants of that great city.
Tokyo is a very large combination of different villages that are dissected by huge avenues. Once you get past those avenues, you’ll have a village atmosphere. That’s why it doesn’t feel crowded because I’m also from New York originally.
Let’s talk about Brand New Purpose and this idea that there is a shift that’s occurring and it may coincide with the shift in color of our hair.
I wanted to write a book based on my experiences of the midlife transition. I decided that I wanted to do it within a Graduate program, so I went to the Graduate Theological program at Berkeley. I went to the Unitarian Universalists School because they were the most liberal and flexible in their beliefs. I wrote the thesis called Second Act: Creating a Meaningful Middle Age and Beyond. I was going to publish it, but then I thought, “I’ve got a different story to tell.” I co-authored the two Work the Future! Today books, but now I’ve come back to publishing the Brand New Purpose: Turning Grey Into Great book in the spring because I realized what the missing piece was. It was confirmed by Time magazine’s 2019 Person of The Year, Greta Thunberg. There are people who started a revolution back in the ‘60s and ‘70s to protest against environmental degradation and what eventually became a global climate change crisis and the like. The EPA was formed in the early ‘70s by Nixon of all people.
He did one or two pretty decent things.
The ‘80s happens, Milton Friedman, an economist from the Chicago school, in terms of more profit focused on shareholders. We have the shift away from a single bottom line to a triple bottom line of profit, people and planet. Now, it’s planet, people and profit because if there is no planet, no people and if no people, no profit.
It is another way to explain that shift from “we to me,” that there’s this pendulum shift between the time in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when we were very focused on community solutions or collaborative solutions to the world’s problems. Then we shift away from that into the more “I and me” focus during ‘80s and ‘90s.
We went from “we” and communes and collectives and mass marches and the start of civil rights and fighting against all the isms, except the ultimate ism, ageism. We shifted from “we to me” generation to Gordon Gekko in the ‘80s, and Wall Street’s Greed is Good and people who got lost in their mortgages, children and careers. Now that we’re past that to a certain degree, we have an opportunity to complete the revolution that we started. Here’s theicker why I delayed my book by 7 or 8 years is we can’t do it alone. I was at a party. There were a bunch of Boomers, very well to do. They retired comfortable, been there, done that and they didn’t have to do anything. I said, “Why are you organizing very actively this radical, social, political movement?” They said, “I don’t need to do it, but I have to do it for my children and my grandchildren. They don’t have the same access to what I had access to. They don’t have what I haven’t had. Their future’s radically different from what we were facing at that age. We need to start creating a better future for them while we can.”
That was a wake-up call for me when I heard that. It’s confirmed by Greta Thunberg, as the Person of the Year for Time magazine, the youngest person ever. She is sixteen. She went from being a solitary protester outside the Swedish Parliament with the little drawing saying, “Climate Strike.” Over a few years, she’s become the face of the youth, primarily global climate change and strikes and movements. As Time magazine noticed that she is like the rest of us, restless on the shoulders of the giants who came before. For me, we’ve come full circle in terms of we started this in the ‘60s and ‘70s because enough of us, at that time, sensed that things were not right and we got distracted. If we are to make a difference, now is the time but we can’t do it alone. The point of Brand New Purpose: Turning Grey Into Great is we need to go back to where we started to make it appropriate and relevant today, not to back in the day, and to do it in collaboration with younger people, so that we all have something to share. We can all mentor each other, young and old, and old and young. It has to be equal. It can’t be like this, which would be deadly. We can collaborate, communicate, co-create so that we can create a commonwealth of purpose, possibility and plenty of prosperity.
You’re speaking about more the Baby Boomer generation, which is roughly 1964 to 1965 as the end dates. The youngest of the Baby Boomers were probably born no later than about 1964 to 1965 or something like that. These people were in their teens or even in their 20s or 30s when those revolutionary movements and marches and things were happening in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. As you say, people got lost in the commerce of life, their mortgages, their kids, the betterment of their families and paying for it all. As we know, there’s no free lunch with regard to a lot of these things. They’re there at a stage perhaps when they’ve got the time and the energy to focus and maybe even the cushion, financially, to be able to refocus on this. This is more just a guess from you, but I’m curious, do you think that the current generation, largely Millennials, do you think that they are very much a more conscious generation?
They’re conscious of things we weren’t, that I wasn’t conscious of growing up. I am on the cusp of the Baby Boomer, maybe that last year or so and then more Gen X, which is ill-defined or defined by apathy or things like that, being in the middle I suppose. Do you think that there is a seasonality to the desire for Greta‘s work, her enthusiasm and passion at the age of sixteen? Greta, when she’s 26 or when she’s 36, will she focus on family and mortgage and get lost in those more mundane aspects of life as the Baby Boomers did? I’m curious if you think this is a trend and therefore something that we might look at how we have that conversation?
