Boomers Serve Boomers

 

Photo Credit: Hello Magazine

Photo Credit: Hello Magazine

As a blogger, I’ve been receiving many sales pitches of blogpost content ideas from companies and their marketng firms targeting at baby boomers. Recently, I came across two Canadian entrepreneurial ventures which I thought might be of interest to my readers and followers.

Earlier this month, Blaycation, a bucket-list travel adventure company was launched as an online travel planner for baby boomers and mature adventure seekers. Whether it’s walking with lions in Zimbabwe, kayaking in Vietnam’s Halong Bay, witnessing a Stanley Cup Final Game in L.A., or zip-lining across Victoria Falls, the firm wants to help its clients realize their personal travel dreams.

The company’s travel website www.blaycation.com features 20 personally-designed tours that include many exotic travel destinations and bucket-list adventures. The online service offers to boomers who have the time and the disposable income to realize their travel dreams while recognizing that the clock is ticking. The website features prepackaged tours, but also specializes in customized trips to suit their clients: from couples looking for a romantic getaway to families planning a vacation for multigenerational travel to corporations looking to reward top performers.

According to Blaycation’s founder and President, Mark Stiles, one of the company’s major differentiators is appealing to people’s dream vacations and bucket-list adventures and tying them both together in a personable product delivery. Stiles said that he wants to inspire people to see more, do more and to have rich authentic experiences through both his designed tours as well as their very own personal bucket-list items.

After reviewing and surfing the site for a while, I found the site very easy and fun to navigate. The bucket-list concept is also quite unique since there are a lot of adventure travel firms out there, but few focus on just fulfilling bucket-list travel dreams. When asked why there is no adventure travel just catering to single boomer travellers, Stiles responded that this audience might be a niche target that he’s planning for the future.

As the first travel group is just taking off this month, I will certainly talk to Stiles in six months’ time to see how his business is doing and whether boomers are responding positively to this concept.

Another interesting entrepreneurial service, targeting at baby boomers who are often caregivers of their elderly parents, is a monitoring system using  wireless sensor technologies to help boomers’ elderly parents maintain their independence while monitoring their activities and getting help for them when necessary. The company, Everpresent, positions itself as a service that provides peace of mind for families with independent elders. According to their website, www.myeverpresent.ca, the company senses activity in the home and watches for regular activity patterns and irregular events via their heuristics engine. Based on rules that customers decide, mobile text or email notifications are then sent to selected family members or friends. For example, it’s 3 a.m. and the garage door has been opened – please check on Mom. Or, it’s midnight, and high temperature is sensed in the kitchen – please check on Dad.

According to the company’s founder, Keith Seibold, Everpresent Services developed the cloud-based “heuristics engine” that collects sensed information over time and compares readings against rules of interest or concern and notifies family and/or friends. Since this system is all computer-driven, there is no individual person who will be watching any sensor and ensures that privacy is maintained. The system is automated and runs 24×7. When addressing my concern about the possibility of batteries running out, Seibold said that the sensoring device is operated on batteries that can last for years. Some last for up to four years without any battery replacement. The system continually monitors battery levels and reports back to Everpresent and to the customer if the battery level drops below a defined threshold. If it does, a message will be sent to the customer to replace it. Seibold said that the sensors are proven industrial-grade solutions that they’ve integrated with the company’s heuristics engine to determine when behaviours of concern or interest occur.

Seibold developed this system when he and his wife faced the challenge of taking care of Seibold’s father-in-law while enabling him to maintain his independence. Because this is not a security solution, it does not require the elder to wear any device. The sensor sits passively in the background sensing activity (or lack of) and using customized rules to notify one or more family members or friends if there’s something of concern. Depending on which of the three services customers subscribe to – basic, enhanced or customized – the monthly service cost can range from $39 a month for one sensor to $49 a month for three sensors. Customized services would incur a higher monthly cost. There is also a one-time installation cost, that includes the installation of the sensors, which might vary depending on how many sensors are desired.

Since this service is also relatively new, I would like to check on them in mid-2015 to gauge their customer response. If successful, this would be great news for the aging-in-place population!

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Retirement and Longevity

retirement_road (foxbusiness.com)

Everybody, by now, must be familiar with the fact that life expectancy continues to climb for older North Americans. According to the annual report on mortality rates by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, released earlier this month, people who reached age 65 could look ahead to an average additional 19.3 years on the planet, “an all-time high” according to The New York Times. Men would anticipate another 17.9 years, on average, and women another 20.5.

Should we boomers cheer for or be concerned about these statistics? It all depends on your perspective towards life itself. If you believe in quality, rather than, quantity, then this long lifespan might be bad news. But if you want to cling on to life itself, good or bad, sick or healthy, then this is definitely good news. But what about the impact of a long lifespan on your retirement?

