Boomers Are Not Invincible

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We baby boomers grew up deeming ourselves a very special generation – rebellious, invincible and very different from those that had come before us. But if the first month of the new year was any indication of things to come, we’re far from invincible!

From David Bowie to Alan Rickman to Brian Bedford to Glenn Frey, news of the passing of these boomer icons shocked and saddened our generation. I was never a fan of Bowie’s music when he was alive, but nobody could deny the influence he had on pop culture, music, fashion, theatre, sexuality, and even visual arts! He was so avant-garde in everything he did that even The Rolling Stones appeared tame when compared to him. Bowie’s legacy remains huge with the recent world tour of David Bowie Is and the current Broadway production of Lazarus. Of course, every great artist becomes even more glorious posthumously. I recall that The New York Times music critic gave a mediocre rating to Bowie’s final album Blackstar, launched just two days before he died. But, lo and behold, the minute he passed away, his final album shot up the charts and ironically gave him his first number-one album on the Billboard 200 chart. I’ve never bought any of his music when he was alive, but could not resist downloading three of his songs on iTunes – China Girl, Dancing In The Street (with Mick Jagger) and Lazarus. Music fans from around the world were moved by the news of his death, and we all want to hold on to a piece of him!

Then went Glenn Frey, one of the founders of the Eagles and a legendary rock songwriter who gave us some of the best songs in the ’70s. Fewer people lauded Frey posthumously than they did to Bowie. But, make no mistake, the Eagles were a very important part of the boomers’ lives some three decades ago! I haven’t downloaded any of their songs yet, but I watched the documentary, The History of The Eagles, on Netflix and was fascinated by their success story. After the breakup of the Eagles in 1980, both Glenn Frey and Don Henley went on to have reasonably successful solo careers, but they’ve never achieved what the Eagles collectively have done as a group – Eagles’ Greatest Hits still holds the record for the second-bestselling album of all time behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Alan Rickman has been a renowned character actor for a long time. Even the younger generations remember him as the villain in the Harry Potter movies. His death from pancreas cancer made us lament the loss of a classically-trained Shakespearean actor. Similarly, we miss Brian Bedford, another British actor and a veteran director and actor on the stages of The Stratford Festival, who also passed away last month after battling cancer for a long time.

Apart from Bedford who was 80, the other three fallen stars did not even make it to the age of 70. Drugs, alcohol and lifestyle probably had a lot to do with these premature deaths. Bowie, according to The Economist’s obituary, lived for a long time only on a diet of “red pepper, cocaine and milk.” Although the Eagles never managed to become a bad-ass rock and roll band, they also led a life of “women, drugs, drink and tunes” when the group was in its prime.

The truth of the matter is – generations come and go. While it is not exactly uplifting to lose boomer icons, it is also encouraging to see the younger generation carrying the torch. The Danish soul-pop group, Lukas Graham, which was an Internet sensation before being signed up by Warner Brothers Records, wrote in their beautiful song Funeral:

“Everyone welcome to my funeral; Everyone I know, better be wasted; You know I would pour one up ’cause the way I lived; It was amazing…All of my friends are in the room…Party for me – I’d party too.”

As a band whose members’ average age is only 27, Lukas Graham is staring at death and looking at life from a different perspective. Boomers should, perhaps, learn from this millennial group – let’s try to celebrate life when we are alive, not only at memorial services! Or if funerals start to depress you, try to mimic what Robert De Niro’s character, Ben, did in the movie The Intern – bring a date and look on the brighter side of life!

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Happiness Is The Truth

Charlie Brown

This is the time to wish every one we know a Happy New Year – 2016 is a brand new year and another opportunity for new resolutions. I posted early this year on Count Your New Year Blessingsnarrowing down to only one new year resolution for 2015. For the coming year, it’s even simpler – just be happy!

Happiness is a state of mind that means different things to different people. According to Dan Gilbert, renowned Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling On Happiness, human beings have something that we might think of as a “psychological immune system.” It is a system of cognitive processes, largely non-conscious ones, that help us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

At a TED Talk last year, Gilbert quoted Sir Thomas Browne, an English “Renaissance man” and author, who wrote in 1642: “I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity. I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.” Gilbert thinks that like Sir Thomas, we also have this happy machine in our heads, but we might not be aware of it.