It’s a bit of both. People at Greta’s age have good fortune, good health, a good environment and a good economy to be able to have a career, a family, a home, good health and all that many of us have experienced and taken for granted. Some didn’t experience it but knew that it was possible had they been exposed to it. Even exposed to the media version of it on television, in the movies, books, comics, or whatever it is. We face a very dire possibility of the global climate and existential crisis that we currently face. If things progress somewhat as they did in the past, then people will forget their initial passion and focus until they get to the point where they can come back to it later on. Things can get progressively worse for long enough, where people won’t necessarily have that opportunity unless you are very lucky, very wealthy or well-situated in a part of the world, where your basic needs are met outside the global capitalist society.
Complacency is an interesting thing because it can be born of comfort. It can be the result of a number of different things in complacency costs. If we take our eye off this ball, people were saying that in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s not all that new that people have been calling attention. Ralph Nader has been calling attention to issues related to these things for a long time. The Green Party existed for a long time. Is your book meant to be a catalyst or a call to action for this group of people that may have enjoyed some good economic times or making it through to this point? Is there a special call to action to those people to give it back in some way, pay it back and pay it forward?
Yes. It’s an invitation for a Conscious Pivot to go back to where they started in the ‘60s and ‘70s. For some, it might be in the early ‘80s. I was born in 1956 and I’m 63 years old and being in an art school in New York in the early ‘80s, participating in anti-Reagan art shows. There were pockets of resistance of this status quo that lingered far beyond the ‘60s and ‘70s, far beyond that. It’s about slowing down, going inside, traveling that long-distance from head to heart and from heart to gut, for our IQ or EQ, and what I call GQ or Gut Instincts or intuition to connect and integrate with ourselves. Then going out again from our head to our heart to our hands, from our ‘why’ to our ‘who’ to our ‘where’ and to our ‘how.’ What is our unique gift? Who do we share it with for maximum benefit? Where did we find them? How do we best serve through sharing our unique gift? It’s taking a personal journey and then looking for an opening in the larger conversation in the world out there amongst ourselves, our peers, but also how we might help our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and grand nieces and nephews, or children who live next door. It’s making connections where there should be but there aren’t.
The demographic that you’re targeting with this book, they’ve been a resilient bunch, will you say?
This is aimed at people who are old enough to know that whatever they did in their first career, either did or didn’t work, was or wasn’t successful, but it was no longer satisfied. It is to look beyond external trappings of success, whether it’s the car, the house, the clothes or membership in this or that, but to look inwards to your second act, your third act, where you’ve become more defined. You pivot towards internally drove and driven success. It becomes more personal, more intangible, which means it’s harder to find, but that much more satisfying because it comes from the soul.
I’m curious if you’ve noticed as part of your book or any research you’ve done, whether there’s an element of resilience that plays into the ability to create a second act or a third act? I’m fascinated with the topic of pivots. The show is all about that. We wrote a book about that. In that conversation, when we were writing the book, we were thinking in terms of, “What enabled me to create a midlife calling out of what could have been a midlife crisis?” Resilience was a big part of that. That was the little circle inside the big circle. I realized years later, where I am in my life now and what I’ve noticed about people in the research I’ve done is that the big circles are resilience for me and pivot is the small circle inside of that.
That is part of my ongoing evolution and the things that I want to do with my life, the things that I want to leave and the value I want to contribute to the world. I’ve got to be incredibly resilient because the world is being disrupted on such a consistent basis. Exponentially, the change is so much greater and faster all the time. You could look at it from so many different perspectives, but if you’re not resilient in the face of that, it will knock you over. You won’t be around or strong enough. You won’t have the energy to create that third act or that fourth. What are your thoughts on that? I’d love to know your own definition of resilience as well.
Resilience is the rocket field. It’s the passion to maintain a sense of joy, passion, enthusiasm, curiosity, lifelong learning and creation that feeds into a pivotal moment when you decide, “I’ve got my rocket fuel. Pivot determines my projection. I’m going to go this way as opposed to that way.” They say in rocketry that a few degrees over time can make a huge difference. The resilience is the ability to bounce back no matter what. For me, it’s probably my core, personal quality that enables me to keep on bouncing back no matter what.
Rituals are very important. We talked about how in many ways the quality of our lives is equal to the quality of our rituals. The power in our lives is very much tied to the power of those rituals. What rituals for resilience would you take a look back at your history and the different things you’ve done the second act, third act, fourth act that you’ve created, including this book that you’ve got coming out and the call to action to others like yourself? What are some of the rituals that you’ve had along the way that produce resilience and that ability to get back up?
It goes from small to big.
Do you have a ten-second ritual for us? You’re a mindset guy.
When I get up in the morning and before I go to bed, I walk out in nature.
Why do you walk out in nature? What’s special about nature?
It’s away from devices and all the digital non-sense.
We have to get away from the recording devices that are recording us all the time.
It’s getting out of a man-made environment to a more natural environment, preferably things with trees and flowers and shrubs. It’s an inside and outside with a fresher air, cleaner air, you’re exercising, you’re in movement. As everything is always in movement perpetually on this planet.
Or it’s dead, the things that stagnate.
If you’re not moving, you might not be living.
Everybody should check yourself right now. I always check my pulse, “Am I still here? Good.” If I could only find the pulse, I can never find my own pulse.