A paper attributed to the aircraft-maker Boeing Aerospace shows that employees who retire at 55 live to, on average, 83. But those who retire at 65 only last, on average, another 18 months. A more recent actuarial study conducted on some of the larger U.S. pension funds, including Boeing, indicates that employees who retired at the age of 65, died within two years of retirement. According to business.com, the studies were based on the number of pension fund cheques sent to Boeing retirees. The Boeing experience was that employees retiring at age 65 received pension cheques for 18 months, on average, prior to death. A similar experience was discovered at Lockheed Martin, where on average, employees received pension cheques for just 17 months. Other companies such as Ford Motor Company and Bell Labs were similar to those of Boeing and Lockheed.

The implication is that the hard-working later retirees (at age 65) are more than likely putting too much stress on their ageing bodies and minds and due to stress, they develop a variety of health problems. The associated stress accounts for health problems that lead to them dying within two years of retirement.

Another statistic from Boeing is that those who retire earlier, around age 55, tend to enjoy their retirement, on average, for more than 25 years. The chances are that those able to retire earlier have less stress; have planned and managed their lives better, in terms of finances, health and career; and are able to retire comfortably.

Another observation is that these younger retirees are quite active after early retirement. They may be keeping busy with part-time work, hobbies and pursuing their passions in life. So they are far less stressed than their working counterparts from age 55 to 65. This study pretty much implied that for every year you work beyond the age of 55, on average one forfeits two years of lifespan.

Although none of these studies carried strong enough evidence to prove that the findings are true or scientifically sound, they are certainly food for thought for baby boomers who are thinking about their retirement. But when you get to that old, you might not be happy, particularly if your life is prolonged by medical interventions and drugs! Your caregivers might not be cheering either.

Whether you choose to retire early or not, make sure that you’ll be financially sound and debt-free when you retire. Find a hobby to pursue, exercise and stay active. The rest is in God’s hands!

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A Generation Split On Hong Kong Protests

Photo Credit: businessweek.com

Photo Credit: businessweek.com

Ever since the protests in Hong Kong began about three weeks ago, I have been arguing and fighting with many of my friends in both Hong Kong and Canada via e-mails, long distance telephone conversations and even over many meals. There are usually five camps of people among my friends: those who, like me, support democracy at all costs and, therefore, support the protesters; those who are pro-China because they see China as their motherland and any disturbances and challenges to the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities are seen to be disloyal; others who are just pro-business and do not want chaos and disorderly conduct to prevent them from continuing to make good money in Hong Kong; those who live and work in China with foreign passports whose main goal is to make a quick buck and then returning to their respective adopted countries to retire; and, finally, those who have chosen to retire in China and, therefore, adopt the attitude of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

I have long predicted that such an outburst would be inevitable. Historically, Britain’s handover of Hong Kong back to China was the right thing to do. Hong Kong should belong to China and Britain has occupied and reigned the island during a time when China was weak and helpless. But, in reality, Hong Kong has thrived under British rule for over 150 years and its status as an international free trade centre and economic powerhouse over the years was indisputable. During that time, Hong Kong citizens (including myself) couldn’t care less about politics. In fact, we took pride in being politically frigid because all we cared about was how to climb up the corporate ladder and make more money.

I had applied for emigration to Canada even before the notorious June 4 Tiananmen Square protests took place in 1989. I’ve never had confidence in communist and autocratic governments because I believe we, who grew up in Hong Kong under British rule, have very much taken democracy and freedom of speech for granted. With the censorship of the press, the likelihood of me practising as a professional public relations practitioner without restraints would have been zero. I also did not not want to be any part of the government propaganda that I predicted would influence Hong Kong when China took over. I left the city where I was born and educated in 1990 and have never looked back or regretted my move.

When many of my friends said that Hong Kong is getting worse nowadays, I begged to differ that, on the contrary, the people of this Special Administrative Region of China are actually getting better in their political consciousness. Hong Kong people are actually speaking up for themselves and fighting for democracy and freedom of speech. Twenty years ago, such street protests in Hong Kong were simply impossible and would not have happened. I am particularly sympathetic with the student protesters who are really fighting for their future. With all the media analyses that have been appearing both online and offline, few have focused on the demographic split on what’s happening there. Students from both high schools and universities have a right to speak their minds because they are fighting for their future. Many of the protesters are also aware that they might not get what they want from China, but they do believe in the fundamental principles of democracy: speak up or you will be silenced forever!