He thinks happiness can be synthesized. When we yearn for the unachievable goal and worry about things in life, we will be unhappy. Scientific evidence has proven that our longings and our worries are both, to some degree, overblown, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose our experience. Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong – a premise he supports with intriguing research. He challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want.

During a recent interview on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, Gilbert further explained that all of us can attain happiness much easier than we thought. Spend more quality time with our loved ones and family; be grateful for what we have; make other people happy; focus on maintaining our health. The list goes on and on and they are all simple things to do but are often neglected.

I cannot agree more – all the wealth and material things in life do not necessarily buy you happiness. What makes me happy nowadays are the simple pleasures in life – reading poetry and thought-provoking books; watching creative and inspirational movies; enjoying a brilliant piece of performing art whether it be a ballet, an opera, a musical or a play; listening to all kinds of new and old music; sharing a good meal and quality conversations with cherished friends; learning a new skill or language; giving back to the community and, of course, laughing as frequently as possible!

So whatever new year resolutions you might be making for 2016, try not to be too hard on yourselves and over-complicate things in life. After all, science has proven that the older people get, the more positive they are about aging and the more adaptive they are to their limitations. Life is too short to waste time on regretting the past or to worry about the future which is very often beyond your control. Let’s savour the present; do not delay what we want to do; and  try to enjoy life – stay well and be happy – it’s really that simple! Happy New Year!

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Increasing Popularity of Silvering Screen

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In my blog post about four years ago, Hollywood Makes Way For Boomers, I mentioned that there seems to be a trend that Hollywood is finally taking notice of baby boomers in terms of content as well as leading actors. Slowly, but gradually, the movie industry is trying to get baby boomers back in cinema seats. Above all, there seems to be a surge of boomer-related movies. Ever since The Bucket List in 2007, there have been a slew of films on boomers and aging that have not only become box-office successes, but some of them were also considered great works of art.

Examples over the years included It’s Complicated, The Best Exotic Marigold HotelNebraska, Enough Said, Hot Springs, the award-winning Amour and The Great Beauty, 5 Flights UpClouds Of Sils Maria, While We’re Young, and this year’s Best Picture Oscar, Birdman, which single-handedly relaunched 64-year-old Michael Keaton’s career. In 2015, boomer-related movies were even more prominent – I’ll See You In My Dreams featuring 71-year-old Sam Elliott and 72-year-old Blythe Danner; Grandma starring 76-year-old Lily Tomlin; the Netflix drama Grace and Frankie with Tomlin pairing up with 77-year-old Jane Fonda, and Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, both septuagenarians; Still Alice which won Julianne Moore (age 55) an Oscar this year; The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel with Dame Judi Dench (age 81) and Richard Gere (age 66), a brand new addition to the original cast; Danny Collins which featured Annette Bening (58) and Al Pacino (75) who garnered a Golden-Globe nomination.

Even the 2016 Golden Globes gave nods to older filmmakers and artists: Bryan Cranston (59) and Al Pacino for Best Actor Performance; Lily Tomlin and 80-year-old Dame Maggie Smith for Best Actress Performance; Jane Fonda and Dame Helen Mirren (70) for Best Supporting Actress Performance; Mark Rylance (55) and Sylvester Stallone (69) for Best Supporting Actor Performance; George Miller (70) and Ridley Scott (78) for Best Director; Jamie Lee Curtis (57) and Lily Tomlin again for Best Actress Performance in a TV Series; and the list goes on and on.

But the best movie this year about aging is Youth, directed by the very talented Italian writer-filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, whose The Great Beauty won him an Oscar for Best Foreign Movie in 2014. Even if you are not a cinephile, and you would have to pick one movie to watch in the cinema during the Holiday season – that should be Youth, a visionary and poetic reflection of old age, time, beauty and life. Shot at a luxurious spa in the breathtaking Swiss Alps, the film is both a melancholic and comedic meditation of aging and life via a group of people coming and going: a retired orchestra conductor, a movie director, actors, writers, a pop star, a Buddhist monk, a soprano, a mountain climber, a bombshell Miss Universe, a former South American football star, young children and old men. The principal leads are Michael Caine (82) and Harvey Keitel (76) whose acting, like fine wines, get better and better with age. Sorrentino manages to make aging  appear ‘cool’ in this second English-language film in his repertoire, and I actually thought this is the best movie I’ve seen in the entire year! As the renowned American film critic Leonard Maltin said about what this picture really implies: “Life is over only when you stop caring.”