It reminds me of the poster from the ‘60s or ‘70s where there’s a person in raincoat in front of a piece of art. It says, “Expose yourself to art.” It might be exposing yourself to nature. Proximity, being open to it, participating in it, being part of it, it might be a movement or exercise, getting away from the biases, being mindful step by step and appreciating that we are part of the natural world. We are a small part of something much greater than us, but since we’re part of something much greater, we are great in ourselves.
The miracle is certainly more on display in nature than anywhere else, for me. I look out at the ocean and I’m looking at this sea of blue and to be able to see it, to walk in it, to experience it, it creates a miracle. The miracles are around us all the time. I’m not always tuned enough to recognize a miracle and it’s staring me in the face.
We are miracles. The human body, life itself and life in us, all the billions of microbes and organisms and what have you live inside us that keep us alive.
This conversation is a miracle. I’m looking at you, Whitney, and you’re a miracle. I know we are and it’s beautiful. I will share the one ritual, the ten-second miracle in my life, which are three steps that are three easy pieces. These three easy pieces are not so easy to pull off every day. The first piece of it is to wake up. Waking up and to be awake is a miracle all by itself because we know not everybody has that. We get that cleanly. The waking that’s more of a figurative sword is the consciousness. It is our ability to, “How open can I be today? What’s the degree to which I’m open or close on any particular day?” It’s like the aperture of a camera. It depends on sleep. It depends on my own mindset. Do I start off in a pissy mood or, “Am I more apt to be humble?” It’s a choice.
“What do I choose to be today?”
Think about those people that have more gray. We all know that as we get older, we have a few more aches and pains. We have a few more things we could “complain” about. It’s interesting, I had gotten in the habit of watching the news a little bit in the morning to catch a little glimpse of what was going on because of this melodrama that’s unfolding in front of us all and I never talked politics in the show. I won’t do so, I’m just saying that it wasn’t a healthy way for me to begin the day, to start my mind in that direction where immediately, it could feel that aperture of my heart closing and becoming quite agitated and judgmental and even angry. I’m a recovering New Yorker. I’m a recovering lawyer from New York. I’m pretty susceptible to getting worked up quickly. You can identify.
The first step is waking and the second step is to feel something about waking up. What do you feel when you begin the day again? Am I my feeling rush? Are we feeling rushed to get going, get moving, doing something, get the coffee going, find out from the phone what great messages we’ve missed while we were sleeping? Maybe it was a message from the queen, who knows? We could be getting knighted or something. Anything can happen while we’re sleeping. I could be Sir Adam. I could be a Duke or something.
I choose gratitude and it never fails. We are talking about a ten-second miracle or a one-minute miracle, sit in gratitude for 60 seconds and see how your body feels, “I know how my body feels. I know what’s coursing through my veins is somehow more healthy for me, but for the long-term to be in gratitude.” The third piece after you’re allowing that ten seconds to a minute to feel grateful is to use the power words for myself, to declare something out loud. Lately, it’s been two things. Some folks have heard this message before. They know that the four words that I’ve been using for a better part of a dozen years now is, “I love my life.” It has a massive meaning for me.
I had a woman who is in her 70s on the show. If you haven’t heard this show, Judy Whitcraft, you’ve got to go back and check out that episode. It’s cool. She’s a wise lady. She said that she wakes up and she says out loud, “I wonder what miracles are coming today.” I wrote it down. I’ve got it by my bedside. Isn’t that beautiful? I wonder what miracles because we’ve been talking a little bit about miracles. This was a miracle. Whitney, I am so thrilled and feel blessed that our mutual friend, Theresa, who made that introduction and Joy, another friend of ours that we have in common and all those beautiful people in Tokyo, Japan. It is beautiful. I’m happy to have you on the show.
It is my pleasure.
Thanks for being with us. Leave a comment. Let us know what you feel about what we’ve done here and any suggestions. We’re always open to feedback. It is like an oxygen for all of us. We’ll see you soon. Ciao for now.
- Work the Future! Today
- Brand New Purpose: Turning Grey Into Great
- Judy Whitcraft – previous episode
About Whitney Vosburgh
Whitney Vosburgh is co-author of the two WORK THE FUTURE! TODAY books, and co-founder of the company of the same name, which is a social venture offering vision, leadership and solutions for maximizing personal, organizational, and societal potential.
He is also co-founder of Brand New Purpose LLC, a brand transformation consultancy that creates purpose-built, value-driven opportunities for leaders and organizations of all sizes. As an interim Fortune 20 Chief Marketing Officer, Whitney has guided over $20 billion in value creation. His expertise has been featured in four books on the Future of Work, including a bestseller by Dan Pink.
Whitney’s work is featured in numerous media outlets including ABC, BBC, Conscious Company, Newsweek, Time, US News & World Report, Venture, and The Wall Street Journal.bAs an author, speaker and workshop leader, Whitney always asks, “Why?” — and then creates actionable clarity by turning complexity into simplicity. His purpose is to elevate people, organizations, and communities to a brand new sense of purpose, possibility, and plenty. Whitney focuses on inspiring and leading short-term innovations and long-term transformations, so we can share our gifts and passions with the world to make a lasting difference.