I see many business-minded baby boomers in Hong Kong who focus on making money and maintaining Hong Kong’s status as an international business centre. I also see another group of boomer parents who took to the streets with their kids either because they were worried about their safety or they were just simply sympathetic to their cause. I do not buy China’s conspiracy theory that the United States and Britain have influenced the students and funded the protesters’ movement from behind the scenes. I also agree with the last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who wrote in The Globe and Mail op-ed that “it is a slur on the integrity and principles of Hong Kong’s citizens to assert….that they are being manipulated by outside forces.” I have many friends who can’t even influence their own kids – it’s absolutely insulting to the bright, young students of Hong Kong to mention that they were capable of being influenced by the West.

At the moment when this blog is posted, the protesters and the Hong Kong government are still at a standstill. The authorities are trying to buy time and the protesters continue to ask for the Chief Executive C. Y. Leung to resign. This situation should not be compared to the Tiananmen protests because Hong Kong is not Beijing, and China is no longer the China of 1989. None of the protesters expect China to grant their request for universal suffrage, but if anybody believes that this demonstration will just go away because they will be fatigued, then they are really naive. Some dialogue is better than no coummunication at all and nobody wants to see any bloodshed, particularly among the students.

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Boomer Masters

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I recently saw a PBS special called American Masters: The Boomer List which featured 19 accomplished American baby boomers in various sectors. These masters included environmentalist Erin Brokovich; singer-songwriter Billy Joel; actors Samuel L. Jackson, John Leguizamo and Kim Cattrall; fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger; author Amy Tan; New Age guru Deepak Chopra; journalist Maria Shriver; playwright Eve Enster; Director of Johnson Space Center Ellen Ochoa; AIDS activist Peter Staley; football athlete Ronnie Lott; artist David LaChapelle; entertainer Rosie O’Donnell; IBM’s CEO Virginia Rometty; historian and founder of The HistoryMakers Julieanna Richardson; Vietnam vet and author Tim O’Brien; and co-founder of Apple Computer, Steve Wozniak.

The film, presented in a series of intimate interviews by filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, focused on these individuals’ achievements, struggles and identities. These boomer masters also shared their experiences and upbringing by giving memorable and inspiring sound bytes. A DVD and a coffee table book are also coming out next week. The photographer’s large-scale master portraits of this film’s subjects is also part of a current exhibition at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The objective was, of course, to showcase these 19 individuals (born between 1946 and 1964) to demonstrate the boomer generation’s huge influence on the world.

They are all accomplished boomers in their own respective ways. But after watching the show, I was particularly impressed with Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Cattrall, Maria Shriver and Steve Wozniak.

Jackson debunked the myth that all black men probably went to jail during a certain lifestage. But he said that as a child of segregation growing up in Atlanta, he’s never been imprisoned and has always believed in education. Jackson initially majored in marine biology at Morehouse College before switching to architecture and later settled on drama. Although he was never in jail, he went through drug and alcohol addiction when he was younger. Now at age 65, he’s a film producer as well as one of the most prolific and successful African-American actors.

I’ve seen Kim Cattrall on stage and playing many different, excellent roles in film and TV after her successful run as Samantha in Sex And The City. In this TV special, she talked about her true love being really her work; how she imposed ageism on herself; and, at one stage, playing the role of a sex bomb to pay her rent when she was much younger. She spoke quintessentially as a woman actor when she brought out all the challenges faced by her gender. As John Doyle said in The Globe and Mail, “she was funny, dry and self-deprecating”. Maybe it’s her Canadian and British upbringing! And how can you not like her when she ended her interview with, “I have wrinkles. Let it be part of the story.” And then with a big laugh, she added, “If I’m well-lit!”

I’ve never been a fan of Amy Tan’s books, but her interview in this film made a mark on me.  As the only Asian-American boomer interviewed, she talked about, at one stage, shameful of being an American Chinese. “I thought I didn’t have dates because I was ugly and I thought I was ugly because I was Chinese.” The challenge of handling her own and others’ racial prejudices must be difficult. She also said that her mother always taught her that it’s important not just to be equal to a man, but better! She was first published when she was 36, so as a late bloomer, she said now it’s all about quality and richer time.

Maria Shriver appeared in her honest, tough and sincere self. But what touched me was her admission on camera that she was scared to be a Mom; that people in her generation want to be the first in everything; and being a Mom just led her to doubt her ability about whether she could cope with all the maternal demands and challenges. But, of course, we all know that she went on to have four children with Arnold Schwarzenegger!

To me, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, was the most impressive of the 19 Masters. He talked about how he wanted to be part of his revolution all his life. He and Steve Jobs didn’t have any saving accounts, but they had ideas. If you have read Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, you will probably recall that Wozniak was the brilliant mind in those garage days when the concept of the first computer was conceived. But he’s also the quiet one who allowed Jobs to take most of the credit when the company became famous. Wozniak mentioned in his interview that he has been teaching fifth-graders about two mathematical formulas: 1. Happiness equals S minus F (smiles minus frowns) and 2. Happiness equals F cubed – food, fun and friends. He ended by admitting there might be a fourth “F.”