It’s refreshing to see that Hollywood and filmmakers around the world have finally grasped what’s relevant and intriguing to the aging cinema-going audience and are increasingly producing pictures that are connecting with the mature population. The danger is, however, older people in film are too often cliches and stereotypes. But sometimes cinema makes something beautiful, like Youth, out of the tribulations of aging. What makes a good portrayal of older people on film is the non-patronizing approach that mature human beings are fundamentally no different from the rest of us – they have the same experiences and anxieties and, at one time, they felt what younger people do.


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Let’s Help Refugees Succeed in Canada


I’ve always been a proud Canadian citizen, but nothing makes me even prouder than witnessing our country welcoming the first batches of Syrian refugees flown in every day since last week! Whether they are sponsored by private citizens or the Canadian government, some 10,000 refugees who fled from war-torn Syria would have a new home here by the end of this year.

Many of my friends from abroad sometimes have difficulties distinguishing Canada from the U.S.A. To many, Canada is part of North America, and because the U.S. is larger, more powerful and more vocal, our country, very often, gets lumped with The Americas (my only problem with The Economist magazine). It’s easy for us Canadians to explain that while the U.S. is a melting pot, Canada is a cultural mosaic; but very few people outside North America would understand what this means. Both countries comprise diverse immigrants from many parts of the world, but once you’ve landed in the U.S., you are, first and foremost, an American. For us Canadians, as our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his interview with The New York Times Magazine today, “Canada is defined by the multiplicity of its identities from all over the world.” “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,” he claimed, “There are shared values – openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice.” And with the Canadian citizenship, your ethnic origin is still distinct and very much matters within this country.

Whether you like Trudeau or not, you’ve got to be proud of him and our country when you saw him welcoming the refugees with both arms saying, “You are safe at home now,” when they disembarked at Pearson International Airport in Toronto last Thursday. Another stark difference from the Americans came out when during the First Ministers Meeting in Ottawa last month, none of our provincial premiers said no to sharing the load of accepting the 25,000 Syrian refugees promised by the Liberal government, whereas the American governors and the Republican presidential candidates all wanted to shut its doors to all Syrian refugees.

However, welcoming the Syrian refugees and helping them settle down are only initial first steps. Volunteer groups, church groups, private citizens, and business entrepreneurs have all pitched in to provide food, clothing and lodgings for the refugees. But “paradise,” as some of the refugees have called Canada, would soon become hell if we don’t try to help them integrate with and succeed in this country. Already, refugee advocates have tried to set realistic expectations for the newly-arrived refugees, many of whom were middle-class citizens back home. Instead of a teaching job, they might have to drive a cab. For some, it will take them at least a year to learn English.

Learning from my own experience as an immigrant from Hong Kong some 25 years ago, I truly believe that these refugees can succeed in Canada if they are helped by people around them who are caring, nurturing and wanting them to make it. As boomers who have the experience and resources, we should volunteer to help them integrate into Canada as quickly as possible. This can be done by offering them career advice; matching them with the right job opportunities in corporations; and establishing a mentoring system for individuals so that they could be pointed in the right directions by experienced professionals here.

This is the perfect time and opportunity for boomers to give back to the community. I know many wealthy boomers who have given their time and financial resources to privately sponsor some of the Syrian refugees. Others could, perhaps, help refugees better integrate after the initial settling-down has been completed. Drawing on my own experience as an immigrant, I was fortunate enough that I was helped by a lot of colleagues and mentors who wanted me to succeed when I first arrived in Toronto in 1990 as a senior marketing professional from Hong Kong who didn’t even know who Wayne Gretzky was! Over time, with a lot of hard work and encouragement by other Canadian citizens, I’ve managed to enjoy a very long and successful career and became the first double-minority (woman and visible minority) equity partner of Canada’s largest public relations firm in 1997. I’m always grateful to my adopted country Canada, and am confident that, with the help of other like-minded Canadians, the Syrian refugees, who have just been given permanent-resident statuses in our country, will have every opportunity to, not only survive, but thrive here!

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Boomers Still Not Getting Enough Attention

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I was recently interviewed by The Financial Post on the potential of marketing to baby boomers. Almost shortly afterwards, The Globe and Mail featured a week-long series of articles on boomers and I talked to the newspaper on boomers’ travelling patterns and predictions. It seems very flattering that suddenly two of Canada’s national media are paying attention to boomers. Both of these publications as well as other Canadian media have, every now and then, shown an interest in boomers, but for The Globe to dedicate one whole week of feature reporting on this demographic was, indeed, encouraging. Advertisers are, perhaps, finally paying attention to this cohort, albeit not enough!

I first started this blog in 2007 at around the same time that marketing and media mogul Moses Znaimer launched his Zoomer concept and, subsequently, Zoomer Media. At that time, we were both interviewed by the same media about the rationale for our focus on the aging demographics. The irony of it all is that after eight years, I find myself still repeating the same key messages when talking to the media: we need to better understand boomers in order to market products and services to them; that boomers are not a homogeneous group and, therefore, a cookie-cutting formula with a one-size-fits-all solution is not going to work; and because boomers have seen and experienced it all, marketers should watch their tone and not talk down to them.

I read Znaimer’s bylined article in The Globe’s The Boomer Shift last month, and he also repeated some of the launch messages back in 2007 when he came up with the Zoomer concept – boomers with ‘zip’. He said that “society almost uniformly considered aging a bad thing, a blanket negative. There were whispers cropping up about the aging of Canada, of the planet, ‘the grey tsunami,’ and all were whispers of doom.” He then went on to make a case for how the aging population is actually good for the nation’s economy rather than harming it. But Znaimer being Znaimer, he coined a new phrase – retirement should be “rehirement.” “I’ve rehired myself many times,” he said, “The greatest gift is the opportunity to continue to make a (significant) contribution at a time in life when we’re expected to see ourselves as an evolutionary fifth wheel.”

So what happens after eight years? Most of the news stories in the media are still predominantly doom-and-gloom scenarios. Advertisers and marketers are still hesitant towards throwing in big dollars behind campaigns to woo boomers. Myths, misconceptions and stereotypes continue to occur. It’s not for the lack of trying – MORE Canada, this country’s version of a magazine for older women, came and went after five years. Almost none of the Canadian print media have ever had regular columns dedicated to boomers (let’s hope The Globe and Mail’s The Boomer Shift will come back regularly). Even The New York Times with deeper pockets has given in! The publication’s blog devoted to boomers, Booming, said goodbye in February 2014 after a year and a half of existence with news, essays, expert advice, etiquette tips, bar and music recommendations, as well as profiles of marriages that have lasted and some that have not. Instead, every Saturday, the Business Day section of the newspaper has a feature, Retiring, that offers advice, personal stories and strategies. The Wall Street Journal has a monthly feature story on boomer-related subjects ranging from retirement to senior centres to housing, but they are not categorized under a specific column.

But, perhaps, before continuing to educate marketers that they are really missing a big opportunity if they overlook the boomers and continue to target the 18-35 group, the media should start focusing on editorial content that are relevant to boomers and stakeholders in a positive light. Possible subjects could include:

  • How to train and motivate more geriatric doctors for Canada’s aging population
  • Best practices in seniors healthcare from other countries for Canada to learn and adopt
  • Studies and findings from the best Aging Research Institutions around the world, e.g., MIT’s AgeLab, Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California
  • Boomers’ insatiable desire to learn via travels and continued education
  • Successful mentoring programs led by boomers
  • Successful businesses that have targeted boomers with innovative products and services
  • Debunking the digital myths of boomers (I, for one, have not read a physical book or newspaper for eight years and only rely on my Kindle e-reader)
  • Successful second and third acts of boomers after a successful life-long career
  • Community support and the changing landscape of retirement homes
  • Boomers’ divorce rates and dating habits
  • Giving back to the community – according to Statistics Canada, in 2013, 35 percent of charity donors were aged 55 and over, up from 29 percent in 2004

All in all, marketers need to understand that the opportunity is greater when nobody seems to be able to ‘get’ boomers. No wonder the best marketing campaigns usually come from AARP, the Washington-based advocacy group, who has recently created a marketing agency to help companies peddle products and services to the over-50 crowd. According to The Wall Street Journal, the new agency, Influent50, believes that baby boomers are an underserved market because they control the majority of disposable income in the U.S., but only 10 percent of marketing dollars are spent on them. Boomers deserve more attention, and whoever spends time and resources to better understand them will prosper!


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