Of course, somebody in Canada should be inspired to do a similar tribute to Canadian boomers. A possible list of Canadian Boomer Masters could include: former astronaut Chris Hadfield, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, music composer and producer David Foster, author and designer Douglas Coupland, author and activist Jan Wong, RBC’s Chief Human Resources Officer Zabeen Hirji, Tony-Award-winning actor Brent Carver, TV producer and writer Lorne Michaels, scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki… the list can go on and on! Plus, of course, we can also claim Kim Cattrall our own.

While it’s laudable for PBS to have filmed and broadcasted this show on Boomer Masters, it is probably equally important for them to try to broaden the message to younger audiences. Since most of the PBS audiences are primarily boomers and seniors, they don’t need to preach to the converted – we boomers already know we have many geniuses among us and our generation is great because of our values and work ethics. These boomer masters need to inspire Generations X, Y and Z, who certainly are not watching PBS or buying coffee table books!

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Intergenerational Collaboration In Music

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There’s a beautiful phenomenon going on in the music scene – a lot of collaborations between generations. Whether it’s the older generation of musicians wanting to remain relevant by ‘appearing’ to mentor the young, or it’s the latter group expressing support of the boomer or senior generations of entertainers, this intergenerational collaboration is excellent news to music fans.

I first remember the beginning of all these collaborations happening at The Grammy Awards a couple of years ago – older bands teaming up with younger ones and appearing on stage for a joint performance. Then renowned crooner Tony Bennett first came up with the idea of recording duets (although preceded by Frank Sinatra) with various younger artists – Michael Buble, Dixie Chicks, Diana Krall, John Legend and others.  Following the huge success of Duets: An American Classic, he came up with Duets II in which he famously sang with Amy Winehouse shortly before she passed away. The album also made him the oldest living artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. He took the idea and expanded it further to the Hispanic community with Viva Duets by involving younger Hispanic musicians such as Thalia and Chayanne to sing the Spanish part of the duets.

Just when you thought Bennett might be content with his accomplishments in his octogenarian years, the 88-year-old musician is about to come out with another duet album, Cheek to Cheek, next week with Lady Gaga, who’s 60 years his junior. Nobody ever associated Gaga with jazz music although her diehard fans would know that the pop songstress first started off as a jazz singer in some New York City dive bars before becoming famous. In a recent interview with NBC’s Today and The New York Times, Lady Gaga got choked up a couple of times and said, “I wonder where I would be at this moment in my career had this not happened. I really didn’t want to make music anymore, for a little while, because I was so confused and tired. But now it’s so clear.” The skeptics said that this collaboration with Bennett in a brand new genre for Gaga might be a reboot for her, whose most recent solo release, Artpop, did not come even close to her usual blockbuster standards.

The truth of the matter is: both Bennett and Gaga were probably quite happy with where they were before making this new jazz album. But both seemed to continue to want to innovate and break new grounds. Hence came the latest collaboration!

Even the stage- and performance-shy Barbra Streisand has come out with her own duets album called Partners which was released earlier this week. In her usual diva way (a trait denied by her on The Tonight Show last night), this album is a collection of duets she recorded over the last year with an all-male lineup including some younger artists such as Michael Buble, John Legend, John Mayer, Babyface and Blake Shelton. Whether you like the 72-year-old icon’s music or not, this new album sounds irresistible.

This intergenerational musical collaboration is not obvious just in duet albums, but also as a ticket draw on stage. I attended a concert last night at Massey Hall where Joss Stone and Charles Bradley performed separately. Marketed as a “Soul Explosion” concert, both artists were mesmerizing in their own ways.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Joss Stone’s since her debut album The Soul Sessions at age 15. Once you’ve attended her concert, you’ll like her even more – in spite of her success, she started her show punctually at 8 p.m. in a long, orange summer dress and heated up the night with The Choking Kind which made her famous. Now at 27, she’s lost a lot of baby fat and is a bit more mature, but still sexy, approachable and such a natural performer with an Aretha Franklin voice. At the end of her one-hour performance, she got a soul train going among the audience on the floor and just exited off stage without any fanfare and encores in her signature bare feet.

Then came 65-year-old James-Brown-look-alike Charles Bradley. Unlike Stone, every single stage appearance of Bradley was introduced with huge fanfare by one of his younger band or crew members. Like Brown, his performance was as much about his moves and costumes on stage as it was about his voice and music. What highlighted his show last night was his supporting band – all white, young guys in their 20s who were so electrifying that I’ll be surprised if Bradley doesn’t record his next album with them.

Last evening was another example of musical collaboration between the young and the old, not together on stage, but as a two-in-one concert draw. For me, as a soul and r&b music fan, both gigs were intoxicating!

 

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